Recently I’ve become obsessed with red velvet cupcakes. But everything I make I want to be the best it can be – and as authentic as it can be. And today’s red velvet cakes are anything but authentic. In fact, they use an entire bottle of artificial red food colouring! But I was determined to get this recipe right!
After weeks of research, I pretty much nailed down what was “original” about red velvet:
- Natural cocoa – Natural cocoa is a much more raw, unprocessed version of the dutch cocoa found in most stores. There’s nothing wrong with dutch-processed cocoa – it’s quite lovely in some recipes. But it has added alkaline that makes it a tamer flavor and less reactive to chemical leavening agents. The original red velvet cakes used natural cocoa for its robust flavor – and a side effect was that the cake had a red reaction from the combination of the cocoa and the buttermilk.
- Boiled beets – To enhance the already reddish colour of the cake, boiled beets were often added. This means that the original red velvet had a texture more similar to that of carrot cake than a chocolate cake.
- Beetroot powder – And to give the cake even more colour, beetroot powder was often added. Beetroot powder adds that red punch without adding any flavour.
Once I had those original techniques down, I had to find just the right recipe for a cake base. My theory is – get the right proportions for the ingredients that affect the “science” of a recipe, and then you can kinda play with the rest. So, I found several recipes that agreed on the flour, eggs, salt, and baking soda – and then I added in the sugar measurements from a recipe that called for the least amount of sugar.
Sugar. Oh, sugar. What have we done to you? Instead of using you to highlight fantastically delicious ingredients, we’ve abused you to help cover up for poor quality ingredients. I truly believe that if you use the best ingredients – local if possible – then you can really cut down on the sugar. And my Sorta Red Velvet Cupcakes are the perfect example: the batter has a cup less sugar than most recipes, and the frosting has 2 cups less sugar!
I’ve baked these cupcakes twice now, and I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe I used for the first batch. I hate to brag, but these things are the shiz. Seriously. Phrases like “oh my god” and “this is the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten” have been uttered by some cupcake connoisseurs. Okay, maybe they were just my friends, but I know they eat a lot of cupcakes. Anyway, on to the recipe!
Sorta Red Velvet Cupcakes
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons natural cocoa (not Dutch)
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 tablespoons beetroot powder
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (not low-fat), room temperature
¼ cup steamed or boiled beets, pureed
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar
Vanilla to taste
This recipe is called Sorta Red Velvet because it won’t produce the bright red color that has become customary of most red velvet cakes. I wanted to create a cake that was much more similar to original red velvet than the ones today that use a bottle of artificial coloring. These cupcakes will bake a reddish-brown color. The reaction of natural cocoa and buttermilk will give the cake a slight red color, and the beets and beetroot powder will also help.
Note About Ingredients:
Use the best ingredients you can find because this will make a huge difference in the quality of your cupcakes. Here are a few notes tips about the ingredients I use:
• Cocoa – Be sure this is natural and not Dutch-processed; natural cocoa will give you the chemical reaction that turns the cake reddish.
• Vanilla – Madagascar bourbon vanilla is my favorite, and I don’t think you can put too much in this cake. The amount listed is just a mere suggestion that plays on the safe side.
• Eggs – Try to get local, farm-fresh eggs. They’ll make a world of difference.
• Flour – I really like organic white flour.
• Buttermilk – Be sure this is full-fat, and try to get a local brand.
• Beets – Farm-fresh beets are the best when in season, but I buy packaged steamed beets in the winter. Trader Joe’s sells fantastic French steamed beets. Do not use canned beets.
• Butter – I love really good, Amish butter.
• Cream cheese – Try to get organic cream cheese because the taste really is superior to conventional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
Cream the oil and sugar on medium speed in a mixer. In a separate bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar. Add the eggs, beet puree, and the vinegar mixture, and mix well. Next, sift all the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk alternately to the creamed mixture. Add the vanilla. Beat until thoroughly combined – about a minute.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until extremely light and smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.
Garnish with chopped, toasted pecans.