25 March 2009

A Velvety Smooth & Crimson Post

Flashback to my senior year in college. I had just come back from a year abroad in Paris and was arbitrarily assigned to the "French House," one in a cluster of chalet-type houses on the outskirts of the campus. You see, my friend Julie and I had been tardy in getting our housing selection mailed in (we were in Paris, after all!) and so the people who decide these things, well, I guess they thought it would make sense for us to live...in the French House since we were just arriving back on campus from...France.

So, we were in this house with an oddball mix of characters. It was one of the few houses in which students of all years were grouped together. It kind of reminded me of the Breakfast Club: we had the freshman blonde field hockey player and her Doogie Howser look-alike boyfriend; the sophomore Southern Belle who spent more time flipping through the Neiman Marcus catalogue than her schoolbooks; my next door neighbor was from the islands and burned incense night and day - I didn't see much of her but feared that she might be practicing voodoo behind her perennially closed door in her free time. There was the space cadet and the cheerleader; there was me, the Native New Yorker; and my friend Julie, who hailed from the mean streets of Boston. And then there was the random French guy. I told you it was the French House. Though I don't recall much about what made it French, except for the night when the random French guy showed us how to make crepes. It was a disaster, as was any event that got us all in the same room together. There wasn't much harmony happening in the French House. We all did our best to survive the year and co-exist but it wasn't pretty.

Now the Southern Belle and I often clashed over who left the dirty dishes in the sink (her!), who used up the last of the toilet paper and didn't replace it (again her!) or who drank the last can of Dr. Pepper from the fridge when it was clearly marked with her name (okay, I confess, I did it!) but the one thing we absolutely agreed on was the undeniable deliciousness of the Red Velvet Cake her mother brought with her when she came one week for a visit. It was moist, and tender, and just the right shade of red. The cream cheese frosting was sweet, yet tangy, like the Colonel says: it's finger-licking good! She bragged it had taken first-place at the State Fair not once, not twice, but three times! I had to have the recipe! For those of you who know me, you know I have no shame....I plastered a big smile on my face and simply asked. And, you know what? As the saying goes ask and you shall receive.

This week, I made red velvets three times using the Southern Belle's mama's recipe and they are one of my favorites. If you want to bake some at home, I can highly recommend Chockylit's version, which is very close to the Southern Belle's mama's. Though be sure to double or triple the amount of chocolate called for if you like it chocolatey. And while the Southern Belle's mama made a darn fine frosting, I actually prefer Chockylit's which uses vanilla straight from the bean and is oh so creamy; you will want to eat this right from the bowl so don't say you haven't been warned.

As an end note, I came to understand the Southern Belle a little bit better after her mama's visit. It wasn't a lack of respect that caused her to leave her stuff all over the house or never put things back where she found them... I saw that she in fact had been raised in an environment where she never had to do a thing for herself and didn't think twice about leaving her mess for others. You see, the Southern Belle's mama traveled with her own personal assistant, one of several household employees, who did everything for them, all week long, without a single word or sigh of aggravation or discontent. I wouldn't exactly say we rounded out the year as best buddies but we did reach a state of detente -- I got her mama's blessing and thus her approval, and the Southern Belle got a few lessons from me on how to work the washing machine and the best way to remove burned food from the bottom of a stockpot. For Every Occasion, a Cupcake. For me, red velvets will always be about finding a new friend in the most unlikely of places.

PS This post features an assortment of red velvets I've made over the past few weeks - my Kiss Kiss Bang Bang cupcakes, as well as a new item on the Little Miss Cupcake menu: Little Miss Morsels, or Cupcake Pops as they are better known when made by the infamous Bakerella.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
(from Chockylit)
makes 36 cupcakes - 350/180 degree oven

3-3/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cups cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder or 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
3/8 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
3 teaspoons vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 ounce red food coloring paste
2-1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cups butter
3 eggs

1. preheat oven to 350°F
2. sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder (or cream of tarter), and salt into medium bowl
3. whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and food coloring in small bowl to blend
4. beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well fluffy, 3 minutes
5. add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition, about 30 seconds
6. beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions
7. scoop into cupcake tins
8. bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes
9. cool in pans 10 minutes
10. cool completely on racks

Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
(from Chockylit)

12 ounces or 1-1/2 packages of Philly cream cheese
1/2 stick butter
4-5 cups sifted powdered sugar
seeds of 1/2 vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. bring cheese and butter to room temperature by letting it sit out for 1 or 2 hours
2. sift powdered sugar into a bowl or onto parchment
3. beat butter and cheese at medium speed until creamy
4. add 4 cups of the sugar and beat until combined
5. add vanillas and beat until combined
6. add more sugar until you get to the consistency and sweetness you like


  1. I am weeping (and drooling) with hunger over all that velvety yumminess.

  2. I really enjoyed that story! I adore the movie the Breakfast Club, but I cannot say I have ever tried red velvet cupcakes, I am inspired to try them soon! My grandma's birthday is this weekend, perhaps I will bake some for her! :)

  3. I almost didn't do this month's challenge either because I'd already done a post on Lasagna Bolognese, which is essentially the same thing, but with plain egg pasta, AND, since I can't get into the kitchen, the meat ragu was out of the question! Not to mention, I was in the mood for our usual sweet challenge! However, your red velevet cupcakes post just soothed that itch. I LOVE red velvet cake and cupcakes, and your take on Chockylit's look amazing! I like to make jumbo red velvets, with an ice cream scoop of the cream cheese frosting! Oh god, I can't talk about it anymore, I'm drooling and want some now! I wish I could astral project myself to your home so you could make some for me :D Beautifully done!!

    BTW -LOVED your post about your college roomies! I was the 'messy' one in our dorm/apartment, but not because we had all kinds of housekeepers and help - simply because my mom always cleaned up after me, made my bed etc..lol I'm NOT like that anymore - thankfully! lol

  4. Great post! It got me thinking about the odd assortment of roommates that I had in college! Love the red velvet cupcakes! They're my favorites.

  5. if i didn't have actual vanilla bean, how much pure vanilla extract should i use or add instead? thanks!! :) your cupcakes looks so yummy!

  6. Hi Meg,
    You shouldn't definitely try to get some - it really does makes a difference in taste. You should use 1 tsp. extract instead. Try to get the colorless one as regular vanilla will turn the frosting brownish.