Sunday, May 03, 2009

May 1-2, 2009: Red velvet cupcakes

Brownies weren't my only contribution to the tea party. This party's premise was the 30th birthday of a rather smashing lady, and I felt compelled to scroll through my Dessert bookmarks for more inspiration. Red velvet cupcakes caught my eye. This version comes from Simply Recipes and is written by cupcake creative Garrett McCord - I'm a regular and admiring reader of his other food blog, Vanilla Garlic.

The 'red' in 'red velvet' doesn't come from raspberries, beetroot or any other produce; it's the biggest dose of red food colouring you might ever ingest in a sitting. The cake also includes a little cocoa but doesn't have a strong chocolate flavour at all. These proved to be pleasant and mild; it's their looks that are more memorable.

But, oh - the icing! Red velvet cake is iced not with traditional buttercream but with a cream cheese-based version. And it was the lightest, smoothest spoonful of heaven I may ever have tasted. It seems likely that I will never bother with buttercream again (though ganache will probably still get a guernsey at other times and places). Not one for piping, I slathered it onto the cupcakes with a teaspoon and rather liked the effect.

Garrett's recipe is a fabulous rendition of a southern U.S. favourite. The cake has a lovely texture, but I reckon it's the icing that's the absolute keeper - I'm looking forward to teaming it with other flavours.

Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing
(a halved, metric-fied, and Aussie-spelled version of Garrett McCord's recipe at Simply Recipes)

3/4 cup sugar
60g butter, softened
1 egg
1 1/6 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
3/4 tablespoon red food colouring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

60g butter, softened
120g cream cheese, softened
1 - 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Set 10-12 cupcake papers into a cupcake baking tray.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (I had real trouble with this! Most likely because my butter hadn't softened enough.) Beat in the egg thoroughly.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, bicarb soda, baking powder and salt. In a second smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and red food colouring.

Gradually and alternately beat the flour and buttermilk mixtures into the sugar/butter/egg mixture, until the cake batter is smooth and homogeneous.

Spoon the batter into the lined cupcake tray, filling each cup about two-thirds full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, checking them with a skewer. Allow the cakes to cool before icing them.

For the icing, cream together the butter and cheese, then beat in the vanilla. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until the sweetness is to your taste (I found that 1 cup of icing sugar was just right). Slather the icing onto the cupcakes.


  1. Isn't cream cheese icing just the best? I use it on almost every cake now. Obviously, it works amazing like banana and carrot cakes. Usually I use a ratio of 3 parts cream cheese to 1 part butter. But I must try your 2 parts cheese to 1 part butter to see if it's even lighter and nicer.

  2. They look gorgeous and I still have never made red velvet cupcakes.

  3. something that I always mean to try - and I love cream cheese frosting so much that it makes any cake taste fabulous

  4. hasnt red food colouring got cochineal in it?

  5. sorry more my meaning is, if you used one without cochineal in it can you give me the brand! appreciated.

  6. Carla, I used Queen brand Pillar Box Red, just bought from my local supermarket. I'm not 100% sure but I think it's derived from coal tar rather than cochineal. However it's definitely a big no-no for the allergy-concerned or folks wanting 'natural' food. :-)