Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's all about the frosting

My bestest-friend-since-we-were-12 April came to town recently.  She asked me specifically to make red velvet cupcakes.  I had never made them, and not being one to turn down a challenge, I obliged.  And luckily, the day after I made them for her, the Hubster and I were going to a gathering where I could bring food, so I had some people to eat the remaining cupcakes (this also explains the red, green and white sprinkles -- it was a Christmas thing).

Here's the thing about these:  first, they have a lot of ingredients, and second, I don't think I really like them all that much.  As far as cake goes, I found it sort of unexciting.  But that frosting!  Now there's a reason to celebrate.  It was tangy, sweet, soft and super creamy.  It took a great deal of restraint not to eat the leftovers right out of the bowl (wait, why did I leave frosting in the bowl?  what was I thinking?!?!). 

I'm glad I made these, so at least I can said I did it.  They will probably be a special-request-only type of thing, but whatever.  The frosting, however, will be made at every chance.  Really.  It's THAT good.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Note:  For the cake to have the proper rise and color, you must use natural cocoa powder; do not substitute Dutch-processed cocoa.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch salt
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

  1. Adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.  In another medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla together.  In a small bowl, mix the cocoa and red food coloring together to a smooth paste.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes.  Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture.  Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk mixture.  Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined.  Beat in the cocoa mixture until the batter is uniform. 
  4. Give the batter a final stir with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined.  Use a greased 1/4 cup measure (or large scoop) to portion the batter into each cup. 
  5. Bake the cupcakes on the upper-middle and lower-middle racks until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 15 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating the tins halfway through baking.  Let the cupcakes cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Spread the frosting evenly over the cupcakes and serve. (or you can pipe on the frosting)
Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

Note:  Do not use low-fat or nonfat cream cheese or the frosting will turn out too soupy to work with.  This frosting has a softer, looser texture than other frostings.  If the frosting becomes too soft to work with, let it chill in the refrigerator until firm.

Flourpile note: this recipe makes 4 cups of frosting, which will generously frost 24 cupcakes with some to spare.  if you were less generous, you could probably make a half batch of this, but where's the fun in that?

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioners' sugar

  1. Beat the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 2 to 4 minutes.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar, and beat until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes.
To Make Ahead
The frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Let the frosting stand at room temperature until slightly softened, about 1 hour, then whip with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Seriously, even if you never make the cakes, you should definitely try out the frosting.  It is amazingly good.  I got tons of compliments on it, and I just had to share the recipe. 

Also, I'm not that good at decorating things.  I took the easy way on this one and dumped the frosting into a pastry bag with a big round tip and squeezed it on, and then added some sprinkles.  They certainly weren't the prettiest cupcakes in the world, but the frosting made up for it. 

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