Sometimes I have to ask myself, “How far would you go to make someone’s wish come true?” When I say how far, I mean figuratively. And when I say, make someone’s wish come true, I don’t mean their biggest wish ever. I mean their birthday dessert wish. As you may know, I sometimes make birthday desserts for people. This time it was red velvet cupcakes. I had never made red velvet anything before. In fact, I never really understood the fascination with red velvet. But this is what the birthday gal wanted, so who was I to argue?
I decided to make a test batch before the real batch. The reasoning was twofold. First, having never made it before, I figured a test batch would give me a better chance of success for the real batch. Plus, I had to buy ingredients to make it. And some things you can only buy in certain sizes, so it would have left me with a bunch of unused ingredients. With the test batch I would use up what would have been the extra ingredients.
So, are you sitting down? I’m going to tell you something that may surprise you: red velvet cupcakes are red. (I said may surprise you.) But they’re not born that way. It takes a lot of red food coloring to make them red. Not like gallons of it, but a lot from the standpoint of the amount you normally get in a package of food coloring. So, while I had a package of food coloring in the cupboard – you know, the one with the four different containers of different colors – it wasn’t nearly enough red. I didn’t want to get a whole bunch of packages of the four, because then what in the world would I do with all the rest of it? The question then was, could I possibly find a whole bunch of just red food coloring?
The answer, fortunately, was yes. I could, and I did. Better yet, I found natural food coloring. I figured, why not? I didn’t know if it would work, but this was just the test run. And if it worked, it would make me happy, as I like to keep things natural when I can. I could buy just red food coloring on its own. And even better, I could buy it in the neighborhood. Sometimes, I really love Brooklyn.
Making the cupcakes wasn’t that hard. And when all was said and done, the cupcake batter turned out to have a pudding like consistency.
While the natural food coloring was a great idea, and I’m sure it works for some things, it didn’t work in this case. The cupcakes ended up looking more brown than red. I’m guessing that it isn’t as potent, and that I probably needed to use more. I also didn’t use the best bowl to mix the food coloring with the cocoa and vanilla. It was a wide rimmed bowl, and I think some of the mixture got lost on the fancy designs on the rim. In any case, I’m glad this was the test batch.
It was about an hour from start of making them to putting them in the oven. Some of that was fussing with the ingredients. Some of that was being methodical about doing it. Some of that was cleaning up and putting stuff away. After putting them in the oven, I washed the beaters and the spatula so I could use them for making the cream cheese frosting.
I baked them for 20 minutes and they were totally done. They were big and poofy and beautiful. They smelled amazing. I have to say, they were some of the most beautiful looking cupcakes I’ve made. So they were brown instead of red. They were still lovely. Maybe I just made awesome looking brown velvet cupcakes by accident?
The cream cheese frosting was very simple . . . once I found the right bowl. I know bowls aren’t the most glamorous item in the kitchen. I know they don’t get a lot of respect. But the wrong bowl can mess things up completely. And the right bowl can save you so much trouble. The food coloring incident above was just the start of things. When I got to working on the frosting, that’s when the bowl trouble really kicked in.
The first bowl I used for the frosting was too small. I had powdered sugar flying everywhere. So I tried a bigger bowl. Unfortunately, it wasn’t big enough, so I had the same problem. Plus, it was a plastic bowl, so I was afraid to mix too much, as it wasn’t the strongest plastic, and I didn’t want to dig into it. The third bowl, apologies to Goldilocks, was just right. It was the one I had used to mix the cupcake batter in. I had washed some stuff along the way, but not this bowl. Which means I had to stop in the middle of making the frosting in order to wash the bowl. I realized at that point that I needed to get another big mixing bowl so I don’t run into this problem.
I also realized at that point how much I would love a bigger kitchen. Our kitchen is definitely a New York City size kitchen. For those of you who don’t know what that means, let me explain a little bit. You can have either the oven or the refrigerator or the dishwasher open at any one time, but not more than one at a time.
As an aside to this kitchen aside, let me say that it’s actually a big deal to even have a dishwasher. People who visit from outside the city don’t get it. I’ll say, “And there’s a dishwasher!” They just shrug. The same with having a washer and dryer. I’ll say, “And we have a washer and dryer inside the apartment!” Nothing. They don’t get it.
To further illustrate the size of the kitchen, I’ll say this: if someone else is in the kitchen, and you want to open the dishwasher, if you get them to squeeze to one side or the other, you can just about open it. You can barely have two people in the kitchen in the first place. Well, you can both be in there, but you can’t both do much of anything without being in each other’s way. If my wife and I are making dinner together, it’s always “Can you stop chopping the vegetables for a second so I can get around you and grab the wooden spoon from the drawer?” or “Be careful with the mixing that you’re doing, I need to open the fridge and I don’t want the door to hit you.”
I know, first world problems. I actually love our kitchen. It may be small, but it does everything you need it to do. And my wife and I have made many beautiful and meaningful dishes and meals there. My grandmother’s latke recipe which we make every year. My wife making her mother’s famous roast chicken. The icebox cake I made for my wife’s birthday. It’s our kitchen. It’s our first kitchen together. Seeing how big a role food has had in both of our families, it’s a really great thing that we get to have a place to continue that.
But at that point, while I was making the recipe, I wanted a bigger kitchen so I would have room to spread out and put stuff. I wanted a place that wasn’t near the oven (so things could stay cool), wasn’t near the sink (so things could stay dry), and wasn’t in the middle of the mess I had just made on the counter while putting stuff together (so things could stay clean). I managed to make do, but a boy can dream.
So as I said, after I had the right bowl, it was very simple to make the frosting. For a while there, it didn’t seem like it would all mix together, but eventually it did. I don’t think I mixed it too long, but it was a little hard to tell, what with all the switching of bowls. It did get a little runny at the end, but I think that might have been from the room temperature.
I don’t have any real equipment to do frosting with. So I did the old plastic bag trick. You know, take a sandwich bag, spoon in the frosting, seal it, and cut a hole in the corner. This generally works like a charm. However, the first hole I cut was way too big. That made it really hard to frost with any precision. So I had to cut a second, smaller hole elsewhere, and I had to hold the first hole closed. It was a little challenging, but the small hole was much easier to use. Overall, I think I frosted them okay. I definitely need some more practice though, if I want them to look really nice.
And there are some other things I need to work out for the final product. They need to be redder. I need to use a big bowl for making the frosting. I also need to be careful not to overdo it while mixing the frosting. Also important, only cut a small hole in the bag in order to frost the cupcakes properly.
And lest you think I forgot, how do they taste? They taste good. The cupcakes themselves don’t have a super strong flavor, but they’re kinda sweet. In that sense, they remind me a little bit of the bacon, egg, and cheese muffins I recently made. There’s also the slight hint of cocoa. The frosting, however, is really yummy. According to my chief taste-tester (my wife), it has a great consistency and a great taste. It looked like it was melting a little while I was frosting the cupcakes because, I surmise, I was holding the bag in my hands and that had warmed the frosting. But once on the cupcakes, it firmed up.
Stay tuned for next week’s exciting installment to hear about how the actual birthday cupcakes turned out. In the meantime I’d love to hear from you. Do you ever make test batches of new recipes? Maybe for special occasions? And what lessons have you learned from doing the same recipe more than once?
Recipe courtesy of Joy The Baker.