I once decided, on a whim, to put blue food colouring into a batch of gnocchi. Don’t ask me why – those blue gnocchi sat in the freezer for a long time. Despite the fact that their texture and taste was every bit as good as every other batch of homemade gnocchi I’ve ever made. Blue is not a good colour for food, in general. Unless you want to make it look really gross.
But really gross was the order of the day when my friend Max turned 8 though. Max likes Halloween and ghastly bloody and ghostly things. When I said I’d do some cupcakes for the party, he showed me some in a book and asked for eyeballs. I’d had loftier ideas – I’d seen a big cupcake cookoff on Iron Chef America (you’ve got to watch something on business trips, and that was the best my hotel room in Belize had to offer) and wanted to try Terry Wahl’s famous red velvet cupcakes.
I’d never heard of red velvet cupcakes – apparently they’re one of those things that makes a certain brand of American go all weak-at-the-knees and nostalgic. Apparently, in LA, people queue to get at these things. So I gave it a bash. Quite frankly, although the recipe was indeed moist and happily sweet, the most exciting thing about it was the cream cheese icing. It is particularly well suited for mixing different icing colours, and it has that lovely creamy-tart thing going that offsets the sweetness of the cookies. The kids liked the red food colouring on the inside. For my part, I think cream cheese icing just goes better with carrot cake (or perhaps a darker chocolate batter).
Have to say, I don’t understand why thousands of people sing the praises of a cake that is basically just very big, very sweet, and oily enough that it’s not dry. Why does so much American baking seem to be in pursuit of unadulterated sugar and oil? Where’s the subtlety? If you’re really keen on red velvet cupcakes, you can find Terry Wahl’s famous recipe here. Personally, I’d say find your granny’s trusted cupcake or (better yet) carrot cake recipe. I have a great carrot cake recipe that I’ll post here sometime. In the meantime, it’s raining outside and I’m thinking that it might be time to haul out Hayley’s granny’s bran muffin recipe to sustain my teatime for the rest of the week.