Red Velvet Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
I compared about 8 existing recipes for red velvet cake and found the following:
- some are vanilla cakes with red food coloring and most are chocolate with red food coloring
- all of the chocolate red velvet recipes use cocoa as opposed to melted chocolate and most have very little cocoa in them (probably to maintain the red coloring)
- most use cake flour
- some use oil and some butter
- all use buttermilk, vinegar and red food coloring
- as far as chemical leaveners go, some use baking powder (acidic and akaline components), most baking soda (alkaline), and two use both (more on chemical leaveners below)
- all have the usual suspects in similar quantities: sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla
- cake flour for delicate crumb
- cocoa for a chocolaty taste
- butter for better flavor
- a base batch, divided into three to test variation in chemical leaveners (resulting recipe is for what I deemed the best option)
The result... well, the cupcakes tasted fine, had a nice texture, but were rather plain (were it not for the frosting). The cocoa taste was not discernable and I recommend increasing the quantity in the recipe. If I were to test the recipe again, I would increase the cocoa by 50% and 100% and check the results. I doubt I will test it again, however, as the novelty of red batter isn't interesting enough to distract me from other recipes I want to try.
makes 36 cupcakes / 350 degree oven
3-3/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cups cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder or 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
3/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3 teaspoons vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 ounce red food coloring paste
2-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter
- preheat oven to 350°F
- sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder (or cream of tarter), and salt into medium bowl
- whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring in small bowl to blend
- beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well fluffy, 3 minutes
- add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition, about 30 seconds
- beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions
- scoop into cupcake tins
- bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes
- cool in pans 10 minutes
- cool completely on racks
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
- sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
- beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
- add 4 cups of the sugar and beat until combined
- add vanillas and beat until combined
- add more sugar until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like
1 packages gelatin
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
~5 cups powdered sugar
- prepare a clean work surface by spraying with water and then covering in a bit of powdered sugar
- in a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the water and let sit for 3 minutes
- add corn syrup and stir to combine, heat over medium heat stirring constantly until gelatin is dissolved, about 12 minutes
- add 3 cups of the powdered sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer
- at lowest setting, drizzle in all of the heated mixture
- increase speed of mixer to combine
- start to add more powdered sugar until the mixture gets stiff
- you will need to transfer to the prepared work surface to finish needing by hand, you may also choose to need in powdered food coloring
- add sugar or water as needed to get a smooth consistency, its like needing pasta dough - you want a similar consistency
- once it is nice and smooth, divide it up for as much as you need and wrap the remainder in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container for up to 12 months
- scrape down work surface for rolling, dust surface and rolling pin with corn starch, roll out pastillage as thin as you can get it
- cut out shapes with whatever small cutters you have
- set aside on parchment to dry
This will make a lot of pastillage, I used 1/4 of it to make more than enough shapes for 36 cupcakes. Given it lasts so long, doesn't hurt to have extra. A note on coloring, needing in powdered food coloring gives a nice matt look or you can paint it on for some variation in color.
- pipe a swirl of cream cheese frosting on each cooled cupcake
- top with a pastillage shape
Chemical Leaveners and Anthocyanins
Occasionally the chemical engineer in me rears its nerdy head, like it did this weekend. I got to thinking about the baking soda versus powder versus both and was led down a trail past anthocyanins and essentially to the question of how does pH effect the end product.
Chemical leaveners when used correctly react with other compounds to release carbon dioxide gas which will cause the cake to rise. They are often "double acting" - would say so on the packaging - meaning they react when added to the batter and release some gas bubbles, then there is a second reaction later on which cause the release gas bubbles to expand.
* Baking soda is alkaline and requires acidic compounds to react with it. These can be yogurt or sour milk.
* Baking powder contains baking soda and acidic salt crystals. It basically contains what it needs to cause the chemical reaction and produce carbon dioxide.
In the case of this recipe, there is buttermilk and vinegar (both acidic) which will react the baking soda. Baking powder should not be necessary - in theory. There are also theories that the acidic compounds react with cocoa (or the anthocyanins in cocoa) to turn the batter reddish-brown, but I read here that it is a scientific myth.
I looked into anthocyanins and indeed they do need an acidic environment to be red, but I was tending to agree with the first article that there aren't enough of them in the chocolate for it to really matter. I looked into it some. This article says that quantities are "high" in green tea and chocolate, which this article confirms, but it also adds that processing causes the anthocyanins to convert to quinones which then further react and result in brown-colored compounds. So, I suspected that any change in pH wouldn't really make a difference in color, plus I was planning on adding food coloring.
So, I started with a base batter with just baking soda and then divided it into three and added baking powder to one and cream of tarter to the other (note: cream of tarter (acid) + baking soda can be used a substitute for baking powder).
baking soda only
baking soda and cream of tarter
baking soda and baking powder
The baking soda-only batch definitely looked the worst, but there wasn't a noticeable taste or color difference amongst the three. The other two versions were pretty darn close, hence why I suggested baking powder or cream of tarter. In theory, you could use baking powder only, but I didn't test that option.