I like to call these little jewels my ace-in-the-holes. When I don't know what to make for an event, don't know what to serve for dessert, or just simply want to make people say, "This is the best cupcake I've ever had!"...I make these. I never have to worry about people being satisfied if I've got these in my back pocket. I get a lot of requests for this recipe, and I certainly can't take credit for it but I'd like to share it with you.
First, a little background. I first developed an understanding of the science of cake-making from what else but eating really good cakes. It's the best kind of research and development, trust me. :)
Johnnie Gabriel of Gabriel's Desserts in Marietta, Ga makes the best cakes you will ever taste. In fact, she makes pretty much the best everything you will ever taste. We discovered her little restaurant shortly after we moved to the Atlanta area and began eating there pretty much every Friday night.
It's your typical meat-and-two place, quiet, and full of friendly employees. One of my first friends at the restaurant was a lady named Angie who was just so warm and friendly that I practically wanted to move in with her. But then I remembered that I had a husband that I was legally contracted to live with. Anyway, every time we'd eat there, we'd each get a piece of cake on our way out to eat while watching our Friday night movie. I know, we're really wild and crazy. I would like to say that I shared a piece with my husband, or saved the rest for later, but generally I was quite capable of inhaling Mrs. Johnnie's bohemeth slices of cake. Hummingbird cake, German chocolate cake, Black raspberry cake....oh, I can feel my pants getting tighter just thinking about it.
It's probably a good thing that we moved away from all that cake. But even though we moved, I still take with me some very intimate knowledge of not just cakes but other desserts. Mrs. Johnnie has a cookbook called Cooking in the South that I purchased and began working my way through. As I had questions, I'd just call up the restaurant and ask her or one of the bakers what to do. Because of that, I feel I really learned to bake properly from her. Especially baking for a crowd!
She has a new cookbook out called Second Helpings that I'll be purchasing directly from her in October when we go down to visit, but you can pick it up at your local book store or on Amazon. I would recommend them to anyone who wants to add some classic recipes to their repetoire! Sometimes it's easy to forget that something simple like a lemon pound cake can be so satisfying to a hungry soul. Those are the kinds of recipes that Mrs. Johnnie has shared with the world through her books. She is a wonderful Christian lady whom I've had the privilege of hearing speak at different events. She has an inspiring story and I'd encourage you to look into purchasing her books! Another fun tidbit about her: she's Paula Deen's cousin, and Paula has written the forwards to her cookbooks.
Without further ado, here is her recipe. I have only adjusted one thing, and that is the amount of cocoa [I like to add more than she does].
2 1/2 cup AP flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cocoa
1 1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cup white sugar
2 jumbo or 3 large eggs
1 tsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 oz. red food coloring
1 cup buttermilk
Note: It is imperitive that the buttermilk and eggs are at room temperature. That means leaving them out for at least 3 or 4 hours, or even overnight if you're planning to bake the cake in the morning. If this bothers you, don't do it; but don't expect that cake to turn out right. And that's straight from the horse's mouth. :)
Preheat your oven to 350.
In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and cocoa. Don't skip this step because you can end up with little balls of cocoa in your batter, and also the cake will not be as light and airy as you will want.
In your mixer's work bowl, combine the oil, sugar, and eggs.
In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, vanilla, and red food coloring. Add this into the oil mixture and combine.
Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk to the oil mixture. Do this in 3 stages.
Cake layers- 35-40 min
Cupcakes- 20-24 min
Mini cupcakes- 10-12
Let's talk about frosting.........
I have seen some people who like to top red velvet with vanilla buttercream, chocolate, and even [gasp] coconut frosting. While those are all yummy choices, those people must be from the North. Down here in the south, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you do not, no-not-never, over yo dead body EVER coat a red velvet cake in anything but CREAM CHEESE FROSTIING. That's just the way it is. There are many different versions of this delightful frosting, but they're all pretty much the same. You probably can't go wrong with most of them, but here's the one I like to use.
1 1/2 sticks of butter [unsalted], room temp
1 1/2 8-oz. packaged of cream cheese, room temp
*I think it's ok to use the 1/3 less fat version, but definitely not fat free
1 1/2 16-oz. packages of powdered sugar, sifted
* You must sift! If you don't want to, then just don't make these. It's THAT important.
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Cream butter and cream cheese until it looks like an ivory ribbon. Add the sugar in increments so that it doesn't blow all over you, your kitchen, and your zip code. Once it's pretty much smooth, add the vanilla and mix some more. Then frost your little babies or cake layers!
As you can see from the photo, I prefer to make mini or regular cupcakes out of this. I don't like a lot of frosting, but you can pile on as much as you want! The frosting recipe makes more than you need for cupcakes, but it's quite enough for doing a layer cake. If you have leftover, just pop it in the freezer and you'll have it for next time.
At Gabriel's Desserts, you can pick up a 2-lb piece of this or any other kind of cake for about $3. This recipe is amazing, but it never tastes quite as good as Mrs. Johnnie's. It's pretty darn close, though!