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Red Velvet Cupcakes

I remember when I was a little girl, decorating Christmas cookies.  We had rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, those little silver balls that crunch and break your teeth, and colored sugar..  As I decorated, I would toss a handful of sprinkles in my mouth.  A little for the cookies, a little for me.  I got to the red sugar, and tossed a good teaspoon full in my mouth.  It was so bitter!  I ran for the water and tried to rinse out my mouth.  I spit mouthful after mouthful of red colored water in the sink, and vowed never again to stick anything in my mouth that had artificial red dye in it.

It’s been many years since then, and Red Velvet Cupcakes have become a popular flavor.  I love the idea of chocolate cupcakes, and I love cream cheese frosting, so the only thing keeping me from Red Velvet would be the full bottle or two of red dye that most people dump into the batter.  It hasn’t always been this way.  Historically, Red Velvet got its coloring from beets or non-alkalized cocoa, which has a natural red color.  I figured in this era, where basically any ingredient can be found on the internet, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to find non-alkalized cocoa.  Unfortunately I wasn’t paying attention and picked an alkalized cocoa, thought it did claim to have a natural red color.  I ordered the Cocoa Rouge off http://www.guittard.com/.  There are many other brands out there that are legitimately non-alkalized and will turn red when mixed with the buttermilk, so next time I’ll make a better effort to research the product first.

For my recipe I was going to use the normal Red Velvet recipe, but then found that far too many used very small amounts of cocoa, only 1 or 2 tbsp.  So instead I used a base chocolate cake recipe, with some cake flour to give it a softer, velvetier texture, and only egg whites to keep the yolks from altering the red color.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 stick (12 oz.) butter
  • 1 3/4 c. sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. cake flour
  • 1 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

First, make sure all your butter, eggs and buttermilk are room temperature.  Beat the butter and sugar together with a mixer until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the egg whites, one at a time.  Then add the buttermilk and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the cake flour, regular flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Then gradually mix together the wet ingredients and dry ingredients until the batter is smooth.

Spoon the cake batter into 24 cupcake cups.  I found some red cupcake cups at a craft store that compliment the color nicely.  Bake at 350 degrees approximately 20 minutes.

I stored the cupcakes overnight in the fridge before frosting them.  Unfortunately I don’t have a good frosting recipe.  I used 12 oz. cream cheese, 6 oz. butter (both room temperature) and just added powdered sugar until it was a good consistency.   Then I used a quart plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe nice little spirals of frosting onto each cupcake.  The cupcakes need to be stored in the fridge after frosting as well, so make sure you’ve got plenty of room for 2 dozen cupcakes in there!

The cupcakes turned out with a delicious chocolatey flavor, a velvety texture, and the cream cheese frosting was a perfect compliment.  I think when I try again though, I’ll probably make a few changes.  I think I’ll try adding a tsp. of baking powder, since the cupcakes were a little dense, and I think the buttermilk would have provided enough acidity to make them rise nicely.  I also think using a different cocoa might have helped bring out a more distinct red color to the cupcakes.  I’ll try to find something legitimately non-alkalized, like Dagoba.

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I’ve been wanting to make a Fromager d’Affinois cheesecake for so long, and since Southern Season was wrapping up their sale last Saturday I picked up 3 wedges.  I think my recipe turned out pretty well.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) Fromager d’Affinois (no rind)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 ready-made graham cracker crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a pan of water on the bottom rack.

First cut the cream cheese up into small pieces and put in a large mixing bowl with the sugar.  Scoop out the soft insides of the Fromager d’Affinois, saving the rind for later (it’s great with some chardonnay).  Fill up a 1 cup measuring cup, unless you have a kitchen scale, which would be more precise.  Mix for a few seconds until the sugar is incorporated into the cheese, then beat on medium high for a couple minutes until the cheesecake batter is smooth.  This will already look a bit thinner than normal cheesecake.

Add eggs, one at a time, and fully mix in between each one.  Make sure you’re scraping the bowl with a spatula as you go.  Then add the vanilla and mix it in.  By the end you’ll have a thin, bubbly mixture resembling pancake batter.

Now you might be asking, Magie, why do you spend $10-$20 just on this fine cheese, and then use a crappy old generic crust?  Honestly, it’s just a crust, it’ll save you 20 minutes of work and it won’t add or subtract anything from the flavor.

Have the graham cracker crust already on a baking sheet before you pour the batter in.  A nice trick I found is to save the plastic insert in the graham cracker crust, clean it off and pull off the little sticky bits, and use it to cover your cheesecake in the fridge.  It covers it perfectly and won’t ruin the top of the cheesecake.

Bake the cheesecake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes.  For some reason the Fromager d’Affinois browns more than cream cheese alone, so if you overcook it at all it’ll really get brown.

When it comes out of the oven it should be puffy and just barely brown.  I may have overcooked mine by a couple minutes, there’s more brown on this than I usually like.  Because this cheese is so much thinner and creamier, you probably won’t have any problems with cracks that you might in a typical cream cheese only cheesecake.

Let it sit on a cooling rack for an hour (still on the baking sheet), and then put in the fridge.  Cover it after it’s cool, otherwise you’ll get condensation drips which ruin the top.

Now this is the first time I’ve ever made this kind of cheesecake, so I wasn’t sure what kind of topping would go with it.  I got out a slice for my husband and I, and many different toppings, and we tried one bit with each topping.  The strawberry topping was typical but not spectacular.  The almonds were good but missing something.  The chocolate wasn’t very good with it, and neither were the blueberries.  The two best toppings by far were the cranberries and the white chocolate.  Even better, the cranberries and white chocolate together.  I’m thinking next time I’ll mix in a couple of squares of melted white chocolate into the cheesecake, then top it before serving with a cranberry compote.  Make sure if you so use white chocolate, you use real white chocolate, not “white chips” or “vanilla chips”.  Real white chocolate will have cocoa butter as either the first or second ingredient.  If the first 3 ingredients are sugar, milk powder and oil, then it’s not real white chocolate.

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