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Red Velvet Sweetheart Cupcakes

  For some reason, this year I've been on a bit of a Valentine's kick.  Heart-shaped sprinkles, an excuse to buy little candy hearts, eat chocolate, lace, pink and red...I guess I didn't realize how much I like that stuff.  Other than the whole Cupid deal, anyway.  I'm a happy single pringle, I'm not sharing my chocolate or Sweethearts with anybody.  You've been warned.
  Please excuse the very moist appearance (despite the fresh sprinkling of sugar), they were determined to look like they'd been refrigerated overnight.  Which they were, of course.  I made them yesterday for my piano teacher's birthday, and this was the only heart one I had left to photograph for you, bear with me.  They still taste danged good, that's a fact.

  I first encountered this recipe last summer, when my cousin was getting married and I contributed with 4 dozen purple velvet cupcakes.  Yep, purple.  My first test batch came out a suuuperr dark purple, they looked almost blue.  The day we were to leave for the two-hour trip, I baked up the cupcakes using a little less food coloring, and they came out way too brown looking.  Some referred to them as chocolate velvet...but hey!  At least they tasted good.  For the occasion, they served their purpose and I was satisfied.  It was awesome bustling around and arranging pretty things on tables with my aunts :).  I have only one crappy cell phone pic taken there, I was in a bit of a bluster just getting them together.

  That all being said, this is probably the best red velvet I've ever had.  And the cream cheese frosting will knock your socks off, maybe even your feet.  It's my favorite favorite favorite.
  I don't generally recommend anything other than pure natural stuff, but I do encourage the use of imitation (and thus, clear) vanilla extract here.  At first I was skeptical, but I did want a nice white appearance for the wedding.  The next couple times I used natural, and I ended up with a stranger consistency and not-so-pretty color.  It's certainly edible though, to be sure.  I leave it to your own judgment.
  It's also been mentioned on other sites that the cake is a little oily.  Personally, I prefer moist over dry, but it's possible to cut the amount down to 1 1/4 or even 1 cup if you really want to.  I think these have such a lovely, fluffy texture as is.

  Now, you're probably wondering about this heart technique.  After seeing it on Glorious Treats, I had to pair it with red velvet.  A word of advice: fill the cupcake liners about 1/2 inch from the top.  I suppose it can depend on how much a recipe will poof, but here the more dome, the better.  I sorta forgot that 1/2 inch thing.  I did the usual 2/3 full, and I had almost no domes to cut off.  I ended up just piping/spreading frosting on all the others, but I did get a salvageable amount of heart cut-outs from the more dome-y ones.  Just...don't be like me.  I was frustrated.
  But all's well that ends well!  I'll try to have a better brain next time.
  I've put together a little chart, just like Miss Glory did.

1. Cut off the top of the cupcake with a serrated knife, using the liner as a guide.
2. Use a small, heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out a heart shape from the cupcake dome.
3. You may pipe or spread the frosting into a slightly mounded shape on the cupcake's center.*
4. Gently place the dome back onto the cupcake and press down a bit. 
5. Sift on some powdered sugar, if desired (you can sprinkle the dome before putting it back on, if you like).

*with the rather crumbly/sticky consistency of red velvet, I chose to first pipe on a circular mound and carefully smooth it outwards.

P.S.You can make little heart sandwiches with leftover frosting, as seen in step 4.

  That's all there is to it!  It's a nice alternative for those who don't like heaps of frosting, but still like to eat pretty cupcakes.  I'll definitely be using this method again!

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Yield: about 24 cupcakes
Ingredients for the cake:
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tbsp. (1 oz.) liquid red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. distilled white vinegar

Ingredients for the frosting*:

  • 10 oz. cream cheese, chilled
  • 6 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 tsp. vanilla extract (preferably clear, for a prettier color and texture)
  • 3 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, well-sifted 

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat on medium speed until well blended.  Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners (if using the "sweetheart" frosting method, fill the liners about 1/2 inch from the top, to ensure that you'll have domes and edges to cut off later).  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

Sources: Cake via Annie's Eats, originally from Saveur, found on Apple A Day via The Way the Cookie Crumbles--frosting originally from Confections of a Foodie Bride
  "Sweetheart" cut-out idea found on Glorious Treats, originally from JustJenn Recipes