Although legend has it that the red velvet cake originated in the early 1900s at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, it’s been a Southern favorite for as long as I can remember. (A friend of mine recently reported seeing a version of it at a Starbucks in Mississippi.) Years ago, I made an armadillo-shaped red velvet cake for a wedding couple, complete with gray cream cheese icing for the animal’s shell and scales. The idea may have come from the popular 1989 movie Steel Magnolias, which featured a red velvet armadillo groom’s cake, a popular Southern tradition that continues to this day. The inspiration for my red velvet cupcakes came from my high-school boyfriend’s grandmother. My mother was quite ill during those years, so I spent a lot of time with Bob Yarborough’s family. His Birmingham, Alabama–born grandmother cooked and baked frequently, and I never forgot her red velvet cake. I wrote the instructions in my high-school recipe notebook and used it as a guide for developing these cupcakes. The mint extract and crushed mint candies add bit of holiday flair, but easily can be left out at other times of the year.
12 Texas-sized cupcakes
1/4 cup (2 ounces) red food coloring
3 1/2 tablespoons high-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone (Italian cream cheese, available at most grocery stores)
1 teaspoon vanilla or mint extract
Crushed peppermint candy for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease jumbo muffin cups (3 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep) with butter or cooking spray, and lightly flour them, knocking out the excess flour, or line them with baking papers.
In a small bowl, stir the food coloring and cocoa powder together to make a smooth paste. Set aside. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition, then add the cocoa paste while continuing to beat. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat the batter for about 4 minutes. In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk (this can be done in the measuring cup). Add the flour mixture in 3 increments alternately with the buttermilk in 2 increments, starting and ending with the flour. Beat on medium speed just until the ingredients are combined. Add the sour cream and vinegar and beat on low speed until combined.
Fill the muffin cups three-fourths full with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, just until the cupcakes feel firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overbake, or the cupcakes will dry out. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then unmold onto a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
To make the icing: In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone on very low speed until just combined. (Be careful; once you’ve added the mascarpone, excessive beating can make the frosting curdle.) Stir in the vanilla or mint extract.
Frost the top of each muffin with the icing. Sprinkle the crushed peppermint candy, if using, evenly on the cupcakes.
The Pastry Queen Christmas by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman. © 2009 by Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman. Published by Ten Speed Press. All Rights Reserved.
Alison Oresman has worked as a journalist for more than twenty years. She has written and edited for newspapers in Wyoming, Florida, and Washington State. As an entertainment editor for the Miami Herald, she oversaw the paper’s restaurant coverage and wrote a weekly column as a restaurant critic. After settling in Washington State, she also covered restaurants in the greater Seattle area as a critic with a weekly column. A dedicated home baker, Alison is often in the kitchen when she isn’t writing. Alison lives in Bellevue, Washington, with her husband, Warren, and their children, Danny and Callie.
A pastry chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author, native Texan Rebecca Rather has been proprietor of the Rather Sweet Bakery and Café since 1999. Open for breakfast and lunch daily, Rather Sweet has a fiercely loyal cadre of regulars who populate the café’s sunlit tables each day. In 2007, Rebecca opened her eponymous restaurant, serving dinner nightly, just a few blocks from the café. Rebecca is the author of THE PASTRY QUEEN, and has been featured in Texas Monthly, Gourmet, Ladies’ Home Journal, Food & Wine, Southern Living, Chocolatier, Saveur, and O, The Oprah Magazine. When she isn’t in the bakery or on horseback, Rebecca enjoys the sweet life in Fredericksburg, where she tends to her beloved backyard garden and menagerie, and eagerly awaits visits from her college-age daughter, Frances.