Friday, February 13, 2009

She Wore Brown Velvet

I'm going to start this post by skipping to the end: you can't bat a thousand.

I made a- sorry, but- decidedly delicious batch of red velvet cupcakes for my friend and roommate Lily's birthday last month. Totally unconscionable, but exquisitely good little tortitas, almost impossibly moist and dressed to the nines in a top hat of butter-laden cream cheese frosting. Since my uncharacteristic success on the baking front, I've had this idea to try a vegan version of it. It seemed straight-forward enough - simply do some substituting for the non-vegan ingredients, right?

Then the monster grew into something I couldn't control. I felt uneasy from the first batch about the, um, "secret" ingredient: copious amounts of red food coloring. FIrst off, the first batch lent to my batter some odd crunchy bits that refused to blend with the dry indgredients. Then I started reading articles and blogs online not only about the possibly toxic nature of Reds #2-#473, but about a general curiosity as to whether or not there are dye alternatives in this belle of a cake. So I got to thinking: why not veganize it AND de-chemicalize it?? Mwwwaaahahaha!

I emerged from my evil laboratory, crossed the moat, and rode my black horse into Allston. My destination was Berezka, the Russian grocery store on Comm Ave. I was searching for a *new* secret ingredient - beets. That was my gut instinct when I wondered if there was a "natural" way to put the red in the velvet; google "red velvet cake beets" and you'll see I'm not the only one with that question. Alas, Berezka turned out to be a bust. I walked around the store for awhile clutching my only option: a jar of Gold's borchst. I hate borscht. I finally left empty-handed, deciding that there was no WAY I was putting soup in my cupcakes.

Back to Brookline I hiked, to Stop-and-Shop. I should have gone there first, honestly. They have a decent international section, with a Russian aisle (not that I have much use for the gefilte fish or canned smelt), and a secret haven of Thai and Chinese staples. I ended up walking with a cluster of fresh beets (enthusiastically) and a can of sliced beets (grudgingly).

I got home, did some planning, some mise-ing, and decided that there was no way in hell I had the time or patience to attempt a from-scratch beet dye. Sorry, but I'm a working girl! So I opened the metal can of beets, held my nose, and poured out the water (in case you weren't aware, canned beets are a true crime against nature. Maybe even humanity. Someone should alert the U.N.)

I'll try to make an exceedingly long story less long - while not a complete, irrefutable, 100% failure, these cupcakes did NOT turn out how I planned (although the frosting was quite exemplary). They are palatable, yes, but not as tasty as their non-vegan cousins. And by no stretch of the imagination are they red velvets, or even remotely red. NOT RED AT ALL! I'd settle for a dirt-brown description. In fact, maybe I'll make these for Earth Day... But if you don't believe me, please consult the writer at theinnermostbox for her telling on how an improvised rendition of the same red velvet cupcake recipe went horribly awry (she's a great writer!) The embarrassing thing is that my sister is worked as a pastry chef; my mother as a cake decorator. And they were both really good at their jobs! I'm a cook, not a pastier. Sigh. Well, there goes my Valentine's-themed post. Red velvet on V-Day is hack, anyway, right? Although I'm not immune - I did bring some velvets home to a bf from some bakery in Manhattan last year for the ol' Feb. 14th. Seemed like a good idea at the time - as did a lot of things... Damn, I should stop writing before I start to sound bitter.

Oh, before I shut up, I should say that of COURSE I'm not supplying you with my recipe for this monstrosity. I can tell you that I followed Garret's able tutelage from Simply Recipes, and simply did vegan subs for the non-vegan items, as listed below:

Eggs = 1 T flax meal and 3 T water, blended in a food processor or comparable tool (x2 in this case)
Buttermilk = required amount as non-dairy milk (I used vanilla soy milk) + 1 T vinegar (it curdles and gets gross and weird and awesome)
Cream cheese = Tofutti cream cheese (I so took shortcuts in this recipe)
Butter = Earth Balance (see above parenthesis)
Red food coloring = 2 T beet juice + 2 t vinegar

If anyone out there has any input on how to make this recipe not suck, I will be forever in your debt. Actually, teach me how to bake, and I'll make you a fierce veggie lasagna in return!


Chris said...

Better luck next time. It's all about trial and error - don't give up if it doesn't work out the first time! But a fierce veggie lasagna, you say? Now I wish I had become a pastry chef instead of a student! :)

Chef K said...

Jess there is a whole slew of leaves usually found out of South East Asia that could probably provide that oh so needed food dye you need. I wish that I could remember what some of them were called.

theinnermostbox said...

Wow! Thanks for your super flattering comment and your little bit o' link-love today! I am ever so relieved to hear that someone else found that a no-synthetics version of that red velvet recipe to be a bust. I was feeling a bit critical and jerk-ish for having such a low opinion of those beet-juice babies! :)

I'd love to hear what you think about the little microwave cakes. I hope your vegan version turns out well! The recipe I posted comes out much more dense than regular cake, but still tasty - and the low wait time makes the density difference totally excusable! I don't know about you but if I only have to wait three minutes for a helping of chocolate cake, I'm willing to make some sacrifices.

Looking forward to reading some more of your blog and trying a few of your recipes! Glad to "meet" you!