Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

The tough thing about knowing how to cook and bake is that come your birthday you know exactly what kind of cake you want, but for me, unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone to bake me a cake and I certainly don’t want some store bought crap.  I like baking.  The precise nature of it is soothing.  I love to meticulously prepare my mise en place, wait for my butter to soften at room temperature, measure everything and place in small bowls and dishes.  My husband hates when I do this because it just mean more dishes, which he refuses to wash.  He thought is this… if you use more dishes than necessary, I am not obliged to wash them.  If only everything was a one pot meal… in his opinion.

My first experience with Red Velvet cake was while I was a waitress at Everybody’s Cafe in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.  I think it was 1995, but not quite sure, I was in high school. They had this cake on the menu and I had the opportunity to try some. Well, it was a taste that has lingered in my taste memory about for 17 years… The next time I came across Red Velvet was my 20th birthday, 1998.  My friends and I were drinking in New York City at the White Horse Tavern… I was getting hammered on Cosmospolitans.  Some of the details were a little foggy, but I think it was my friend Whitney who suggested that I needed a cake, so she and some others went out in search of something that they could stick a candle in.  What they came back with was a Red Velvet cupcake.  Where from, I have no idea.  How it tasted, I have no idea, but it was Red Velvet that I remember.  After college, when I started working in the City, downtown, it was cool to go to Magnolia for cupcakes… cupcakes in general were very popular.  On a whole, I am not a sweet person.  I would forgo chocolate cupcakes, vanilla cupcakes, but if by chance a Red Velvet cupcake appeared, I was all over it… co-workers beware if you try to take the last one! Once I had kids, I would order 2 dozen Red Velvet cupcakes for their birthdays from Buttercup Bakeshop, it was a great excuse to be a glutton!

When I started actually baking these delightful treats, I drew upon some cupcake bibles; the Magnolia and Buttercup Bakeshop Cookbooks.  They were essentially written by the same people since they were former business partners, but together it was my go to for good recipes.

Being in Bulgaria poses some challenges for ingredients.  For one, buttermilk, real buttermilk.  Don’t be fooled by the Bulgarian/English dictionary that says buttermilk is ayran… it is not.  Ayran is watered down yogurt.  Buttermilk is the slightly fermented whey from butter making.  You would think that buttermilk would be rich and high in fat since it has butter in the name, but it is virtually fat-free, yet more flavorful than skim milk.

In an open recommendation, I have the most amazing book that is a must for anyone who is living abroad and loves to cook.  The Food Substitution Bible by David Joachim.

For this particular recipe, I used the following substitutions:

Buttermilk – 1T lemon juice or vinegar and enough skim milk to fill 1 cup.  Let stand for 5 – 10 minutes before using
Cake Flour – 1 cup minus – 3T (45mL) sifted all-purpose flour plus + 3T (45mL) cornstarch *I know they sell cake flour in the grocery store, or flour with a picture of cakes and pastries on the package, but I am sceptical about what is actually in this flour.

Recipe: Makes a little more than a dozen (12) cupcakes and plenty of frosting, you might even want to half the frosting recipe.

Red Velvet Cake – 
185g all-purpose/universal flour
3T cornstarch
85g unsalted butter, softened
225g granulated sugar
85g egg, about 2 medium/large
3T red food coloring, or enough to give it the desired shade of red.
1.5T unsweetened cocoa
1t pure vanilla extract
1t salt
170g skim milk
1T fresh lemon juice
1t apple cider vinegar
1t baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting – You could half this recipe, if you like lightly frosted cupcakes.
250g cream cheese/ креме сирене
3Т butter, softened
1t pure vanilla extract
310g powdered sugar, sifted

Pre-heat the oven to 350F or 175C.  Prepare muffin tin with paper liners or grease throughly and dust with flour, tamping out the excess.

Combine skim milk, lemon juice and salt.  Stir to combine and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes.  It should start to curdle, which is what you want.

Sift flour and cornstarch, set aside.  Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl, beat with an electric mixer for about 5 minutes till light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating throughly after each addition.

In a small bowl, combine food coloring, cocoa and vanilla.  Whisk till smooth.  Add to the batter and beat well.

Add milk and flour to the batter, alternating till thoroughly combined. Stir the apple cider vinegar together with baking soda and add to the batter.  Scrape down the sides and make sure the batter is fully incorporated and smooth.

Spoon batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins, you want to leave about 1/4″ or 3/4mm of space from the top.  This should give the cupcakes room to make a nice cap.  Bake for about 25 minutes, till a cake tester/ toothpick/ unbend paperclip comes out clean (no crumbs or moist batter).  Cool for 5 minutes on a rack, then remove cupcakes from tin and continue to cool them on the rack.  Frost once cooled.

For frosting:

Combine butter and cream cheese in a medium bowl, using an electric mixer beat till smooth, about 3 minutes, add vanilla, combine well, then gradually add the sugar beating continuously till the frosting is smooth and creamy.  If the texture is too loose, put in the fridge for an hour or so, but no longer than 2 hours.

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