Friday, March 12, 2010

red velvet cupcakes with orange zest

red velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes leave me on the fence. On the one hand, I’m pretty obsessed with them, unable to turn down one when offered to me. On the other hand, I have massive guilt pangs making them because all that food coloring seems to be the antithesis of what I like to do here. It’s like loving cheesy poofs. You know they’re bad for you, but you just can’t quit them. Or at least I can’t. There, now you know my junk food Achilles heel. I’m sure everyone’s got one.

en attendant

I suppose we all need our “snack of shame”, as I like to refer to my cheesy poof love. And so long as we don’t abuse it, we’re in good standing. So what is it about red velvet cake that makes even the biggest food snobs who eschew artificial everything line up to get a slice? It might be the only time I actually use artificial color (excluding some color experimentation with frosting). And I feel like I should feel ashamed about it, except I don’t. I actually feel ashamed not being ashamed. See my dilemma?

red velvet mise and morning coffee

According to Wikipedia, red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s and that beets were used to color it only for a short period of time. The cake then gained prominence in Canada in the 40s and 50s at the Eaton department stores. And the resurgence of the cake’s popularity is owed in part by its feature in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, where a groom’s cake is a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.

red velvet cupcakes

To me, red velvet cake has always seemed a very Southern dessert: festive, decadent, delicious. I am not sure what is so Southern about it, but I’ve been obsessed with it enough to make as many different iterations of it as possible. The first version was featured here some time ago here. And this is the one that I’m most excited about because this recipe – is definitely a keeper and much better than the earlier version. It comes from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook and the addition of orange zest brightens the cake batter up and complements the cream cheese frosting. The buttermilk gives the cake a nice tang and a moist, light crumb, which, when you bite into it, tastes pretty darn heavenly. To me, a dense heavy cake is a total killjoy, so this was a pleasant surprise.

red velvet cupcakes

But most importantly, I got two thumbs up from this guy here, who ate his cupcake with such zeal, it was gone in mere minutes. And then he promptly requested another.

seal of approval

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange Zest
Adapted from “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook”

Ingredients:

For the Cake:
2 3/4 cups plus 1 tbs sifted cake flour or 2 1/2 cups sifted bleached all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the pans
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder such as Hershey’s
1 oz red food coloring
1 1/2 tbsp water
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp natural vanilla extract
1 tbsp orange zest (from 1-2 oranges)
1 cup whole or low fat buttermilk

For the Icing:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 lb cream cheese (2 packages) softened
1 lb (4 cups) sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp whole milk (if needed)

Preparation:

Making the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 muffin trays with cupcake liners (you should be getting around 18 cupcakes).

2. Sift together the dry ingredients twice. Dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa, red food coloring, and water until it becomes a smooth paste (about 1 minute). Set aside.

4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until creamy using an electric mixer (about 30 seconds). Gradually, add the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, beating about 15 seconds after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary, until the mixture has considerably lightened in color and become fluffy. This should take a few minutes (2-3). Add eggs, one by one, allowing to mix well after each addition. After eggs, add the vanilla and then orange zest, beating for about 15 seconds after each addition. Add the red cocoa paste and mix well until it is evenly incorporated.

5. Add the flour mixture to the butter and eggs mixture one third at a time alternating with buttermilk, and finishing with the flour mixture. Avoid overworking the batter. The best way to do that, gently mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula after each addition, until the ingredient is just incorporated. Once all the ingredients are well-incorporated,beat the better 10-12 strokes with your spoon or spatula if using cake flour, 2-3 strokes if using bleached all-purpose flour.

6. Distribute the batter across the cupcake liners filling about 3/4 way to the top. Bake until a cake tester or a toothpick emerges clean, about 18-20 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven and let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Afterward, remove from the muffin tray and let cool on a cooling rack by themselves.

