I’ll admit to reacting with a fair amount of skepticism when I first heard about Red Velvet NYC. It’s a dessert-kit delivery service, like Blue Apron (or Plated or Kettlebell Kitchen or Purple Carrot–you get the idea), but for sweets rather than dinner. I just couldn’t see why there needed to be something in between Duncan Hines and homemade, and what else we could possibly need delivered to or picked up from our homes.
After whipping up the best pumpkin cake (really, one of the best cakes period, I’ve ever made), as well as a lovely lemon tart, I realized two things: Red Velvet desserts fall somewhere between homemade and something you would buy at the fancy bakery down the street, and yes, you want them, especially if you like to bake but aren’t especially confident in your skills, or if you’re just strapped for time.
I was especially skeptical about the pumpkin cake–I mean it’s cake, with cream cheese frosting, that’s pretty easy (full disclosure: I worked as a baker for a time and I’m pretty confident in the kitchen). The cake kit though, eliminated all the irritating steps that prevent me from baking more often, and was detail-oriented in a way that took the whole thing to another level that I rarely achieve. My first clue was when the cake round–a piece of parchment paper cut to fit a 9″ pan–was paperclipped to the directions. I never line pans, and it really, really makes a difference in terms of a cake releasing from the pan easily and having a nice, smooth exterior. Also, in this recipe you beat egg whites into soft peaks and fold that into the rest of the batter–a mix of flour, sugar, pumpkin puree, oil, egg yolks and spices. The whites give the whole thing nice loft making for a light, but very rich cake. There’s also a pepita brittle you cook in a pan to top the whole thing off with, which not only makes the cake look fancy, but the crunch of the caramel-encrusted seeds is the perfect contrast to the texture of the cake and the lush cream cheese frosting.
I’ll admit it–I thought that pumpkin cake was a no-brainer recipe that could not be improved upon and I was wrong. It even got rave reviews from a friend who cooks for a living and has written a book about pie.
Prices for desserts range from $24-$38, plus a $5 fee for next-day delivery. That’s steep compared to a box of Funfetti mix and a tub of icing, but cheap compared to buying a cake at most local bakeries. Each recipe is well designed, so you have a guaranteed winner, as opposed to a recipe you find online that may or may not have been tested, and half the commenters hated it–but also changed so many steps that it’s hard to say how well the recipe they started with would have worked anyway. The presentation is also simple, but a level up from what I would do on my own–hello pepita brittle. While Red Velvet provides everything you need to bake and decorate, including fancy cupcake wrappers, or sprinkles and candles and the case of their birthday cake kit, you can also add equipment like a pan, rolling pin, set of ramekins and other supplies to your order.
The lemon tart, though rated “advanced” in terms of preparation (the pumpkin cake was “moderate” and there are also “easy” kits available), came together without a hitch, even though I was simultaneously cooking dinner and talking on the phone with my mom while I rolled out the shortbread crust and cooked the lemon curd. Just as whipping egg whites make a huge difference with the texture of the pumpkin cake, the technique used for the lemon curd–combine butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and eggs in a mixer before cooking on the stove–is different than how I had made curd in the past, and much, much less tricky. No need to patiently temper eggs or add butter one pat at a time.
My one critique is that I wish the instructions included the measurements (they just say to put the flour in the bowl, followed by the spices and so on–no amounts), so that you could later re-create it on your own. The pumpkin cake was so good that I wished I had weighed the ingredients in advance to cage the recipe.
Another slight issue is that there’s often more than one preparation, say, the crust and the filling or the cake and the frosting, for the same dessert, and the same ingredients appear in both. Sort those into two piles when you get started (they’ll be in separate containers and marked as such), otherwise you might dump the wrong amount of sugar into the wrong bowl if you’re not paying attention, with no way to correct.
You probably won’t replace your favorite Ghiriadelli brownie mix for Sunday night television with Red Velvet NYC desserts, but you may order one for the next birthday or dinner party you throw. Best of all, you could plausibly pass these off as entirely of your own making–just make sure to dispose of the fancy red and white box the kit arrives in.