Posts Tagged ‘Cream Cheese Frosting’

Holiday On Ice

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes

Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue

Like many New Yorkers, my kitchen is air conditioned only on special occasions. As luck would have it, I have several friends and family members whose birthdays fall during the summer. I grew up in a house where birthdays were always marked by a cake, so as an adult I feel compelled to extend the courtesy by baking birthday cakes for my friends. Those are the special occasions when I crank the kitchen a/c to its chilliest setting, which, to my liking, is just short of snowfall.

This weekend as our nation celebrates its birthday (“234?? You don’t look a day over…”) I’m lucky enough to have a friend who has invited me to watch the big fireworks display from her rooftop aerie. I’m using the description “rooftop aerie” more for fun than for accuracy. The truth is, her apartment is relatively modest, although she does have a postcard view of the Empire State Building and shared use of the roof. I’m not sure if her kitchen is air conditioned, even on special occasions. I’m too shy to ask. The question “Is your kitchen air conditioned?” seems a tad too close to “Is your refrigerator running?” for my comfort. I’m a little long in the tooth for what we used to refer to as “chicken calls.”

(You don’t remember “chicken calls?” When we were kids we’d pick folks at random from the phone book, call them, ask, “Is your refrigerator running?” and when they’d say, “Yes” we’d say, “Well you better run and catch it!” and then hang up.)

(Yes, I know it’s not funny. But I was – what – 8 or 9 years old? Where I grew up this was practically considered gang warfare.)

(No, I didn’t learn to cook at the reformatory.)

My second favorite modern convenience, after air conditioning – caller ID – has all but eliminated the scourge of chicken calls.

I am worried about the relative coolness of her kitchen because of the all American menu that has been planned — take out Chinese food and my cupcakes. The Chinese food can take care of itself: I’m worried about the cupcakes. If her kitchen is hot I’ll worry about them sitting out on the counter too long (The frosting will melt.) I also have what they refer to as a scheduling problem, that is, I don’t really have time Saturday or Sunday to bake and frost cupcakes. My only choice is to make them a few days ahead, and then stare fear in the eye by calling ahead to reserve fridge space.

Unlike Mrs. Weasley in the “Harry Potter” books, I don’t have the skills to wave a magic wand and make food appear. So, instead of magic, I’ll let chemistry do the work. I know that many folks insist that you can only bake cookies and cakes with butter. I, however, do not subscribe to such absolutes in baking (or in much else, to be honest.)

Bakers down south have agreed with this tenet for years. True Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with oil, not butter. Aside from making a lighter, springier, cake, oil has the further advantage of solidifying at a lower temperature than butter. What this means for me and you is that we can bake cakes with oil, store them in the refrigerator, and they’ll be light and springy right out of the fridge, unlike butter cakes which need some time to come up to room temperature. In addition, cakes made with oil freeze and thaw beautifully.

All of this got me to thinking about my sister-in-law. One of the “givens” of any chocolate cake made within my family is that it must be large enough for left-overs. After the stress of a long day’s work my sister-in-law eats forks-full right out the box without even removing it from the refrigerator. (And she’s what my Auntie used to refer to as a “mere slip of a thing.”) The point is, sometimes chocolate cake tastes better on the cool side.

On a warm summer Fourth of July night under the stars a nice cool piece of cake would be yummy. Frosting and fireworks. That’s my kind of holiday. Chocolate frosting is okay cold, although I admit it is better when the chill is off. There must be a frosting that tastes good and is the perfect consistency right from the fridge. (Not to mention saving me the round trip down stairs from my friend’s rooftop aerie to take the cupcakes out of the fridge to warm up.) Clearly it was time to get to work in the Butter Flour Eggs Frosting Lab.

I had already decided to bake Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes, an oil-based recipe. Red Velvet Cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting but I usually frost Chocolate Cake with Italian Buttercream, which is a cooked meringue beaten with butter. It is smooth and fluffy. Splitting the difference seemed to be the obvious answer, as in Cream Cheese Meringue. I made the meringue as usual, and then beat in the cream cheese. The result was a bit loose, but the advantage of that was that instead of standing frosting cupcakes I merely dipped the tops of the cupcakes in the frosting. Each one came out smooth and perfect, with a little “Dairy Queen” swirly top that drooped as the cupcakes sat a while which lessened the cupcakes’ appeal not a bit.

Yes, yes, I know, Italian Meringue requires you to cook sugar to a specific temperature, and by extension requires the use of a candy thermometer. Never fear. You can substitute a jar or two of Marshmallow Fluff and beat that together with the cream cheese. The result will be a bit sweeter, and perhaps slightly overpower the delicate Chocolate Red Velvet cake, but that fear may be a reflection of my own preference for making things from scratch. Short of a blind side-by-side taste test who’s gonna know?

Either way, they’re Yankee Doodle dandy.

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Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Meringue.

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