I bake a lot. But when my daughter, Kate, asked me to make her a red velvet cake for her birthday last year, I self-assuredly replied, Okay, and then scurried to my books to find a recipe. The truth is, I had never eaten, let alone baked, a red velvet cake; the only one I could recall was the shockingly ugly one shaped like an armadillo from the movie Steel Magnolias.
In any event, Kate’s favorite little pig Olivia prepared a red cake in one of her stories, so that’s what she wanted for her birthday. I researched a number of recipes, all fairly similar, and came up with this one. Many recipes call for a whole lot of red food coloring. Perhaps this is necessary when using the bottles from the grocery store, but I prefer the red paste available in craft stores, such as A.C. Moore and Michael’s. It’s very potent, and I found I only needed about half the amount when I used it instead of the supermarket varieties. In addition, although the amount of cocoa called for in this cake is relatively little in relation to the flour, do use natural cocoa instead of Dutch process. The latter will become too dark in the oven, lessening the intensity of the cake’s desired redness.
This is, indeed, a very red cake. The color can be a bit confusing to the palate, but you will be happy upon tasting this cake. It is incredibly moist and delicately (but distinctly) flavored with chocolate. Whether you make large cakes or cupcakes, a coating of vanilla, or white chocolate buttercream or cream-cheese frosting would finish them nicely.
Makes 24 to 30 cupcakes (or two 9-inch cakes)
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup natural cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 (1-ounce bottles) red food paste (available in craft stores)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons vinegar
Frosting or buttercream (such as cream cheese frosting or vanilla buttercream) to serve Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line about standard 24 muffin cups with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder in a large bowl.
Combine the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until combined. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, incorporating completely before adding the next. Stop the mixer and add the red food paste and vanilla extract. Beat on low speed until incorporated.
Alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl. Remove the bowl from the mixer, stir together the baking soda and vinegar, and fold into the batter.
Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups and bake until fragrant, well risen, and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Set the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing directly to the rack to cool completely.
To serve, spread with your favorite frosting or buttercream.