Who doesn’t love cupcakes, right (I’m admittedly snacking on these as I write this)?
Red velvet is my absolute all-time favorite type of cake/cupcake. I think I first discovered it when watching the Barefoot Contessa years ago. I was completely struck by the rich red color. It was just so visually appealing and looked absolutely delicious. I tasted one a while later at a restaurant and was completely hooked. It was so moist and had that subtle hint of chocolate without being too chocolaty. Looking back, I don’t remember why I didn’t try baking one of my own back then, but I didn’t.
Fast-forward several years and my husband and I are working on our private catering business. We have an affair coming up and I really wanted to try making a variation on the red velvet. The affair had a blue and white theme, so we ended up using blue instead of red food color. The baked goods had to be non-dairy, so that was going to be quite a challenge as one of the key ingredients in red velvet cake is buttermilk. It’s the buttermilk in combination with the baking soda and vinegar that helps give the cake it’s signature “velvet” texture. With my husband’s help we worked out a good replacement and made blue velvet cupcakes along with non-dairy frosting. The cupcakes as well as the frosting were such a huge hit and I had multiple guests approach me asking about how I could have possibly made them so good without using dairy ingredients. At the time, I wasn’t going to give up our secret, but alas, the catering business is closed, so I’m happy to share this with the public now.
To make these cupcakes again, I started by doing some much needed shopping. Being extremely pressed for time as a working mom, I decided to try out Peapod for grocery delivery. I have long-since known about Peapod, but for reasons unknown, never bothered trying them out. I finally decided to do so and was very pleased with the service and options. They partner with my local Giant supermarket and I had an extremely easy time shopping the site, picking out what I needed and scheduling my delivery with zero hassles. Everything I needed was available and the delivery came on time and was delivered to my door and brought into the house for me. Talk about good service! If you have Peapod in your area and have never used them before, I highly recommend it. They have a $20 off coupon for new customers with free delivery (details below) making this very worthwhile. I’ve hyperlinked ingredients and items throughout the post to help you find what you need for these cupcakes from Peapod directly. Enjoy!
Now I had everything I needed to make these delicious cupcakes!
With all the ingredients together, I’m ready to start, so here’s the full recipe and details. There is a shorter and printable version below as well.
I adapted this from Paula Dean’s Grandmother Paul’s Red Velvet Cake recipe. I tend to prefer a lot of Paula Dean’s recipes as while super unhealthy (if you’re going to bake, you might as well go all-in), they are usually extremely rich and tasty.
To start, preheat your oven to 350° and prepare a cupcake pan with baking cups. I usually use an olive oil cooking spray to lightly spray/grease each cup for easy removal when eating.
As you can see, I’m using my trusty old pampered chef stoneware. This was an engagement present and it has never failed me.
So here’s the big secret. To replace the buttermilk, we had to create our own somehow. If, in general, you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can add vinegar to ordinary milk to create a very handy substitute. When working with milk substitutes, many folks will go with soy or almond milk. However, both of these options tend to be thinner and not as creamy and we didn’t think they would work. Instead, we went with coconut milk. It’s much thicker and creamier than the other options and adds a nice hint of flavor to boot.
Set this aside as it needs time for the vinegar to react with the milk.
Then, in a separate large bowl, you’ll want to mix two tablespoons of cocoa with 2 ounces of red food coloring. I know this sounds like quite a lot of food coloring, but it really is needed to get that rich red color. The first time I looked at a recipe I was astounded at the amount of food coloring needed. Be careful when using food coloring, especially in this quantity. It can and will stain everything. Some folks use gloves while making recipes like this and absolutely wear an apron.
Here comes another non-dairy substitution. The original recipe I used called for butter (some recipes use vegetable oil or other shortening). I went with crisco on this one as I prefer the texture and taste over margarine or other options. Add one cup of crisco and the egg mixture into the large bowl. The lighting in my kitchen isn’t the greatest, but you can get the idea of the color here in the batter. I’ll start primarily using my hand mixer at this point.
Next, you’ll want to combine two and half cups flour with one teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Then add this alternately with your “buttermilk”. You’ll then blend in one teaspoon vanilla. You can really see the lovely red color showing in the photo here after I started mixing these in.
In a small bowl, combine half a teaspoon baking soda with another tablespoon vinegar and add to the mixture. This a primary ingredient along with the buttermilk that helps make the cake moist, fluffy and velvety. Combine the soda and vinegar slowly as I’m sure you know what happens when you mix these two ingredients together.
Mix everything well until you have a homogeneous smooth batter. Now you’re ready to pour the batter into the cupcake pan. The lighting over here was much better and really highlights that deep red color.
You’ll want to fill each cup about two thirds of the way (not more than three quarters). I find an ice cream scoop works really well for this part.
Place your pan in the oven and bake 20-25 minutes until firm. You may want to turn the pan in the oven about half way through to ensure even baking. When finished, lay the cupcakes out to cool before applying the frosting.
Now onto the frosting!
Again, this is a really tough one to do dairy-free. I would say a good 80% of the time when I encounter dairy-free frosting from bakeries and the like, the frosting is pretty nasty. It comes out either way too sweet or extremely tasteless and greasy and certainly not creamy like you’d normally experience with a standard buttercream or cream cheese frosting. My go-to substitution for this one is a combination of margarine and crisco. I found using both instead of just one or the other lends to a better texture overall. I also add a little imitation butter flavor which works really nicely.
You’ll then want to add and blend in confectioners sugar about one cup at a time. I usually end up using four cups by the time I’m done. Taste the frosting between each cup of sugar to check the taste and consistency. You’ll want the frosting to be thick, sweet and creamy but not really greasy. You can add a little more sugar as needed to reach desired taste and consistency.
For frosting the cupcakes, I used a large open star frosting tip and gave each cupcake one good long squeeze on the top. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am really not that good with frosting. I usually leave that to my husband. I find this technique to be super fast, easy and extremely reliable to produce nice-looking results.
I really do love the deep red color and it came out so bright looking in the photo. I may need to adjust my filters… ;).