Making the frosting:
8. In a large bowl, beat 3/4 cup butter, set aside for icing, with the mixer for 20 seconds, until creamy. Next, add the cream cheese and beat until the butter cream cheese mixture is fluffy for about 1 minute. Next, add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy, and smooth. If the frosting is too stiff, beat the milk into it to loosen it.

9. Spoon the frosting into a pasty bag and pipe the frosting in swirls onto cupcakes.

10. Store at room temperature covered. If you don’t plan to eat the cupcakes for 24 hours, refrigerate – covered.

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28 Comments

  • 1
    Rebecca said:

    What a cutie!!! Red velvet cupcakes are my FAVORITE!!! Yum!

    March 12, 2010 7:42 am
  • 2
    Whitney said:

    Beautiful red velvet cupcakes! I like the idea of the orange zest giving more flavor to the cream cheese frosting. Sometimes the cream cheese is just too heavy to match with the cake.

    March 12, 2010 7:52 am
  • 3
    Robert S. said:

    Love red velvet – my three-year old eats them with as much zeal as the little guy pictured (only with MUCH more frosting on the face).

    March 12, 2010 8:57 am
  • 4
    meleyna said:

    I admit, I don’t really *get* red velvet. The batch I made (from the Baked book) for my son’s Valentine’s party, while a nice sweet treat, didn’t quite do it for me. They needed more… something. Perhaps orange zest is the answer?

    March 12, 2010 9:38 am
  • 5
    Radish said:

    Meleyna – agreed. I made the Baked version and found it lacking, hence I didn’t do a post on it. But to me, the orange zest was that missing note of brightness I thought the cake needed.

    March 12, 2010 9:55 am
  • 6
    bianca said:

    Red velvet cupcakes are so delicious they should be a sin. But since it’s friday and I can repent on sunday; I am making these babies this afternoon!

    March 12, 2010 11:06 am
  • 7
    Sharon said:

    I love the way you did the frosting! What size tip did you use? Did you start from the center,or work from the outside in? Details, please!

    March 12, 2010 4:42 pm
  • 8
    shayma said:

    love the orange zest and cream cheese with red velvet. and what more do you need than the approval of the most important critic- this darling boy?

    March 13, 2010 5:34 pm
  • 9
    Jackie said:

    Hi

    I was wondering if I could make this into a layer cake. If so what size cake pans should I use and do I have to increase the ingredients.

    March 14, 2010 12:04 am
  • 10
    Radish said:

    jackie – yes! in fact, it was a layer cake before i made cupcakes out of it. the recipe says that it makes a 2 layer 9-inch cake. good luck and let me know how it goes!

    March 14, 2010 5:01 pm
  • 11

    I read somewhere that the red in original red velvet came from the chemical interaction of cocoa powder with something, which has always intrigued me. I love red velvet, too, but SO MUCH FOOD COLORING!

    March 15, 2010 12:52 pm
  • 12
    Radish said:

    Kate – I think I am now on a mission to recreate one without the food coloring. :-) I’ll let you know how I do.

    March 15, 2010 1:42 pm
  • 13
    Sprout said:

    I’m so happy to have come across your blog as I’m newly dating an Eastern European. Let’s just say we’ve had to compromise A LOT as to, “What’s for dinner?” Needless to say, it’s given me great blogging material :)

    Your archive will be an invaluable resource to me. Thanks!

    March 16, 2010 9:54 pm
  • 14

    I remember my grandmother making red velvet cakes for special occasions. I love the zesty frosting on these!

    March 16, 2010 10:26 pm
  • 15
    Radish said:

    Sprout – I’m absolutely delighted to hear this has been helpful. I’m overdue more Eastern European recipes, indeed. I’ll be incorporating them here this year, for sure.

    March 17, 2010 7:09 am
  • 16
    Dana said:

    Red velvet cake/cupcakes definitely get me right in the junk food Achilles’ heel. I like the idea of the orange zest, orange does go so well with cream cheese anything (at least for me).

