An article at San Francisco site Mission Local seeks to understand why red velvet is so popular. I almost always find that when I ask cupcake bakery owners which flavor is their best seller, it's either red velvet, or red velvet is in the top three.
Mission bakers agree, people love red velvet cupcakes.
Regardless of whether the handsome red desserts are purchased on the street from Sweet Construction’s cookie cart or in miniature at Mission Minis, red velvet is quite possibly the region’s most popular cupcake flavor.
It could be the velvety texture, enhanced by the chemistry of buttermilk, which makes a fine crumb. Or perhaps it’s the cream cheese frosting, although that’s used only on more modern red velvet cakes – old-fashioned ones have butter cream frosting.
Or maybe it’s the seductive red color, emotionally appealing even though it has a negligible relationship with the cupcake’s flavorings.
“People enjoy food with their eyes,” said Christine Bruhn, a food scientist at UC Davis. “It’s part of the total package.”
Contrary to the wishful eating of some cupcake consumers, there’s no cherry or raspberry component in red velvet. There is a lot of food coloring– this recipe has six times as much food dye as chocolate powder – and whatever flavors result from the chocolate, vanilla, buttermilk, sugar, flour, and eggs.
Red velvet’s intense color is a purely visual experience.
It is possible that the red velvet’s hue had a natural origin. Dutch process cocoa is alkalized to neutralize the pH of naturally-acidic cocoa. Some cooks have theorized that low-quality cocoa could be so far alkalized that it might turn reddish in a cake. It’s the same chemistry that makes an Oreo cookie black, according to Neuhaus.
However, Neuhaus has an unrelated theory why the cake is so popular. It’s the superior texture, which comes from using buttermilk—or, as he puts it, “fake buttermilk.”
“The buttermilk in the store has absolutely nothing to do with butter,” Neuhaus said. Real buttermilk is the watery leftovers when cream is churned to butter. It’s not whitish, it doesn’t have flakes of butter, and it isn’t very sour.
Personally, I'm not such a red velvet fan, but I think that has more to do with me not loving cream cheese frosting. What do you think, red velvet lovers? Is there a secret to this colorful cupcake?