Thursday, February 12, 2009

Love in My Tummy

Valentine's Day can either be a day of romantic anticipation or a day of romantic disappointment. For me, it's a day to bake. Food is love, folks. Food is love. Unless it's a big ol' chubby ass diamond something-or-other, in which case, stick the bling inside the cake and just tell me to be careful.

This year I decided to follow the heart-felt theme and make red velvet cupcakes. Actually, I made them two weeks ago for a party with my wine group and as an homage to Elvis's birthday, but I did stow a half dozen in the freezer for this weekend. Since I'm too lazy at this point to pull them out and frost for a true blue photo, I copped this one off the Web instead. So, shoot me. But then believe me when I tell you, they look EXACTLY the same.

The thing about Red Velvet Cupcakes is, they're fun. Okay, despite the slightly freakish color, they can actually taste good – there's enough cocoa in them to give them a chocolaty kick (which comes in handy in case your Valentine's Day starts heading towards the Kleenex), and who in their right mind doesn't love a luscious cream cheese icing? But most importantly, they look cool and you can decorate them with all kinds of fun chocolate or candy heart thingees or little plastic bow and arrows. Or, if your mood is swinging the other way, little plastic devil horns.

And, of course, the absolute BEST thing about cupcakes is they're already pre-portion controlled, clocking in at about, oh, I dunno, 300 calories each, frosting and all. Unless you decide to have two, in which case I can't help you there. But I do understand.

The cake portion of this recipe comes straight out of an interesting little book by Linda West Eckhardt called Cakes from Scratch in Half the Time. I've made a lot of things out of here, and mostly the recipes – and the advice to bake at 400 degrees for half the normal time – come out great.  

So come on, put a little love in your heart:

For 24 cupcakes or two 9-inch round regular cakes:

2-1/4 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Crisco)
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 one-ounce bottle of red food coloring (2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 400ยบ F and line two twelve-cupcake cupcake pans with cupcake liners. 

Sift together flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside. In mixing bowl, cream sugar and vegetable shortening at high speed for 3-4 minutes, scraping bowl at least once. Add eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping bowl after each addition. 

Stir together the vanilla, buttermilk, and food coloring in a glass measuring cup. Add to the batter in thirds, alternating with the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder mixture, scraping down bowl after each addition. Turn off mixer. Stir together the vinegar and the baking soda – it will foam – in a glass bowl and fold into the batter using a spatula or wooden spoon.

Quickly fill each cupcake tin 2/3 full and bake in the middle of the oven for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into middle of a cupcake comes out clean. You can start checking at 8 minutes.

Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove. Cool completely and frost with the following:

Yummy Cream Cheese Icing:
1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar

Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla together until smooth, scraping down bowl at least once. Sift the confectioner's sugar into the mix and beat until incorporated. Turn mixer on high and beat until very light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes.