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Red velvet cupcakes

February 16, 2011


Cupcakes have drawn me back to The Bake Escape. Not that leaving was voluntary or planned, but science once again seems to have dominated my planning / recording / dreaming time (I have had far too many work-related nightmares of late. I’ve never had a cooking-related nightmare, for the record. That must say something about the relative benefits of either activity for one’s mental health).

However, September 2011 will bring not only colder weather (after the hot weather I can’t quite imagine right now in dreary February) but also a sponsored charity cycle ride from London to Paris…entailing a rather daunting £10,500 to be raised between the group of us (or £1500 each). As part of fundraising efforts (a small but sweet part) I agreed to bake and sell a batch of cupcakes once a fortnight for the next 7 months.


That’s approximately 600 cupcakes… [got that a bit wrong the first time, I had 1200…]


Luckily for all of our sakes they are to be, hopefully, a different flavour each week. Or at least mainly different, I can’t promise that there won’t be some re-usage. I hope to blog many, if not all. This week contained Valentine’s day, and so the first batch of cupcakes were suitably themed: red velvet cupcakes. These gems are a bit of an obscurity. They do not taste red, nor contain anything red save red food colouring, and a dash of cocoa. Much like the rainbow fairy cakes that you may have made in childhood using any combination of colours under the sun, the red here is purely for visual effect. The cupcakes themselves are mainly vanilla-flavoured (the cocoa gives a slight dark bite), and are frosted here with vanilla cream cheese frosting.

I have a bit of a rocky past towards these cupcakes. I advise the following. Ignore at your peril:

1. Do NOT use Dr. Oetker’s natural red food colouring (even though they tell you to). I have used this bottle twice now and the red is distinctly brown. I prefer Supercook red (I can’t remember if it was natural or not, but definitely not Dr. Oetker)

2. Be very careful when making the red mixture. It will get everywhere, it will stain your kitchen, and it will make you look like Lady Macbeth. Mix very carefully.

3. Don’t do what I did the first time and add all the icing sugar for the frosting to the butter/cheese mixture at once, and then turn on the electric mixture. You will end up resembling the French Alps. Mix very slowly by hand, and using a little icing sugar at a time, before finally beating strongly on the mixer.


Recipe taken from the hummingbird bakery cookbook.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

  • 60 unsalted butter
  • 150 g castor sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10 g cocoa powder
  • 20 ml supercook red food colouring (I have to say I think the bottles of natural red are weaker in general)
  • 1/2 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 120 ml buttermilk. Use natural yoghurt if you don’t have any (the thin kind is best)
  • 150 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate
  • large pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp white wine vineagar

For the icing:

  • 125 g cream cheese
  • 50 g butter
  • 300 g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 170 oC / 350 oF / gas 3

Cream the butter and the sugar together and then add the egg, beat briefly till incorporated. In a separate bowl combine the vanilla, food colouring and cocoa, and mix slowly till it makes a paste. Add this paste to the batter a little at a time and mix well. Make sure to take all the colour from the previous bowl (I transfer a bit of mixture back to the other bowl to “mop” the remainder up.

Add half the buttermilk then mix slowly, then half the flour and repeat. Do again with the other half of the buttermilk then flour. Beat on high speed for a little till well mixed. Sprinkle over the salt, bicarbonate and then white wine vineagar then quickly mix again till all incorporated (there will be some fizzing). Spoon the mixture into the cases till 2/3 full (or 1/2 full if you want flat cupcakes)

Bake for 23-25 mins until a pick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Don’t open the oven too early or they’ll sink! When done, cool in the tin for a few mins, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to finish.

While the cupcakes are cooling prepare the buttercream. Whisk/mix the cream cheese and butter together till blended. Then slowly add the icing sugar a little at a time (sifted onto the mix) and mix by hand each time before turning on the electric mixer. When all done mix on high for a minute till well combined, adding the vanilla also. When done the buttercream should be moderately stiff, ie not runny, but still of a piping consistency. You can either now spread the frosting on by hand using a knife (you can firm up the buttercream a bit in the fridge first if needed) or use a piping nozzle to apply decoratively.

Finally the hard bit – sacrifice half a cupcake (well, tasting IS important). Or I always have one that goes wrong. Use the other half or so (depending on whether you managed to stop eating at half) and crumble between your fingers to make red crumbs. Either sprinkle over the top of the buttercream, or push some crumbs through a sieve, to give a final “red” touch to the cupcakes.


And that’s it. Love of the cakiest kind.

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