When we have a cupcake (and eat it too), we don’t normally mind how that particular sweet came to be. The usual assumption is that cakes of different varieties are just flavor variations of basic cakes, i.e. a chocolate cake is just an addition of cocoa and a banana cake is just a result of adding bananas in the batter, and so on.
Interestingly, that luscious red velvet cupcake has a mixed history that no one really knows how this red-tinted cake would become a craze especially among cupcake lovers. Cupcakes have not had that much attention in the modern times until a Sex and the City where Carrie and Miranda devoured these frosted wonders from the Magnolia Bakery. However, in its cake form, the red velvet actually had its screen time in the 1980s classic Steel Magnolias although it was in the shape of an armadillo and was frosted gray.
Now where on earth did the red velvet cake come from?
One important point in retracing the beginnings of the red velvet cake can be seen in the “Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook”(2006, Bulfinch Press); it was mentioned by John Doherty and John Harrisson that the hotel was already carrying the cake in the 1920s and was known as a Southern dessert. Another interesting aspect of the legend, albeit debunked, is that a female customer actually asked for the recipe thus she was charged more than a hundred dollars. The legend goes that as a form of revenge, this woman shared the recipe to everyone she knew.
Even though the red velvet cupcake’s interesting twist seems to have taken place in New York, its roots still point to the south. Because of its red shade, the practice of adding red coloring of the cake was probably due to the intention of the southern cooks to intensify the color of the cocoa. Instead of producing a more appetizing brown, this velvety sweet goodness turned a yummy shade of red.
Accidental chemistry might be another starting point on how the idea of a red-colored cake came to be. Similar to the workings of devil’s food cakes, the resulting red can be caused by the reaction between the acid and the cocoa. This happens when buttermilk or vinegar is added to the batter in order to activate the leavening, the baking soda. A similar concept rose when many home bakers started using Dutch process cocoa which minimizes the alkalization of the batter which, in turn, tones down the redness.
Despite some trend “predictions”that cupcakes are going to be “out”this year, this well-loved dessert will always have room among foodies and cake aficionados. The red velvet cupcake, whether it was a result of an inevitable baking chemistry or was a product of a secret genius from the South, is a great discovery that no longer needs some air time. Whether you like it with straightforward cheesecake frosting or with swirls of butter cream, the red velvet cupcake has claimed its place as one of the cupcake classics.