Red Velvet Cupcakes – Happy Birthday Edition

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When we last left our fearless blogger (me), he was spinning a tale about a grand and glorious adventure making red velvet cupcakes. Okay, maybe grand and glorious is a bit hyperbolic, but it was an adventure nonetheless. This week we revisit the lovely red velvet cupcake. But lest you think I’m repeating myself (or repeating myself 😉 ), this week is a brand new adventure. Last week was the dress rehearsal. This week is the real deal.

Last week’s cupcakes were good, but they could have been better. This time, I was determined to make them right. Someone’s birthday was at stake. Well, not the entire birthday, but at least my surprise birthday dessert. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. But it was to her. And, as you might have guessed from reading this blog, I take desserts (and particularly birthday desserts) seriously.

One of the big things I had to fix about the cupcakes was to make them red. Last week’s were delicious but brown. I needed to get better food coloring. Serious food coloring called for serious shopping. Thankfully my friendly, neighborhood baking/cooking/anything-you-might-have-in-your-kitchen-and-lots-of-things-you-might-not-have-but-totally-want store had some. In this instance, my chief taste-tester also became my chief food coloring procurer. I had such a busy day that day that I didn’t have a chance to pick any up before they closed, so my wife thankfully agreed to pick it up for me. (Thank you, dear!)

The serious food coloring she picked up for me was gel food coloring. Ateco Spectrum Super Red, to be exact. (I don’t believe it actually gives you super powers after eating it, but it totally should.) It’s potent. I did a little searching around, and since it’s stronger than liquid food coloring, you don’t use as much. I only used half a teaspoon, versus the 2 tablespoons you would use of the liquid. You then have to add water, so the volume of liquid remains the same. You can judge for yourself, but I think the color worked out well this time.

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It’s red!

I measured out all the ingredients ahead of time. I can’t recommend this enough. It makes things way easier. The consistency of the batter looked great before they went in, the cupcakes smelled great while baking, and they looked great once they were done. They were not as poofy this time, but they still looked delicious. In between making the cupcakes and the frosting, I cleaned the bowl, the beaters, and the spatula. I knew I would need them again.

Ready to go in.

Ready to go in.

Fresh out of the oven.

Fresh out of the oven.

I had gotten an 8 ounce package of cream cheese, and since the recipe calls for 4 ounces of cream cheese, I split it evenly between the test batch and this one. Or so I thought. I didn’t measure it exactly, I just eyeballed it. I must have been a little bit off, because last time I had a bit too much frosting, and this time I had just barely enough.

I finished up the bag of powdered sugar I had while making the frosting. I had a couple of grams too much, but I didn’t want to leave just a couple of grams in the bag. I didn’t sift the powdered sugar, either this time or last, because I didn’t notice that the directions called for the sugar to be sifted until after the fact. Maybe next time?

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Waiting for their frosting.

One other issue I aimed to fix this time was the bowl-tastrophe I previously encountered. I used a big bowl this time, but it still went everywhere while I was trying to mix it. I then realized what I needed. The bowl has to be big enough so the frosting doesn’t fly everywhere. (“I’m free!” it shouts, as it flies across the kitchen. “I’m free!”) However, at that point the bowl is so big that the frosting barely takes up any space in it, and it actually seems like too small of an amount to work with in such a big bowl. So I think what I need is a tall, thin bowl.

I got better at doing the frosting this time. I cut a smaller hole in the plastic bag. However, while I was frosting the cupcakes, I used a little too much pressure on the bag, and the back of it popped open. Luckily the frosting was thick enough that it didn’t splatter anywhere. A friendly commenter pointed out on last week’s post that I needed a bigger plastic bag. I think that would have helped prevent the bag from popping open this time. I’ll definitely keep it in mind for next time!

The first couple cupcakes were hard to frost, as the frosting still needed to warm up a bit. After I worked with it a little bit and it warmed up, it was much easier to frost with.

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I made the cupcakes in the early afternoon. The delivery was scheduled for later afternoon/early evening. The birthday gal knew I had something for her, but she didn’t know what. These cupcakes seemed smoother and redder than the first batch, but I would have to wait for the red velvet lady herself to know how they turned out.

The cupcake delivery was such a New York City thing. There was no pomp, no circumstance, no glamour. It was a cold, rainy day. We met up outside the subway station near where she worked. We stood just out of the rain and spoke for a couple of minutes. But she was obviously very cold, so I quickly handed her the cupcakes, and wished her a happy birthday. She was very appreciative and asked if it would be bad if she ate them on the subway platform. I said, “Hey, they’re your birthday cupcakes. You get to do whatever you want with them.” And that was it. She got into the subway, and I walked home.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely moment, but it was definitely a New York City moment. It’s like the city moves so fast, there isn’t even time to enjoy your cupcakes. The city moves on its time, not on yours. So you get moments, but they’re often cold, rainy, brief, and unglamorous. I don’t know that New York City invented that, but we’ve done an awful good job of perfecting it.

And as for the cupcakes, how did they turn out? They looked great, but I wasn’t able to partake in them (see moment, New York City above). So I had to rely on the birthday girl. She’s a red velvet connoisseur, and I wasn’t sure if they would live up to her expectations. I spoke with her later about the cupcakes. She said, “I would describe them as a harmonious blend of all that is good about a red velvet cupcake, smooth icing with just a hint of cinnamon… A very good cake but the icing is definitely the star of the show.”

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Well, then. I’m glad you liked them, birthday girl. I guess the lesson of today is that practice does make perfect…ly good cupcakes. What lessons have you learned while baking? Do you have any perfect New York City moments? Let me know in the comments below.

Recipe courtesy of Joy the Baker.

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