Red Velvet Cupcakes

I mentioned, I think in my very first post, that as a young person, I didn’t have the mindset of being well organized while I baked, nor did I have the clean as you go mentality.  When I was finished I would look around only to see a giant mess. I always hated that I didn't have it together enough to avoid making such a colossal disarray. I guess you could say that I like to cook, I love to bake, but I hate to clean. In those early days there was no automatic dishwashers either and everything had to be cleaned by hand. In our house the countertop was really small so you either had to stop washing to dry and put dishes away or you had to play the stacking game, seeing how high you could pile the dishes in the drainer before everything came crashing down. Over the years I have gotten a lot better about these things and I always have in my mind when I start a project that I will work clean and efficiently.  I still have a fairly small kitchen without a lot of counter space so it's pretty noticeable when things start getting out of hand.  I find that the worst part about not having a lot of counter space is that when I pull out a set of baking sheets and place them on the counter I have no room left to actually work, so that means I need to place the sheets on the dining room table. Instantly it makes it seem as if the kitchen is so chaotic that I must overflow into the dining room. During the Christmas holidays when I am baking a lot of cookies, I need to use most of the dining room table as the cooling station. Even though I try to be organized the fact that the mess has spilled out into other rooms makes me feel like things are getting out of control.  Ultimately I tell myself that I am still working efficiently and that it will all sort itself out and be cleaned up by the end of the last batch. 

I still struggle with a few little odd things that I can't seem to control. When I am making a red sauce for pasta and meatballs I have a splatter screen that I place on top of the pot. The only time it is removed is when I need to stir the sauce, and it is in that moment, nearly every time that just as soon as I remove the guard the sauce will sputter up, and droplets will shoot up and out of the pan landing in a splash on the stovetop. If you have ever had pasta sauce start boiling while on your stove, in a short-sided pot, you probably know what I am talking about. Sometimes I finish my sauce and after putting everything away I notice that there are splatters of sauce on the vent hood. Now I can't figure out when or how this happens because I am watching it most of the time. I actually think it's a “splash” conspiracy. David will come into the kitchen after I have finished cooking and he'll look at a cupboard door and ask me “how did the sauce get way up here?” I just stand bewildered trying to figure out the science behind possible splash patterns and trajectories. It's usually baffling to me.

I first learned about splash patterns a long time ago when I was working as a bus boy at a hotel restaurant. My mother and my sister also worked at the hotel and most likely that's how I got my job, but that is neither here nor there. One particular day the regular breakfast cook called in sick, which meant my mother had to fill in for him. An order came in that needed, for some bizarre reason, a special ranch style dressing we called Hacienda Sauce which was made by the gallons in a giant five foot tall mixer. My mother called for me to quickly go to the walk-in refrigerator in the back and bring her the container of dressing.

I quickly hustled to the walk-in and started searching for the bowl of dressing. I didn't realize that in fact the dressing was still in the giant mixer bowl, not in an ordinary container as one might expect, and so it was taking me some time to find it. Now my mother would normally be preparing the things she needed for the big Sunday brunch that started in the late morning. Having to step in as breakfast cook, in addition to doing her regular prep jobs, was not helping her mood in any way. She was just slightly stressed (to say the least) and kept "calling" (that's the nicest way I can phrase that) for me to hurry up with the dressing. When I finally discovered that the dressing was still in the mixer bowl I grabbed it and jetted out of the walk-in as quickly as I could, (ok, I was running). My mother, who had run out of patience, was headed back toward the walk-in with real purpose in her step, if you know what I mean. I called out to her “I got it!” as she was approaching, hoping that this would mitigate some of the anger I saw in her eyes. Just then everything went horribly awry. Unbeknownst to me, while I was searching for the sauce someone had placed an empty lettuce box on the floor directly in my path. Because I was carrying the giant mixer bowl, I could not see it, and I tripped. As I lurched forward I let go of the mixer bowl so I could use my hands to stop myself from falling on my face. The side effect was that the bowl I was carrying kept moving forward without me. Stupid Newton's Law of Motion! Everything else that followed seemed like it was in slow motion and it took forever to finish.

As I struggled to regain my footing I watched the bowl leave my hands in a sharp upward angle. As its forward motion slowed it just dropped straight down and hit squarely on the bottom of the bowl. The contents of this conical shaped mixer bowl then shot straight up with such an incredible velocity that it hit the ceiling of the kitchen. If it would have ended there, that would have been bad enough, but gravity didn't let things lie, no, gravity dictated that all that liquid should rain back down in a three to four foot circle around the impact point. Think about a giant mushroom cloud of ranch dressing and you'll understand what I mean. As the viscous liquid made the return trip from the ceiling and hit the floor, the collateral splashes sent dressing more than ten feet in every direction. There was hacienda sauce everywhere, no kidding, it was everywhere: dripping from the ceiling, running down the walls, puddles of it on the floor, the counter, the sink, the ovens, on my clothes, in my hair... everywhere. This of course made my mother giggle and out of sheer concern for her possibly injured son, she dropped what she was doing, foregoing the happiness of hungry customers and rushed to my side, carefully wading through the slippery pools of dressing, to make sure I was OK... … not really… actually she turned right around, and returned to her breakfast cooking duties without saying a word. Her face as she turned to go, though, said volumes. This was the very last thing she needed, and I knew it. I avoided her for as long as possible that day and would have avoided her for longer except she was my ride home.  The customer never got his side of dressing, and I never knew what was substituted for it, probably we just said we were out and gave him a ketchup packet instead. A special note of thanks should go out to Sheila who was the person who actually had to mop the ceiling and floors, (literally mopped the ceiling) and cleaned up after me. Sheila actually witnessed the entire thing and found it to be so funny that she laughed for the entire rest of the day, which also didn't help my mother’s mood at all! In fact every time we saw each other for months and months afterwards, she would start laughing, which made me start laughing, which made my mother scowl. I remember, just before we started cleaning, looking at the ceiling and the splash pattern on the floor and thinking how Jackson Pollock would have been so proud.

