Let me start out this post with a reminder that I'm an Asian girl who was born and raised in Nebraska. I went to college in California and law school in the Northeast; I had never even heard of red velvet cake until I moved to Washington, D.C., ten years ago. Nowadays I do make red velvet cakes and cupcakes pretty regularly, using Cake Man Raven's cake recipe, and a cream cheese frosting recipe from epicurious.com. Nonetheless, since I am not from the South, I don't think I can claim true red velvet cake expertise. Thus, while I was surprised by some of the information accompanying the red velvet whoopie pie recipe in Baked Explorations, I'm willing to accept it at face value.
For starters, the introductory text states that true red velvet must include: 1) cocoa powder, 2) buttermilk, and 3) shortening. If you had asked me, I would have agreed with the first two, but said that vinegar was the third; I have looked at a lot of red velvet recipes and never seen one that didn't include vinegar. After all, I had always bought into the common explanation (mere urban legend?) that a chemical reaction between the buttermilk, vinegar, and non-alkalized cocoa is what originally gave the cake its reddish hue (now usually accomplished through food coloring). The whoopie pie recipe does not include any vinegar.
Second, the recipe suggests a chopped walnut garnish, notes that Southern red velvet cake "is always finished with walnuts," and admonishes that to substitute with pecans or any other type of nut "would be just immoral." I have always seen red velvet garnished with pecans, if it includes nuts at all. (I found the discussion of what makes a real red velvet cake slightly ironic, because a lot of folks might argue that a whoopie pie that doesn't include chocolate cake couldn't possibly be considered a real whoopie pie at all. I'm sure somewhere in New England or Amish country, there is someone who thinks that the idea of a red velvet whoopie pie is positively immoral.)
In any case, I made this recipe as it was written: creaming together butter and shortening in the mixer; adding granulated and dark brown sugar and beating until fluffy; adding an egg, vanilla, and red food coloring (I used liquid coloring, although the recipe calls for gel); and finally incorporating the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) alternately with a mixture of buttermilk and canola oil. You chill the resulting batter for 15 minutes before scooping it out and baking.
I made two sizes of whoopie pies, small ones using a #50 scoop (these turned out to be 2 1/4" in diameter after baking), and some more average size ones using a #30 scoop (these baked up to be 2 3/4" in diameter). The pictures accompanying this post are of the larger size pies. The filling is made from powdered sugar, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt, and it has a creamy, thick texture. It's delicious.
The cakes were moist, and both the cake and filling were very tasty. I also appreciated that the tops of the cake were firm and dry, meaning that the pies were easy to handle and assemble. However, both Tom and I thought that these whoopie pies were not as good as my usual red velvet cake. The whoopie pie texture was slightly crumbly and more dense than my usual cake. I assume that's because if you're going to make whoopie pies, the cake component has to be firm enough to hold its shape.
Nevertheless, I would be happy to make these again. Other folks really enjoyed them, and they are quite cute. I skipped the walnut garnish this time, but I think it might be a nice addition for the future. Or who knows, I might go the blasphemous route and try pecans!
Recipe: "Red Velvet Whoopie Pies" from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, recipe available here at BAKED Sunday Mornings.
- "Whoopie!," September 1, 2008.
- "Baby Shower Baked Goods," October 8, 2008.
- "A Bit of Holiday Sparkle: The Gingerbread Whoopie Pie," December 1, 2009.