Culinary Clash #4: Red Velvet Cupcakes
Bless the south! Fried chicken. BBQ. Biscuits and Gravy. I could almost hoist the confederate flag outside of my house. Almost. If it had a cast iron skillet on it instead of the blue X, then it would be very possible. Yeah, I loves me some southern food.
Rooted in southern tradition, the Red Velvet cupcake has become the darling of the cupcake craze. Invented in the early 1900s, its red hue was originally the product of a chemical reaction between natural cocoa powder and buttermilk. Somewhere along the way, bakers started adding food coloring to the batter to create a more stunning red. Nowadays, it’s too easy to waste money on a sorry imitation that is simply a red dyed yellow or white cake. It may catch the eye, but there’s no distinctive Red Velvet flavor and texture.
I think its “flavor charm” comes from a little bit of sensory trickery. Our eyes see the red and signals are sent to the taste buds to expect a fruity flavor. Then we actually partake and the flavor profile is so unique. It’s that surprise (almost confusion) that is part of the pleasure. A real Red Velvet cupcake will have a slight hint of cocoa, without being chocolatey. Add to that a gentle tanginess from the buttermilk and flavor compounds not generally found in nature are created! It should be moist without being oily and have a delicate crumb that still feels substantial in the mouth. These final two characteristics are also a chemical reaction attained by using natural cocoa powder, not dutch processed. Lastly, the cream cheese frosting better not be too sweet!
Upscale cupcakeries dot the southland with their cutesy names and decor. Among the most popular are Sprinkles, the Beverly Hills hero that started it all, and SusieCakes, the retro bakery that also happens to be one of Martha Stewart’s favorites. And so we clash….
As you can see, there’s a big difference in color. SusieCakes’s is an almost neon red, no brownish tinge, meaning not enough cocoa powder (if any). It’s very moist, and the frosting surprise in the middle is nice, but the flavor just wasn’t there. I walked into Sprinkles a bit of a skeptic. But it lives up to the hype. The cupcakes are presented beautifully and the service is excellent. Despite my blurry picture, you can see that it definitely has sufficient cocoa powder. It’s everything a Red Velvet cupcake should be. Maybe more.
Throw the towel in! Sprinkles wins this clash in an easy first round knock out.