    What was the texture of your icing like? I often find cream cheese icings to be too dense. Though I suppose the use of the milk would help.

    March 17, 2010 12:25 pm
  • 17
    Radish said:

    Dana – my texture was really nice and creamy, not thick at all. I think that should you find it too dense, you might want to add a spoonful of milk and mix – and see?

    March 17, 2010 12:46 pm
  • 18
    LisaA said:

    Thanks for such a wonderful recipe! My husband’s family makes red velvet cake with 7 minute frosting, but I much prefer cream cheese frosting…a definite improvement in my book.

    This weekend, I made these little delights for a bake sale held during my daughter’s elementary school play…I even piped on the frosting as you did, since I though it looked lovely (though somehow I ended up with 30 cupcakes). The cupcakes sold out very quickly, with lots of oohs & ahhs! I’ll definitely be making them again.

    March 17, 2010 8:54 pm
  • 19
    Radish said:

    Lisa – 30?? That’s tremendous :) Well done! So glad to hear about the ooh’s and aaah’s. I think this might be my go-to red-velvet recipe now. I will play with color though – see if I can get natural colors instead of artificial ones.

    March 18, 2010 5:50 am
  • 20

    […] Red Velvet Cupcakes with Orange Zest – I had a fight with red velvet cupcakes two nights ago.  I had dreams of making delicious ones.  Ones like this.  It’s not that my version didn’t taste okay, but they looked like a trainwreck.  And we all know that we eat first with the eyes!  (@ Sassy Radish) […]

    March 19, 2010 4:03 am
  • 21
    Josephine said:

    A baker in Boston used Mascarpone cheese instead of cream cheese. The consistantcy was smoother and not heavy at all. a lovely alternative.

    March 26, 2010 9:44 am
  • 22
    Radish said:

    Josephine – which baker? I’m from Boston! I like that idea!! Though, does it still have the tang the cream cheese gives?

    March 26, 2010 10:22 am
  • 23

    I love red velvet anything, and am not ashamed to say it out loud! A little color is much needed in life, so don’t think about it too much, just enjoy.

    March 29, 2010 3:34 pm
  • 24
    Fraser said:

    Hey all – Jamie Oliver has a mascarpone/cream cheese & lime frosting for a carrot cake in Jamie’s Dinners (I think) that is fantastic. I’m trying it on this, with orange zest instead.

    April 10, 2010 5:36 am
  • 25

    […] Red Velvet Cupcakes With Orange Zest on Sassy Radish […]

    May 26, 2010 5:34 pm
  • 26

    […] Red Velvet cupcakes traditionally contain cocoa powder and red food coloring. After all, the food coloring is what gives them their name, and the cocoa powder is what provides the flavor — otherwise you would just have plain, boring white cupcakes. However, this recipe’s addition of orange zest to the batter gives these treats another dimension. The zest adds a slight “zing” to the overall flavor. Top these cupcakes with cream cheese icing and enjoy! Source Sassy Radish […]

    January 22, 2014 11:28 am
  • 27

    […] Red Velvet cupcakes traditionally contain cocoa powder and red food coloring. After all, the food coloring is what gives them their name, and the cocoa powder is what provides the flavor — otherwise you would just have plain, boring white cupcakes. However, this recipe’s addition of orange zest to the batter gives these treats another dimension. The zest adds a slight “zing” to the overall flavor. Top these cupcakes with cream cheese icing and enjoy! Source Sassy Radish […]

    January 22, 2014 11:10 pm
  • 28

    […] Red Velvet cupcakes traditionally contain cocoa powder and red food coloring. After all, the food coloring is what gives them their name, and the cocoa powder is what provides the flavor — otherwise you would just have plain, boring white cupcakes. However, this recipe’s addition of orange zest to the batter gives these treats another dimension. The zest adds a slight “zing” to the overall flavor. Top these cupcakes with cream cheese icing and enjoy! Source Sassy Radish […]

    January 23, 2014 11:10 am

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