Cream Cheese German Buttercream
Makes about 5 cups
8 ounces whole milk
1 vanilla beans split and scraped, seeds reserved for cake
5 ounces sugar
3/4 ounces cornstarch (6 tablespoons by volume)
1 egg yolk
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Bring the milk with the vanilla bean pod (not the seeds; save those for the cake) to a simmer in a medium pot. Turn off the heat and set aside to steep for at least one hour, or as long as time allows.
After steeping, remove the vanilla bean pod, using a rubber spatula to extract the thick vanilla milk from inside each. Return the milk to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, eggs, and yolks in a medium bowl.
Whisk about a half cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture—it will be thick at first but will loosen as the milk incorporates. Whisk in more hot milk until the egg mixture is fluid and warm. Next, whisk the tempered egg/milk mixture back into the pot of hot milk, putting on medium heat whisking all the while. Once the mixture starts to thicken and bubble sluggishly, continue whisking and cooking for a full minute more, then remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
The custard may be cooled quickly by mixing it continuously in a stand mixer. If time isn’t an issue, press a layer of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate until cool.
In either case, once the custard has cooled, use a hand or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment to whip it until creamy. Begin whipping in the cream cheese, one tablespoon at a time, until it has fully incorporated. Then repeat with the butter. Add the salt and whip a minute more.
Refrigerate until needed. When ready to use, whip until creamy and proceed.
Red (Wine) Velvet Cupcakes
Makes about 21 cupcakes
6 ounces all purpose flour
1 ounce natural cocoa
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ounce safflower oil or other neutral flavored oil
9 ounces brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Half of 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably freshly ground
scrapings from 1 vanilla bean pod
3 eggs, room temperature
6 ounces red wine (Zinfandels work especially well)
3/4 ounces vanilla extract
1 batch cream cheese German buttercream
2 1/2 ounces white chocolate, preferably in a block or bar
1/4 ounce cocoa nibs
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Put cupcake liners into molds.
Sift together the flour and cocoa, set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the butter, oil, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean seeds. Use a hand or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to cream the ingredients for 10 minutes on medium speed. Periodically, stop mixing to scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula.
Turn the mixer to medium low and add the eggs, one at a time. Continue mixing after each addition until the egg has fully incorporated before adding the next.
Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour/cocoa mixture alternately with the red wine in about three additions. Add the vanilla at the end. Shut off the mixer and give the batter a few turns with a rubber spatula to ensure a homogenous mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans (25 ounces each).
Bake for 20 minutes. The oil in the batter makes the cakes slightly more forgiving of over-baking, but try not to let it come to that. Bake until the cakes have puffed but will still retain a slight impression if touched gently with a fingertip. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a few moist crumbs still attached.
Cool the cakes on a wire rack. At first, they will have pronounced domes and a slightly gray-brown color, but as they cool the domes will settle down somewhat and the color will deepen. When they have cooled, run a knife around the sides of the pan and invert onto a parchment lined tray or cooling rack. Continue cooling until no trace of warmth remains.
Before frosting, use a serrated knife to level the cakes. If you have found this step difficult in the past, refrigerate the cakes for 30 minutes beforehand, making them easier to handle and cut.
Assemble the cake on a platter or cake stand, topping each layer with a generous amount of buttercream. Crumb coat by spreading a thin, smooth layer of buttercream over the tops and sides of the cake; this will prevent stray crumbs from flecking the finished layer. Refrigerate the crumb-coated cake for 30 minutes before applying the final coating of buttercream to the top and sides.