Red Velvet Cupcakes

A couple of years ago, cupcakes become the trendy food in Chicago.

In upscale neighborhoods like Lincoln Park or Bucktown, just about every block has a bakery that specializes in cupcakes, complete with downtown prices. And people are willing to stand in line to buy them.

I can remember a time not so long ago when the most popular cupcake anywhere was chocolate and had white curliques running across the the top of it.

Well, times change, and if bakers are able to get $7 for a cupcake, more power to them.

Cupcakes are easy and inexpensive to make. That’s why they have been the staple of school bake sales for years.

I recently made red velvet cupcakes, which are made from the same batter as red velvet cake, one of those old-school cakes that has recently come back in popularity. It is the same as the cocoa-based devil’s food cake, but red instead of brown.

In the old days, bakers used beet juice to die the batter red. I’m not sure how that would work out, flavor-wise. Nowadays, we just use flavorless red food color.

The recipe also includes vinegar and buttermilk because their acidity brings out the natural redness of the anthocyanin in the cocoa.

Red velvet cake has been around since at least the beginning of the 20th Century, but its heydey came during the 1940s and ’50s. Its popularity ran its course and and it fell out of favor until 1989, when it became popular again after was featured in the movie “Steel Magnolias” as a groom’s cake shaped like an armadillo.

I used cream cheese icing, but you could use buttercream if you prefer. A word of warning: Be careful with the red food color because it gets everywhere! Maybe I should have used beet juice after all!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2-1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cocoa

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 eggs

1-1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 tsp vinegar

1 oz red food color (1 small bottle)

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup buttermilk

For the Cream Cheese Icing

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 8-oz package of Neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese)

2 cups confectioner’s sugar (also known as 10x sugar because it is 10 times as sweet as granulated sugar, fun fact!)

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line two muffin pans with paper cupcake inserts. Cream eggs and sugar in Kitchen Aid mixing bowl (or use a hand mixer). In another mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cocoa. In a third bowl, combine vinegar, oil, food color and vanilla.

2. Add vinegar and oil mixture to egg and sugar mixture and mix well. Then, alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full, rap pan once on counter to release any trapped air bubbles, then bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.

3. Cool completely in the muffin pan, then frost with cream cheese icing.

To make the icing, cream the butter and cheese in mixing bowl, add vanilla, then slowly add the sugar and mix until proper consistency, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides about midway through so there are no lumps.

I wanted to frost these using a piping bag with a star tip, but I couldn’t find the one I had when I was in culinary school. Does anyone know where I can get one on the South Side without paying Bed, Bath and Beyond prices? If so, leave a note in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!