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Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

A real Southern classic, red velvet cake has just a hint of cocoa and a deep red crumb. True to tradition, these party-worthy cupcakes are topped with rich cream cheese frosting and are embellished with a sprinkle of toasted sugared pecans.

Ingredients:

For the glazed pecans:

  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbs. water

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 Tbs. natural cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 12 Tbs. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. red gel food coloring
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 1/2 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions:

To prepare the glazed pecans, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a nonstick fry pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the pecans and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and stir to coat evenly. Add the water (be careful, as the mixture might spit and hiss at you). Cook, stirring constantly, until the water evaporates, the sugar melts and the mixture gets sticky, about 3 minutes; do not let the mixture burn. Spread the glazed pecans on the prepared baking sheet and let cool before using.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Line 18 standard muffin cups with paper liners or grease with butter and dust with flour.

In a bowl, whisk the cocoa into the boiling water. Let cool to lukewarm, then whisk in the buttermilk. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the food coloring, vanilla and salt. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined. In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and vinegar, then quickly stir into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin cups, filling them about three-fourths full. Bake until the cupcakes are puffed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool slightly, then remove the cupcakes from the pan and let cool completely on the rack.

Meanwhile, make the frosting: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium-high speed until smooth, light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until thoroughly combined. If the frosting is too soft, refrigerate it until it is spreadable, about 15 minutes.

Spread the cupcakes with the frosting and sprinkle with the glazed pecans. The frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days; bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 18 cupcakes.

Baker’s note: These cupcakes are more of a brownish red than a bright red. If you want to amp up the color, replace 1 Tbs. of the cocoa with flour and add an additional 1 tsp. red food coloring. You can substitute natural red food color (made from beets and⁄or hibiscus) for the standard food dye, but the color won’t be nearly as vibrant.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2011).