Admittedly, as an avid baker myself, I was a little skeptical upon hearing about Red Velvet NYC, a dessert-focused meal kit service. After all, a dessert kit does sound like a pretty frivolous indulgence. But once I thought about it, I realized that it might actually make even more sense (and prove even more useful) than your traditional meal kit. Unlike cooking, baking is more of a precise science that requires exact measurements to ensure the desired final product. Having pre-portioned, perfectly-measured ingredients really can turn you into a better baker, allowing you to focus instead on enjoying the process and practicing new technqiues.
The whimsically-packaged kit, which arrives on the first Thursday of each month for subscribers, helps at-home bakers master two recipes along with the techniques involved in making them. Dozens of new, seasonal desserts are offered every month, from a sour cream coffee cake to a passion fruit panna cotta. Needless to say, there’s nothing elementary about these recipes...although you can slow things down a bit by choosing between “easy,” “moderate,” and “advanced” levels of difficulty.
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And while the “short on time” market has long been cornered by Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker, the team behind Red Velvet seems to have wisely capitalized on a new, oft-neglected, in-between space. These are desserts for those times when you don't have the time or skill required to make an effort, but you'd really like to look like you made an effort (i.e. when a boxed mix definitely won’t cut it, but neither will a basic lemon tart from the bakery down the street).
Inside the ultra-organized box delivered to my apartment, I found everything I’d need to make two desserts; in this case, Lavender Vanilla Cupcakes and Molten Chocolate Cake. Pre-measured ingredients and detailed recipe cards are a familiar sight for any meal kit devotee, but this sea of pastel-colored cupcake ingredients, nonpareils, and baking cups looked particularly beautiful. Let’s just say I got a little Instagram-happy while unpacking.
Red Velvet packaging is fairly standard as far as mealkits go. Dry ingredients came wrapped in individual plastic bags along with clearly identifiable labels, and within the box, a separate foil package housed the refrigerated ingredients and an ice pack. All I had to provide were the eggs.
Well, not entirely “all.” This is where I had my first bit of difficulty. For the lava cakes, I was also asked to supply oven-safe ramekins. Luckily, I happened to have some stashed away in my pantry, but let’s be real: That's not exactly basic kitchen equipment (especially for the newbie bakers to which the kit caters).
Besides that, though, Red Velvet did make efforts to keep equipment requirements minimal. I didn’t even need a tin for the cupcakes, which came with individual, oven-safe paper cups.
Then came the actual baking part. As I used a saucepan to infuse milk with lavender and a carefully-split vanilla bean, I realized this was interesting, fun, and challenging work. Sure, there were no measuring cups in sight, but it was "work" nonetheless. Meaning I can totally tell my friends I made those 18 lavender cupcakes all on my own without feeling like a fraud. Heh.
Oh, and both the cakes and the cupcakes came out perfectly. In fact, they looked exactly like the pictures I was given, which, regardless of the recipe, is a pretty rare occurrence.
At $49 per kit, the monthly subscription definitely isn’t cheap. But I think it’d be a worthwhile splurge for any aspiring home baker — and if you’re considering purchasing it for a friend, I can’t imagine a sweeter gift for when the holidays roll around.