Red velvet is more interesting for its novelty than its flavor. It's really just a dyed buttermilk-based cake after all. That doesn't mean it's not totally worthwhile though. I mean, what else can compose the innards of an animal-shaped cake (usually an armadillo, a la Steel Magnolias) with such gross-out deliciousness?
Another lesser-known item of interest about red velvet: Most recipes call for vinegar, though I've never been able to detect it. How does Minnesota handle the Southern tradition? We picked two contenders at random. The vehicle? Cupcakes.
Franklin Street Bakery is always fun to stop by. The workers are friendly and you can openly peer back at the bakery equipment and workings. The shop's $2.75 red velvet is completely cute, scoring beaucoup aesthetic points for being topped with a red Swedish fish and a dusting of sugar sprinkles. The cake was a bit dry though, crumbs breaking and falling away with each bite. The cream cheese frosting was a bit overly sweet, though the nice grit contributed by the sprinkles added some good texture, and the aftertaste of the Swedish fish (consumed first, of course!) somehow paired well with the cake. (Wonder what else Swedish fish "pair" well with?)
Cupcake's take on red velvet, with its billowy puffs of cream cheese frosting, looks not unlike the Denver airport. For $2.50 a pop, the cake is a little cheaper than its competitor, and the picture doesn't really show it, but I swear it's a teeny tad smaller than Franklin Street's cake. Cupcake's inviting open-air shop will make you want to linger awhile (love the whisk door handles!) thought it's not really fair to compare on this point (industrial-scale bakeries will likely never be as welcoming as a cafe). The cake is dense and firm, and the frosting is proud of its cream-cheesiness, its globs nearly as thick as a real live schmear.
The Winner: Cupcake. The University Ave. cafe's red velvet cake was more moist and seemed more fresh than Franklin Street's, and its cream cheese frosting was ridonkulously good. (Points for the artistic frosting application as well.) While Franklin's Swedish fish topper had me unfairly rooting for it from the beginning, the cake itself left me a bit lukewarm. And the cake's where it's at.
Franklin Street Bakery 1020 E. Franklin Ave. Minneapolis Phone: 612.879.5730 Hours: M-F 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sa. 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Su. 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Cupcake 3338 University Ave. Minneapolis Phone: 612.378.4818 Hours: M-F 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sa. 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. Su. 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.