Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes

So, are you curious as to what the surprise is in these tremendous cupcakes? Or do you already know since I actually made them back in September for my daughter's third birthday?

I desperately wanted to make a red velvet cake without using food coloring (due to it being not healthy for you and two full bottles in a cupcake recipe sounds terrible to me) and since beets had been used during World War II due to food rationing I began my search for a chocolate beet cake aka Red Velvet. Oh and I happen to love sweet beets - they are almost like candy when cooked right with a bit of butter and salt. Yum, my mouth is starting to water. Anyway...during the process I found out that you did not have to use beets to get a reddish color, but rather a lighter unprocessed cocoa along with an acidic agent such as vinegar, lemon juice and/or buttermilk. The first recipe that I experimented with yielded a beautiful reddish purple batter, but alas the cake was totally brown after baking. The third batch yielded a truly red cupcake without food coloring, but the texture was a bit too mushy and not very chocolaty. So, I created my own recipe combining one that had great texture and taste with the one that resulted the best color. And here it is for you my friends to try. Beets are a cold weather vegetable so you shouldn't have a problem finding them in your local store, but since they are a root vegetable I try to find organic. Before you dismiss the beets entirely, just think of pumpkin bread/cake, carrot cake, banana bread/cake or zucchini bread - it is not uncommon to have fruits and vegetables in sweets.

Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes

3/4 cup flour*
1/4 cup unprocessed (non-dutch) cocoa*
3/4 cup sugar (sucanat or turbinado can be used)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup beet puree
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tblsp lemon juice
1/4 cup buttermilk*
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
12 frozen raspberries (optional)**

Steam beets until a knife or fork pierces flesh easily (slides in without hesitation). Carefully peel beets, you can use gloves if you prefer. I like to make to slits on either side of the beet (after cutting off top and bottom) and gently rub the skin off. Puree beets in food processor and set aside (this step can be done in advance). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line 12 wells in a cupcake pan. Combine first five ingredients and stir; set aside. Mix together beet puree, oil, lemon juice buttermilk, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Fill the cupcake wells 2/3 full. Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing.

*My notes: When I made these cupcakes I combined whole wheat pastry flour with "power flour." Power flour is a mixture of various whole grain flours - such as oat, spelt, barley, brown rice, sorghum, white wheat, etc. I make it with whatever I have on hand or whatever suits my fancy from the bulk section at the co-op. Typically I use equal parts of each type of flour that I am using, but sometimes I have just a little bit more of one so I add it all. The nice thing about mixing all of these whole grain flours together is that you don't notice any particular taste/quality of the individual whole grain. If I were making this cupcake today I would likely use 1/4 cup all-purpose, 1/4 cup white wheat and 1/4 cup power flour, but do whatever you want, just mix up the whole grains if you decide to use them. So the key to getting red cupcakes is the type of cocoa you use. If the label says Dutch-processed - do not use this! The acidity has been lowered using an alkalizing agent and will not net the red result you desire. The lighter the cocoa, the better the result. And although I am a huge dark chocolate fan, don't use it for this recipe. You shouldn't have a problem finding non-Dutch processed cocoa in your local grocery store, but be sure to read the label. There are some cocoas out there labeled cocoa rouge or raw/natural cocoa. Also, make sure it is unsweetened. And although for most recipes you can substitute a cup of milk with 1 Tblsp vinegar or lemon juice added to make your own "buttermilk" I would use the real thing for this recipe due to the existence of lemon juice in the recipe already. And I would prefer the real thing over powdered buttermilk as well. But, you could try and see what happens or since it is not much try plain yogurt instead.

**A unique addition you might like to try is freezing 12 raspberries and placing one at the bottom of each cupcake before pouring the batter in. Works best with cupcake liners. Which, you can actually make your own if you have parchment paper - just cut them into squares and fit into your cupcake tins. Oh and I like to spray my liners with a bit of oil so that they are easier to detach from the liner - not too much though or they will fall off immediately.

Now for the icing - there is much debate over this when looking for recipes. Some say it must be cream cheese frosting while others insist it should be boiled frosting. I went with a cream cheese frosting as I love cream cheese frosting, but I'm not sure that I was entirely happy with the result. So, I will give you two other icing recipes and you can decide which one to use. Now I did not try the boiled frosting because it sounded odd to me, but I've been told that it is wonderful! So, you decide.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz neufchatel (or full fat if you prefer)
3 Tblsp butter, softened (optional)
maple syrup to taste or about 1 cup powdered sugar

If you are using full fat cream cheese then you will need to let it soften. If you are using neufchatel then you shouldn't need to. Using an electric mixer beat neufchatel and butter until smooth. Slowly add maple syrup or powdered sugar to desired sweetness and consistency. If you are really ambitious and don't mind what color your frosting is or if you plan to add some color to it anyway (I recommend natural food colorings) then try making your own unprocessed powdered sugar from sucanat.

The boiled frosting recipe below comes from my mother-in-law and may be more than you need for 12 cupcakes, so I would recommend cutting it in half. If you read up on the history of Red Velvet Cake you will probably find a story about the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Hence the name below.

Red Velvet (Waldorf) Frosting aka Boiled Frosting
3T flour
1 C. milk (use organic whole milk)

Whisk the flour and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium. Heat stirring constantly until it thickens. Set aside and cool. (It is very important to cool or it will melt the butter and ruin the frosting.)

Cream together:
1 t. vanilla
1 C. room temperature butter
1 C. sugar

Once it is light and fluffy then add the cooked milk mixture. Mix on high speed until it has the consistency of whipped cream.

Another unique option is to add an egg to the cream cheese frosting and place a dollop of the "frosting" in the cupcake batter and bake it in. I actually did try this, using up the strange concoction of cream cheese frosting I used for my daughter's cupcakes and wow were these ever yummy. So my concoction also involved whipped cream and almond flavoring. Sorry I don't have exact measurements, but it was probably about a cup of whipped cream and a tsp of almond extract. I think I also added chocolate chips to the batter when I made this. The cupcakes weren't red - I used dark chocolate cocoa, but they certainly were tasty!

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