I am normally very good at planning, especially when I’m cooking something for an event. I’ll go through my cupboards and then make a list. It’s very thorough. I gave myself a deadline for shopping when I made the Battenberg cake. It was quite in ordeal. Except it also turns out that I’m also very good at making assumptions. For example, I recently decided that as my dessert contribution to our southern foods potluck, I would make red velvet cupcakes. And I totally had food coloring in my cabinet, so just get the rest if it didn’t naturally turn red in the bowl the way that “real” red velvet does.
Guys, I had everything EXCEPT the red food coloring. I’m not sure what I used that red for. I don’t have a memory of turning any food red in the past, but I must have. That tube of dye is GONE. So I had a brilliant idea. Why not make these BLUE velvet cupcakes? They would be so pretty and different, but still taste the same, and I would be a genius and celebrated. I think I was already composing the blog post in my head as I stirred in the dye.
Surprise surprise, it turns out that this batter is meant to be red(ish) or nothing. Because as you can see above, I was left with brown batter in my cupcake tins. Brown velvet cupcakes, but still…the brownest of brown. Would they bake into something more beautiful?
No they would not. So the lesson from today is that assuming is bad. A secondary lesson is that you cannot always be clever and get away with magical thinking when it comes to baking. The third lesson is that if you have a hand mixer or a stand mixer, for goodness sakes, just use that instead of trying to make frosting by hand. The final lesson is that as long as you don’t add wrong ingredients, no matter the color, your food will probably still taste pretty good.
(Not) Red Velvet Cupcakes
Yield: Just over one-dozen cupcakes
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk (or Powdered Buttermilk, use 2 1/2 tablespoons + 2/3 cup water)
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 rounded tablespoons vanilla Greek yogurt (plain Greek yogurt or sour cream may be substituted)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons red food coloring, or as needed
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 heaping cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
about 2 to 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, or as necessary
splash cream or milk, only if necessary
sanding sugar or sprinkles, optional for garnishing
Preheat oven to 350F. Line regular muffin pan with paper liners; set aside. You will likely have batter for more than a dozen cupcakes, so be sure to have an extra muffin tin and liners on hand, or a mini-loaf pan for the extra batter.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients, through vanilla, until smooth.
Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, optional salt, and whisk until just combined; don’t over-mix.
Whisk in the food coloring, making sure to add only as much as necessary to color the batter a deep shade of red; adding more than necessary can leave an aftertaste.
Fill each cupcake cavity so they’re about 2/3 full.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until domed, set, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter; don’t over-bake. Start checking at 18 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before removing.
While cupcakes cool, make the frosting. Combine first 3 ingredients in a large mixing bowl, add about 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, and whisk to combine or beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Continue adding sugar until desired frosting consistency is reached. If you add too much sugar and need to thin frosting out, add a splash of cream.
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons frosting to the top of each cupcake. Optionally transfer frosting to a piping bag and frost the cooled cupcakes. Leftover frosting will keep airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Optionally, garnish each cupcake with a sprinkle of sanding sugar or pinch of sprinkles. Cupcakes will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 3 days. Note: the fridge will dry cupcakes out much more quickly.