Monday, May 3, 2010

Velvet Cupcakes: Minus the Red, Plus Cream Cheese Frosting

Velvet cupcake with pillowy cream cheese frosting, perfectly balanced.

Red velvet cake is an American classic; the Waldorf-Astoria was known for it's rendition in the 1920's.

To me, this cake has always manifested itself in gorgeous double and triple layers, slathered in cream-colored frosting, waiting out of reach behind glass. This elegant, untouchable feeling was left behind when one of my friends made incredibly delicious red velvet cupcakes last Valentine's Day. She frosted them, topped them with red sprinkles, and even did a chocolate drizzle on top. I savored the chocolate cake wonder for days. It helped that she gave me several cupcakes to work on. I love my friends.

I wanted to try out the red velvet cupcake recipe at, but like almost all RV cakes, it called for red food coloring. I can't remember the last time I used food coloring; why should I get a bottle of red just for these? It doesn't impart any flavor or texture, it's just a visual thing with some history in how buttermilk and other acidic ingredients used to react with cocoa (as well as the use of beets during wartime, but... eh).

I refuse to buy red food dye because it will hang out in the kitchen, untouched, until I feel like making RV cake again someday. Hence the velvet cupcakes. Not too sweet, these ultra moist chocolate cupcakes with slightly tangy cream cheese frosting are total winners.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from

Yields 8 cupcakes (original recipe quartered)

1/2 C  AP flour*
2 T WW flour
2 T  cocoa powder
1/2 tsp  bk soda
1/8 tsp  salt
1/4 C (1/2 stick or 60g)  butter, sft
3 T  sugar
1  egg
1/4 C  plain yogurt, greek or european style**
2 T  milk
1/2 tsp  vanilla

Photo: Step 2, dry ingredients before mixing.

*abbreviations: AP all-purpose, WW whole wheat, bk baking, sft softened
**the original recipe calls for sour cream, but thick yogurt and baking soda (1 C:1 tsp) combined is a suitable substitute
  1. Preheat oven to 350F (177C).
  2. Mix the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the egg to the butter mix and beat fluffy again.
  5. Add the yogurt, milk, and vanilla to the fluffy mix and beat until homogeneous.
  6. Add the dry mix to the wet (pretty unfluffy now) mix and beat until just mixed.
  7. Divide batter into lined cupcake tins, filling each about 2/3 to 3/4 full. (Don't fill more than 8-9 cups, otherwise you won't have a nice domed cake).
  8. Bake 15-20 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (17 minutes for me).
  9. Cool 5 minutes in the tin on a rack then remove cupcakes to rack to cool completely.
  10. Frost (optional) and enjoy!
Different stages of batter. Left to right: Step 3, creaming butter and sugar. Step 4, adding an egg. Step 5 + 6: yogurt, milk, and vanilla mixed in and dry ingredients on top. Step 6: wet and dry ingredients combined. Photo slice and dice credits to the Resident Taste Tester.

Step 9: Cupcakes cooled in tins, just before going to the racks.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Janni at

Yields about 1 cup of frosting

1/2 (4 ounces) package cream cheese, softened
2 T  butter, softened
1/2 C  powdered sugar
1/2 tsp  vanilla

  1. Cream the softened cream cheese and butter together.
  2. Add the powdered sugar and beat smooth.
  3. Add the vanilla and beat smooth.
  4. Use immediately and store leftovers in a sealed container in the fridge.
Red Velvet Cake Reflections

Velvet cakes are so wonderfully balanced and just plain nice. I've been told multiple times that Singaporeans and Asians in general don't like their sweets too sweet. While there are always exceptions to the rule, I've never had a single complaint about a baked good being too sweet for the Asian palate. I did reduced the sugar in the cupcakes by 25% (the quantity above is down said 25%); I tend to be on the scant side of measurement with sugar in most of the recipes I try.

This more-chocolate-than-sweetie-sugar cupcake goes well with the cream cheese frosting. It was so pillowy when I pushed it around on the cupcake tops that I grinned at the fluffy, sky-high frosting possibilities. I refrained from piling it on because I often find mounded frosting a tragic beauty; pretty to look at, but overwhelming for a baby cake.

The yogurt and extra baking soda made for a crazy moist cupcake that domed perfectly. Not too dense and incredibly moist; I don't think I've ever had a cupcake come out of my oven with that texture and yet there they were.

I brought my favorite chefy*** a cupcake when we met up for lunch. LOVED it. So much so, that he giddily reminded me that I'll be around for his birthday this year and should make his celebratory cupcakes. With pleasure, my dear, with pleasure.


***He cooks, I bake; when we get together, it's gastronomic bliss.

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