Also known as “the cupcake that took its time about getting made.” Or “the half-finished cupcake.”

I have an old recipe for red velvet cake, from my father’s side of the family. An old, not-entirely-healthy recipe, but for me, it’s the Real Thing when it comes to red velvet. It’s the cake I remember from my childhood, a cake that is synonymous with holidays and family gatherings and other special occasions. It is the Queen of Cakes as far as I’m concerned. No other red velvet will do. When I want red velvet, it has to be this one.

Since I started on this cupcake thing last year, I have wanted to make a cupcake version of the red velvet cake. I waited until Christmas, because that seems the most appropriate time for it. It’s my Christmas cake, the only one.

Except, I didn’t get the chance to make it last year. I had so much else going on that I just didn’t have the time. Ah, well. We had plenty of other delicious things to share with the family. I set aside the red velvet cupcake plans and waited for Valentine’s Day.

It’s a perfect cake for Valentine’s Day, isn’t it? That beautiful deep red color, the slight hint of cocoa, the deep richness. The whole sinfully indulgent feel of it. I’m almost tempted to stop making it for Christmas and keep it for a Valentine’s Day treat.


This isn’t a simple, throw-everything-together kind of cake. It’s not overly fussy either. It just takes a little more time and a few more bowls to get itself together. You’ll see for yourself. I’ll post the recipe at the end.

The story here is actually not the cupcake. It’s the frosting. The cake part baked up beautifully, more perfect than I could ever have hoped for. And the kitchen smelled deliciously of red velvet.

So, I set the cupcakes aside, ran off to pick up Geordie from work, and returned home to raid the fridge for dinner. Later, I set about to make the frosting, which starts by cooking flour and milk on the stove until it thickens into a paste.

This requires constant stirring so as not to burn anything. It can be a taxing exercise, taking at least 20 minutes – this time around, it was closer to thirty. But as I was examining my flour mixture to see if it had come to the right consistency, I noticed that there were little brown flecks in it. That didn’t seem right to me. Although the mixture is close to bubbling, it should not be hot enough to develop any color. Upon closer inspection, they definitely seemed to be flecks of something – something not flour or milk. I poured my flour paste into a bowl, examined the pot, and called Geordie into the kitchen for a consultation.

The nonstick coating in my pot was disintegrating and peeling away from the surface. I had expected this to happen eventually (it was a cheap set of pots), but I’d hoped we’d get more than six months of use out of them. We checked the other pots, and the next size up (the 2-quart) was also showing signs of wear.

We agreed that I couldn’t use the flour paste that I had already made. Which put me in a situation. First, it was now nearly 8:30pm, and I didn’t want to take the time to re-make my flour paste. Second, I had no small pan to do it in anyway. And third, I really wanted to get those cupcakes frosted so Geordie could take them to work the next day (and out of my kitchen, where I would be tempted to eat two or three for breakfast and lunch).

Geordie said, “Why don’t you just make another frosting for them?”

Horror. I could not have been more horrified at that suggestion.

Any other cupcake, and I would have done it.

But not for these cupcakes. These cupcakes have to have their proper frosting. I can’t eat them otherwise. If I whipped up a plain old buttercream and frosted them with that, my heart would feel heavy. If I went the cream cheese route, I’d find them utterly disappointing. No, these cupcakes had to have their frosting. That or nothing.

I compromised with a dusting of powdered sugar.


Look, I have nothing against cream cheese frosted red velvet cupcakes. But I couldn’t do it, not to my little preciouses. They wouldn’t be the same. Maybe that makes me a bit of a snob, but I can’t help it. My memory of that frosting is so vivid, that I can taste it if I just close my eyes and think about it. Putting anything else on these cupcakes would ruin them for me, and I just couldn’t do it. I’ll just have to make them again another time.

(Oh, darn.)

These were still delicious, even without the frosting. The definitely needed a bit of milkiness or something, but a simple glass of milk did that. They were moist and flavorful and ever-so delightful. Geordie took two dozen to work and came home with zero. Apparently, the lack of frosting didn’t put anyone off. That’s a win in my book!

But now that I have a new set of shiny stainless steel pots, I’m plotting another batch of these as soon as my schedule allows it.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
yields about 30 cupcakes

½ cup shortening
1½ cup sugar
2 eggs
2 ounces red food coloring
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp salt
2¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare cupcake tins.

Cream together the shortening and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Make a paste of the food coloring and cocoa; add that to the sugar mixture. Sift together the flour and the salt; in another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour to the sugar-cocoa mixture, followed by the buttermilk-mixture. Gently stir in the vinegar and baking soda. Pour two tablespoons of batter into each cupcake holder (you might want to bake a tester cupcake first to make sure two tablespoons works for you. Three might be better.) Bake for 14-16 minutes.

for the frosting:

3 tbsp flour
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla

Place flour and salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add milk. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick, like a gravy (between 20-30 minutes, usually). Set aside to cool thoroughly.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and creamy, about 7 minutes. Add the flour paste a little at a time, beating until fluffy, about 5-10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Frost cupcakes immediately.