I am competitive. Really very competitive. I don't like to lose. I love board games (winning them), playing games with my students (beating them, even though none are over the age of 10), and being known as a great cook and baker (the one whose food my friends want to eat the MOST.) I know - it is silly and immature and totally nutty. But I really cannot help myself. I try to rein in that side of me, try to make myself not feel the urge to BEAT everyone, but most of the time I fail to squelch it and instead it rears its ugly head.
A couple of weeks ago, our church had a bake sale to raise money for our Vacation Bible School. The organizer of the event asked all the women in our church if they could participate and bake something for the event. I was very excited because I love this event - it always is a great time for the church and people get high on sugar and kids just have fun. Last year I baked about 100 cupcakes for the event, iced and frosted, and packed a ton of cookies as well. This year I did similarly - 40 vanilla bean and 40 chocolate cupcakes, some chocolate chip cookies, and Almond Rolo Pretzels. Other women participated, bringing coffee cake, brownies, cookies, chocolate dipped pretzels, and all in all there was an impression selection and wide variety of baked goods. There was one another cupcake contribution - a velvet cupcake. When it came my turn to buy some goods, I decided to buy everything that other people had made which included this other cupcake - which was somewhat unremarkable in appearance. It was called "Velvet Cupcake" and although I had had enough of cupcakes to see me through for a while, I bought it, if only to size up the competition.
I sat down with my lunch, chit-chatting with a few other folks, and everyone was talking about which baked goods tasted the best. I got quite a few compliments on my cupcakes and so I graciously said, "Oh no, they aren't really anything" while the inside part of me cheered victoriously! I then had the opportunity to eat the cupcake that I had purchased and friend JEL happened to walk by. "What's that?" she asked.
"A velvet cupcake," was my reply.
"Oh...interesting," she said.
"Do you want a bite?" I asked.
She readily took some and I also took a bite. I was confused initially, not really sure what I was tasting, but next to me JEL was suddenly ecstatic. She said, "THIS is JUST like a red velvet cupcake, but it's just not red."
"Wait," I said. "This is like a REAL red velvet cupcake only not red?"
"If I close my eyes, I can't tell it's not red."
I stopped dead in my tracks. After all, I have my own version of a velvet cupcake that is not red....and here she was saying that this one...was better?
"I'm going to find out what it is," she said. "I'll be back." She went off to hunt for the master baker and I sat fuming in my seat thinking, how could it be?
A few minutes later she quickly returned saying, "I found out. VEGETABLE oil." Again with the vegetable oil. I had discovered this vegetable oil trend and made the Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, and here it was again in a Velvet Cupcake. Immediately more intrigued, I set out to find the baker himself.
In my conversation with him, he revealed that there was not an ounce of butter in the batter, and it had only 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder. I quickly thought of my own recipe and began re-evaluating proportions and ingredients. Mine was differently but not markedly so, so I was curious; could just the exchange of vegetable oil make all the difference?
JEL found out later that it was a Paula Deen recipe that he had used. I decided however, that I would use the velvet cupcake recipe I had, to adjust and make it with the vegetable oil, also reducing some of the cocoa powder. The result - something pretty darn special, again with the "from the box" texture that so many people want. It's easier to mix without the mixer too, so there is no excuse for not making these.
BEYOND Velvet Cupcake
Makes 12 regular or 24 mini cupcakes
3/4 cup of sugar
1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg, room temperature
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon buttermilk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Line desired size cupcake pan with liners.
In a medium bowl, sift together sugar, cocoa powder, flour, salt, baking soda. Make a well in the center.
Pour wet ingredients into well in dry ingredients. Mix until combined, but do not over mix.
Scoop cupcake batter into pans. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes for regular sized/16-18 minutes for minis, or until centers spring back lightly when pushed. Remover from oven, and allow to cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans and allow to cool completely.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Enough for 12 regular cupcakes or 24 mini cupcakes
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
8 oz (half a stick of butter) unsalted butter, room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped OR 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the vanilla extract DOES color the frosting so it loses it's pure white color, while the vanilla bean will just fleck the frosting with beautiful black dots...the vanilla bean is my preference.)
In bowl, cream together cream cheese and butter, until uniformly combined. Add vanilla extract/vanilla bean and mix. Add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time until desired pipeable or spreadable texture is met.
A plate of these pave the way for lots of fun...and a bit of competition.