So this brings me to one day when I was making this very recipe for red velvet cupcakes. As I started, I again told myself to be organized and to work cleanly and I did just that. I had everything ready to go and as I used the ingredients I placed the empty bowls in the sink to keep them out of the way. The only thing I didn't measure out was the red food dye as I decided I would measure it out directly over the mixer bowl to avoid any splashes or drips of red food coloring on the white countertop. Fate however would not be swayed. As I measured out the dye and put it into the bowl I was so happy that things were going perfectly for me, but as I went to put the measuring spoons into the sink a single drop of food coloring dripped off the bottom of the spoon and hit the counter creating a splatter pattern two inches in diameter. All I could say was "really?.”  I'm telling you it's a splash conspiracy!

I really don’t know why I like red velvet cake so much. Ask me that question in person and I will look at you, shrug, and say, “I dunno”.  Ask me specifically what about red velvet cake appeals to me most and I will continue looking at you and repeat, “I dunno”.  Ask me anything else about red velvet cake and I will just turn and leave, really I don’t have the patience for such interrogations. But in general… I definitely like the color and I definitely like the flavor, especially when iced with a traditional cream cheese frosting. It’s just an overall fantastic cake, simple as that. And, since Valentines Day is almost upon us, Red Velvet cake or in this case, cupcakes, seems like a perfect thing to make. Plus they just can’t be easier to make. I have often heard people saying that making red velvet cake is hard, but for the life of me I can’t figure out where that comes from.  It’s just a regular cake but has some food coloring and some vinegar in it.  So, to those of you who are thinking this is a difficult cake to make… Break out some bowls and a mixer, put some heavy metal on the stereo and let’s put that notion to rest. There are a lot of red velvet cake recipes out there and if you have one already in your recipe box that you like, good for you, but if not this recipe was originally from Anna Olson. You can view that here. Anna uses grated beets for her red coloring, but gives the option of substituting red food coloring, which is how I prepare them.  I also make larger cupcakes instead of the 15 that Anna makes. This is due to the simple fact that I like bigger pieces of cake.  I also didn’t want to fuss with rotating the cupcakes between oven racks during baking so making 12 means I can bake in one muffin tin in the center of the oven.  I do still rotate the pan about halfway through baking but at least I don’t have to shift racks! The only other significant difference between our recipes is Anna spells coloring… colouring in her version, which has always looked weird to me. Of course, and you know I have to say it… Anna, if you’re reading this and want to stop by my house when you’re in town, to argue the merits of silent U’s while simultaneously teaching me more of your pastry chef skills, I will gladly make the coffee or tea and you can bake to your hearts content (or vice versa whatever you like). 

So let's get on with it already and make these shall we? You don’t need a lot of stuff to make these 12 cupcakes. You’ll need 12 jumbo (3 ½ inch) paper cupcake liners and a standard size muffin tin to bake them in. A stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or electric mixer) will be needed to mix both the cupcake batter and the icing, and if you have a piping bag you can use it when icing the cupcakes if you like.


For the Cupcakes

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

  • 6 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar

  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 2 teaspoons red food coloring

  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar

For the cream cheese icing

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

  • ¾ cup cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


For the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position.

Line the muffin tin with 12 extra large or jumbo (3½ inch) paper liners, and set aside.

Using a stand mixer (or electric mixer) beat the butter, the brown sugar, and granulated sugar on high speed for just about 1 minute.

Add in the egg and the vanilla and beat until the mixture is smooth.

In a bowl sift together the flour, the cocoa powder, the baking powder, the baking soda, and the salt.

Take another bowl and in it stir the buttermilk, red food coloring and the vinegar together until nicely combined.

Now, add half of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and blend well.

Next add in the buttermilk mixture and again blend well.

Finally add in the remaining flour mixture and blend well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter evenly between the paper liners and bake until the top of the cupcakes spring back when gently pressed, about 18 – 20 minutes.  If your oven is tilted or hotter in the back, front, or to one side rotate the pan about half way through baking.

Cool cupcakes completely on a wire rack.


For the frosting:

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or an electric mixer) beat the butter and cream cheese on medium high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add in the confectioners sugar and vanilla and mix on low speed until the sugar gets incorporated.

Increase the speed to high and mix until the icing is nice and fluffy, about 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Pipe or spread the frosting on each cooled cupcake, as you desire.

You can also decorate with red sprinkles, or some red sanding sugar, or maybe a few Red Hots candies, really whatever you like, they’re your cupcakes.


Store these cupcakes in the refrigerator for up to three days, but allow them to come to room temperature before serving for the best flavor (flavour?) and texture.


Make these for your special someone on Valentines Day, or just make them for your kids (or yourself even) for any day. Oh and you can always call me when you make them and I might just come over with a glass of milk and happily eat one or two. 

Riley is always bewildered as to why he doesn't get to eat cake.