Is this baking subscription box the key to Instagram-worthy desserts?
It’s definitely fun—even if the recipes are so-so
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Certain pastimes have become national obsessions thanks to the coronavirus pandemic—I’m looking at you, "Tiger King," breadmaking, and "Animal Crossings." Baking is also having its moment in the spotlight, and if you’re looking for something fun to do until your favorite stores and restaurants open again, you might be intrigued by Red Velvet NYC.
This company claims to “simplify gourmet baking” by delivering all the ingredients right to your door. It’s like a meal kit service, but for desserts. As someone who absolutely loves to bake, I knew I wanted to try out this service, so I got myself a kit and hit the kitchen to see if Red Velvet would be my new favorite subscription box.
What is Red Velvet NYC?
Red Velvet offers both baking kits and baking subscription boxes to those who want to whip up beautiful desserts at home.
With the baking kits, you can pick out whatever recipe(s) you want—Red Velvet offers everything from biscotti to carrot cake to crème brûlée—and it’ll ship you pre-measured ingredients and step-by-step instructions. Some kits also include supplies like cupcake cups and piping bags, and the cost per kit varies depending on the recipe, ranging between $26 and $36. Similarly, there are also a few “gift sets” that include additional tools and supplies that you might not have (i.e. ramekins, spatulas, and so on).
Red Velvet also has a subscription service, which sends you two baking kits for $49 with free shipping. The recipes are fixed, so you can’t pick and choose what you want to make, but it will cost you less than buying the kits separately.
My first recipe: Orange Blossom Madeleines
To thoroughly test out everything Red Velvet has to offer, I ordered two baking kits, the first of which was for Orange Blossom Madeleines. If you’re not familiar, madeleines are quaint little shell-shaped French cakes, and this particular recipe gives them a coating of dark chocolate and pistachio. Red Velvet labels this recipe as “Moderate” in terms of difficulty, and they actually include a nine-cavity silicone madeleine mold with the kit, presumably because most people don’t have one.
Unpacking the box, I was quite impressed at the packaging of the ingredients. Everything was labeled clearly and separated by recipe, and the bags were tight to avoid any spilling. The only thing it doesn't include is eggs (this recipe used three), so you’ll need to provide those yourself.
I found this recipe straightforward, and I didn’t have any problem making the adorable little cakes, which were light and airy with a hint of orange flavor. (However, I will say they didn't developed the signature "humps" that true madeleines have.) My only criticism of the directions is that they were vague in some places—for instance, the description of folding, a technique for combining ingredients, was simply, “Use a 'down-across-up-and-over' motion.” I knew what they meant, as I’ve used the technique before, but I can see this being confusing to a novice baker. Then again, that’s probably why it’s labeled as moderate difficulty.
Finally, I did find it a little strange that the actual ingredient measurements aren’t listed on the recipe card, so it would be impossible to replicate the dessert on your own. I later discovered you can go onto the Red Velvet website and download the recipe, complete with measurements, but I’m still not sure why they wouldn’t just send you the complete recipe to begin with.
My second (and less successful) recipe: Crème Brûlée
One of my favorite recipes of all time is crème brûlée, a delectably creamy custard with a layer of caramelized sugar on top. I tried to make this dessert once before, many years ago, and it was a spectacular failure, as custard is notoriously finicky. As such, I wasn't surprised that this recipe was labeled as “Expert,” but I figured I’m a more experienced baker now and was ready for the challenge. (Spoiler alert: I was not.)
This recipe seemed cursed from the get-go. You see, I didn’t realize that the baking kit had been delivered, so it sat in my apartment building’s leasing office overnight. As such, the ice packs were completely melted by the time I unpacked it, so I had to throw the cream away and buy new stuff. Not a big deal, but it put us off to a bad start.
The process of making custard is fairly simple—you whip up some eggs and sugar, then slowly mix hot cream into the eggs. However, like I said, it’s a finicky process. If your cream is too hot, you’ll cook the eggs and end up with, well, scrambled eggs. Given that things need to be just so for custard, I was surprised that Red Velvet’s directions were once again vague. All the instructions say is to warm the cream until it’s “hot, but not boiling.” I really would have appreciated a temperature range here for the sake of accuracy, and I ended up using a thermometer to monitor the temp of the liquid so it didn’t accidentally boil.
I also messed up when it came to mixing the sugar and egg yolks (once again, you have to provide your own five eggs). This recipe came with two packages of sugar—standard granulated sugar and vanilla sugar. I was supposed to mix the regular sugar in with the egg yolks, but I accidentally put the vanilla sugar. Because I didn’t know the measurements of the ingredients, I didn’t know if it was too much or too little, so I decided to just put the regular sugar in too. (This was definitely not the best plan of action, but I was doing this at night so I was tired, OK?)
Everything else seemed to go fine, until it came time to take the “cooked” custard out of the oven. The directions say to cook them for 35 to 40 minutes, but they were nowhere close to set after 35. I left them in the oven for another 10 minutes, and they developed a weird cake-like film over the top of the custard (maybe from having too much sugar?), so it was hard to gauge how set they were. I cooled them according to the instructions, and unfortunately, they just never set up properly. The edges kind of resembled custard, but the middle was pure liquid. Whether this was due to my own mistakes or the vague directions, I can’t say, but crème brûlée bested me once again. I didn’t even get to use my kitchen torch!
So, is Red Velvet worth it?
If you're thinking about trying out Red Velvet NYC for yourself, there are both pros and cons to these baking kits. My favorite aspects of this service include:
- They offer a wide range of recipes, ranging from easy to advanced skill levels.
- You can order one-off kits or a monthly subscription.
- Kits include all ingredients except eggs, and everything is clearly labeled and well-packaged.
- Certain kits include necessary tools.
- If everything goes right, you can make tasty, Instagram-worthy desserts.
- It's definitely fun, and for me, it helped me step out of my baking comfort zone.
However, the things I didn’t like were:
- Some directions aren’t as clear as they should be.
- Ingredient measurements aren’t listed on the recipe card.
- The recipes (especially the advanced ones) aren’t foolproof, even for an experienced baker.
If you're not sure if you'll like the subscription, I'd recommend trying a one-off baking kit first. Not only are they well-priced, but you'll get to choose from a wide range of dessert recipes to suit your tastes.
Overall, I think it's a fun activity—especially if you're stuck inside during quarantine—but you shouldn't expect perfect results. If you're a perfectionist like me, you might be a little peeved when your treats don't come out perfect, but I have to admit it was fun to try new recipes. Plus, you can't beat the convenience of having everything pre-measured and ready to go.