My husband, who works as a journalist, didn’t get much of a Christmas break this year. In fact, he had to work all of the major public holidays and only narrowly made it home on Christmas Day in time for his roast dinner.
To get him and his colleagues through the day, I baked a batch of red velvet cupcakes which I hoped would provide some Christmas cheer.
Although I have to admit that when it comes to red velvet I still always think back to the movie Steel Magnolias where the groom’s cake was a giant armadillo and someone said “People are gonna be hacking into this poor animal and it’ll look like it’s bleeding to death!”
Ah well, hopefully everyone else will just see them as festive red!
I went straight to the Magnolia Bakery recipe which I’ve used many times, but this time actually started analysing the ingredients. This has never happened before, and I guess is a side effect of this blog/project.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the inclusion of baking soda rather than baking powder. After doing a bit of reading, I discovered that there are different times and uses for these two leavening agents, as summarised below:
- Baking soda, also known as bi-carb soda, creates carbon dioxide gas when heated which in turn helps your cake or cookies rise. The main problem is that it has a strong, unpleasant taste that is somewhat metallic. However, this taste can be neutralised by mixing it with acids like lemon, buttermilk, yoghurt, etc.
- Baking powder is made up of baking soda, a powdered acid and cornstarch so effectively the metallic taste has already been neutralised. It is used when making cakes or cookies without acidic elements.
The next thing of note, which is actually linked to the leavening agent, is the inclusion of vinegar in the recipe. When you use baking soda in a recipe, you will often see vinegar as well because it reacts with the soda and creates a fizzy liquid/slurry. This mix is then folded into the finished cake batter the same way that egg foam is added to lift a sponge mixture.
One tip, if you are using a baking soda / vinegar slurry, make sure you use the batter immediately to make the most of the leavening mixture.
Science lesson over and time for the recipe!
Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcakes
3 cups plain flour
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups caster sugar
3 large eggs
6 tbsp red food colouring (I only used half – think this might be an Australian vs American food dye thing)
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
Preheat oven to 175°C. Grease and lightly flour 2 cupcake pans (24 cupcakes).
In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 mins. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food colouring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.
In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and bake the cupcakes, switching positions of the pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan 10 mins, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack before icing.
Simple buttercream icing
1 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together with a whisk until pale and fluffy.