Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tackling the Red Velvet Cupcake

I am a huge fan of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network, and I always notice that when a contestant makes a red velvet cupcake, it is almost always a failure.  The judges are very particular about how red velvet should taste, and it seems very few bakers meet their standards.  I have had red velvet maybe three times in my life, and I can say I have never been left with a great impression.  The cake is usually dry or extremely dense.  I recently became obsessed with the idea of baking a dye-free red velvet cupcake.  I have some friends who can't give their kids red dye because it is known to cause hyperactivity, and others I know are actually allergic to the stuff!  So, I set out on a moist-but-not-dense-no-red-dye-red-velvet-cupcake mission, and what a mission it was!  I think I tried about 6 different recipes and drove my poor husband up a wall making him taste the finished products (some of which were not good AT ALL!).  I gave up on the idea of having a bright red cake without using red dye, because it really isn't possible.  I instead settled for a more natural-looking reddish-brown cake, using...beet juice.  Take a look at what I came up with and then I will explain how it all came together.

Aren't the little hearts cute? I will get to those in a minute, but let 's start with the cake.
The reason I wanted to make a red velvet cupcake that had no red dye in it is because I have friends and family who can't use red dye, either for themselves or for their kids. But everyone should be entitled to this yummy, decadent dessert.  The original recipe (after some research, although even this seems unclear) is from a recipe at the Waldorf-Astoria, and it used red food coloring. However, some of the stories I read claim that the original red velvet cake was made before that and used natural food colorings, such as beetroot. I decided to try some different recipes and substitute either beet juice or beet puree for the food coloring to see what would happen.
Let me start by saying if you are going to use a puree, use only a small amount as the puree will make your cupcake almost gelatin-like. I tried several recipes which called for puree, and they all came out mushy (it really isn't appetizing). So, I decided to stick with beet juice. Again, after some experimenting and deciding that I was never going to get that "fake" red color from beet juice, I found a recipe that came out moist, light and not greasy. The cake does have a reddish-brown hue, and you CAN NOT taste the beets. This is very important because I dislike beets a great deal (as does my hubby), and I didn't want a beet cupcake. These cupcakes have a subtle chocolate taste which works really well with the white chocolate cream cheese frosting.  I used beet juice from canned beets, but another method is to boil fresh beets and use the juice from that.  From my research, the outcome is the same, as far as color.  If you were to use a beet puree, fresh beets would probably give a more vibrant color.

The lighting in this picture isn't the greatest, but these do have a slightly red tint. But isn't it the taste that matters more than an unnatural red color?!
After finally deciding on a cupcake recipe, I decided to increase the decadence in this cupcake by making the white chocolate cream cheese frosting.  It is so smooth and works perfectly with the chocolate hint in the cake.  Then, because I wanted to try a new decorating technique, I free-handed some pink chocolate hearts (for my friends who had the dark chocolate hearts, I ran out of dark chocolate, so pink it is!).  And yes, there is some red dye in the candy, but you can always take those off.  I plan to experiment with beet powder in the future to color my white chocolate, I just didn't have any on hand.
 These little hearts were fun to make, I simply melted some colored chocolate, let it cool slightly and then filled a piping bag.  I have a couple of cutting boards that are a flexible, light plastic and I used those as my "drawing" surface.  Then, I let them set in the freezer and then very carefully removed them with a spatula.  I like the free-form look of them, and it is a skill I can continue to improve.

I hope these look appetizing enough that you won't even miss the bright red cake part! 
Tip of the Blog:
If you make a cream cheese frosting, you might have better results piping it onto your cupcakes if you stick the frosting in the fridge for a little while to set.  Then it will be a little stiffer to pipe nicely on your cupcakes!

As I mentioned on my last post, I am in the process of starting my own cupcakery, appropriately named YellowRoses Cupcakes.  It will be an online cupcakery, and I will be happy to deliver cupcakes to you for any occasion, or I can host a baking party or cupcake decorating party.  I will keep you informed of how the set-up is going.  And once I am officially open for business, I would love to share my cupcake creations with you and your friends!

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