Saturday, 1 June 2013

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I visited a friend last week and arrived just as she was finishing off baking. Great timing huh? Her teenaged children had been eating, and raving about, red velvet cupcakes so she decided to make some for the first time. I was fascinated of course, and barged in, stirred the icing, licked the icing, read the recipe and asked a million questions. When it comes to something a little bit different like this, I am always curious to know what makes it different. What IS a red velvet cupcake?

The questions are simple really. What makes it red, and what makes it velvety? The first part is simple - red food colouring! Wikipedia tells me that red velvet cakes have been around since the great depression, and that they were coloured either with red food colouring or boiled beetroots, I'm guessing it was appealing to use something cheap to liven things up and make them a little more exciting.

As for the velvet part, well, a glance down the list of ingredients is often a good way to see what is different about a recipe and what might be different about the result. It read much like a chocolate cupcake recipe with two slightly different ingredients, buttermilk and vinegar. Buttermilk is not uncommon in baking, but I wondered if perhaps that contributed to the velvetyness of the cake. I did read that the reaction between the buttermilk and vinegar somehow acts to really bring out the red colour in the finished product. My baking friend didn't have any buttermilk so used a splash of cream instead, and hers were certainly way more cocoa-coloured than red, so it seems this is indeed true.

Being sure to follow the recipe exactly when I tried these at home, I came to the conclusion that the word velvet is really just a name, not a texture. These were mildy chocolately cupcakes of an unusual colour and, well, nothing more. As you know cupcakes don't get me jumping with excitement, and these had not much to them other than a bit of colour. And a really nice icing. Red velvet cupcakes are traditionally topped with cream cheese icing, or sometimes butter cream icing. I didn't fancy buying cream cheese for this experiment, so did butter cream with a splash of lemon and a crazy dollop of sour cream that I happened to have and it was actually a rather inspired addition.

We have a builder at our place at the moment and my Mum was here the afternoon I was experimenting, and they both kept commenting on how good the icing was. There wasn't really much to say about the cake. I know many cupcakes are all about the prettiness and inch-thick swirls of the icing but I'm not so keen on that. May as well just eat the icing out of the bowl if that's all you're after.

Have you ever had red velvet cupcakes? Have you seen them everywhere? Have you made them? Do you love them? Am I being unfair?! I'd love to know if perhaps I'm missing something or you feel a need to defend them. They certainly made for a very enjoyable afternoon tea, and are a nice thing to grab from the freezer when you're heading out for the morning and think you'll need a snack along the way.

A  bit of an internet hunt had me reading quite a few blog posts about red velvet cupcakes, and many seemed to conclude that the Hummingbird Bakery had the best recipe. Hummingbird Bakery are based in London, and they create "authentic American cakes and desserts." In fact! Londoners! Perhaps you should head in there and do some research on their red velvet and let me know what it's like. Check out this link to their red velvet cake (they do cupcakes as well but that cake looks phenomenal).

Thanks to Hummingbird for the recipe below, and to all those other bloggers who have bought the recipe book so that I can have the recipe. Do try it. It is fun to have something different.

By the way, I know my icing skills are appalling. Making icing look pretty is on my list of things to learn - feel free to send me your tips.

Yes I did use glucose in place of sugar. I think that pretty much goes without saying from now on. 

Red Velvet Cupcakes

60g butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons cocoa
20 ml red food colouring
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
120 ml buttermilk *
150g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional I say)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Soften the butter a little and beat with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg.
In a separate bowl, mix the cocoa, food colouring and vanilla together to make a thick paste. Add to the butter mixture and mix in well. Scrape round the bowl and mix again if need be.
With the mixer on slow, add half the buttermilk and half the flour, and once incorporated repeat with the rest of the buttermilk and flour. Beat on high until you get a smooth mixture.
Add the salt, baking soda and vinegar and mix until smooth.

Pour in to 12 cupcake cases and bake for 20 - 25 mins at 170 degrees.

Ice with cream cheese icing or buttercream icing.

* Make your own buttermilk by mixing half a cup of milk with 1/2 tablespoon of vinegar. Let stand for 5 minutes.


  1. So lovely to see tCS in business again today. Wish I were able to comment firsthand on the building and baking.

    Word on the street is that Jenny B is icing queen :)

    1. Yes sorry you missed out. You know you are, relatively speaking, pretty much next door to the Hummingbird Bakery so you could just pop in :)

  2. Is it? I haven't heard, but thank you! :) After also oohing and ahhing at the fancy name "red velvet" I too tried making a red velvet cake but wasn't impressed at all. It's just a cake coloured red as far as I can conclude. Don't think I'll be trying again - unless it was for red themed party.

    However, I have also used sour cream in icing in place of cream cheese and agree that it is inspired!! So good! :)

    1. You know what they say about great minds...
      It seems we agree here in all ways. Reuben won't eat cakes at all so I tried to entice him by showing him that it was his favourite colour but he didn't fall for it.

  3. Had red velvet cupcakes for the first time at my recent tupperware party. As you say - nothing out of the ordinary. They were nice, and they were red, but without the icing they were nothing at all!


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