the making of red velvet pudge
This cookie gave me nightmares. Many difficult cookie projects give me nightmares, but not like this one did. I completed 10 versions in Jan 2021 and released v10. Over the year, I always dreamt about updating the recipe, and I finally got my chance. Red velvet 2.0 will be available in a few days.
Cookies are easy until you get into odd flavors that weren't originally made for a cookie format. Their biggest limiting factor is that they contain very little moisture -- which has a bing influence on texture, and gives you little wiggle room in bake time.
For reference, cookies typically have the 15% of water coming from butter, and 74% of water coming from 2 eggs - in total, that's only ~70 grams, assuming 1 cup butter, not browned, and 2 large eggs.
Let's talk about why I think red velvet is one of the hardest flavors to turn into a cookie.
What is the actual flavor of "red velvet"?
Red velvet has a signature tang and a background of light cocoa. Traditionally, red velvet cake was known for its buttermilk, natural cocoa, and vinegar. The reaction of these 3 ingredients lended to that signature tang, red hue, and light texture. These days, most recipes call for food coloring.
The "tang" comes from lactic acid; it's a very pleasant tartness similar to cream cheese. But delivering on this flavor requires using a good deal of buttermilk & vinegar - and cookies are rarely adept at taking on so much moisture.
I spent many versions trying to capture that signature "tang" with buttermilk and vinegar, while balancing moisture with extra flour. The glaring problem with this is more flour = cakier cookie. Still very good, but didn't get the textural benefits of being transferred into cookie form (slight chewiness and crisp edges).
It took a ridiculous amount of time to nail down exactly the right amount of cocoa that wouldn't obscure our beloved red velvet flavor.
Then, I spent a while testing bake times. Since it was an incredibly moist cookie with more flour than our average pudge, this flavor ended up with a longer bake time. Overall, red velvet 1.0 was cakey, a little too moist (it would get almost soggy after day 1), and a little light in flavor/sweetness. I will say though, it still captured the proper red velvet flavor and it was a delight to eat.
I finally figured out a simple way to control moisture!! It was a revelation, and now without adding heaps extra flour, red velvet pudge gets the benefits of truly having cookie texture (crisp edges and slightly denser than last year - I say that very positively). It's no longer cake in handheld form.
I made a minor adjustment to sweetness because as it turns out, I thought red velvet 1.0 was actually not sweet enough.
Red velvet 2.0 will be available through February.
I'm already thinking about playing with the recipe a little bit more next year to bring out that red velvet tang a little bit more. But there's very little chemistry about red velvet (that I can find at least). If we look at the components of buttermilk and vinegar..
- Cultured buttermilk should have ~0.5% lactic acid
- Vinegar is 5-8% acetic acid
This is the part where I wish I knew more food science. I did a round of testing with buttermilk powder and dry vinegar, but that wasn't the same as isolating the acids that give us tanginess. Both lactic and acetic acid can be bought, but I'm doing guesswork at that point.