When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there are plenty of things that you might consider to be the “hardest” part of the process. Like making time for the gym after clocking nine hours at the office and wanting nothing more than to go home and veg out on your couch with a glass of wine. Or spending your Sunday night meticulously planning out your meals for the week. For us, the toughest part is obvious: chocolate cake. Or rather, saying no to chocolate cake. Which is precisely why, when it comes to staying healthy, we try not to be too rigid in our approach. We’re big proponents of following something of a flexitarian diet, where healthy eating is the goal, yes, but occasional indulgences – like a slice of that chocolate cake – are no reason to lose yourself in a deep, dark spiral of regret. (We reserve that for indulgences of the slice-turned-entire-cake variety.)
Now, naturally, when cake is a not-so-frequent treat, it would make sense that when we do finally indulge, we don’t want to do it with dessert that is anything short of totally amazing. Which is precisely why we have a bit of an ongoing love affair with Red Velvet, the company that is simplifying gourmet baking in a major way. (We also have an ongoing love affair with red velvet the flavor, but we digress.) Aptly dubbed the Blue Apron of baking, Red Velvet serves up home-delivered baking kits for novice and expert bakers alike; kits that come with just the right amount of pre-measured ingredients for each and every recipe (which means no more buying a giant bag of almond flour only to use it once and then let the rest go to waste). Red Velvet also comes with the comfort of knowing that all of your ingredients are of the highest quality (think mostly organic and locally-sourced) – not to mention the comfort of knowing that the handy recipe cards included with your baking kit make it harder to mess up than it is to end up with a dessert that looks and tastes like a professional made it.
Here, we chat with Agathe Assouline-Lichten, the founder of Red Velvet, on how she and her sister were inspired to launch their business, how these kits will teach you to become a better baker, and why all things (read: dessert) in moderation are the key to a healthy lifestyle.
How did the idea to start Red Velvet first come about?
The idea came about three years ago. My sister and I were both somewhat early adopters of the meal kit boom. We would always talk to each other about what we had made from our kits, if we changed anything about the recipe – things like that. What we realized, though, was that it was fun to make dinner, but what about dessert? We both have a major sweet tooth, and we just realized that – with what was out there – we could make dinner, but then what? I think baking is often seen as something that’s really daunting and intimidating, so we wanted to find a way to make it easier for people to make their dessert after dinner.
So how does Red Velvet simplify the baking process a little bit?
Well we send people the pre-portioned ingredients that they need, and foolproof recipes for different levels – we narrowed it down to easy, moderate, and advanced – so that we could really guarantee success every time. And it’s great because most of our customers are novice or aspirational bakers, so most of our bestselling kits are ones that fall under the “easy” category. I think people are taking on things that they’re comfortable with and they’re easing into it, and that means that people really want to learn how to bake but there’s that question of how to go about it.
It almost seems like there’s a level of education to it, right? So people can start with the simpler things but kind of work their way up.
I mean it’s about teaching people, yes, but it’s especially about teaching people how to skirt their way around a lot of the more traditional ways of doing things when you’re baking, and not letting little roadblocks along the way discourage you. So it’s really important for us to give people hacks that they can use, and there are always ideas on the side of the recipe card or on the blog, like how to fashion a Ziplock bag into a piping bag. Or like on the recipe card for our flourless chocolate cake, for example, we say that if you don’t have a sieve to dust your confectioner’s sugar – of course, most people are probably like, “What even is a sieve?” – then you can literally take a plastic bag, poke holes in it with a fork, and dangle it over your cake. In the end, we just want you to have fun and we want you to feel empowered by the fact that you made something homemade from scratch.
What are some of the offerings that you guys have?
We offer 18 recipes at any given time, which includes anything from cupcakes to cakes to single-serve desserts. It used to be 100% a la carte, but we recently launched a subscription model to go along with that. So with that model, you get two kits every month, which can be either a combination of cupcakes or cookies along with a more family-style cake or dessert. So every month you’ll receive one box with those two kits.
Is there anything you really take into account when coming up with your recipes, besides the level of difficulty and things like that?
Dessert really goes hand-in-hand with celebrating. Other than your regular sweet tooth, you’ll usually have dessert because of an event. It could be a holiday, an anniversary, a graduation, a romantic dinner for two – whatever it is, there’s always a need to have something. So we really considered what people would want to make for different occasions. We also believe completely in whole, natural ingredients, so there’s nothing that we’re putting into our recipes that isn’t whole and pure. (Other than the red velvet cupcakes, which do have red gel paste because otherwise you can’t make it red!)
What is your most popular item on the menu?
Our number one top-seller is our Celebration Cupcake Kit, which is essentially our funfetti cupcake mix. So it’s a vanilla cupcake with rainbow sprinkles inside, and it’s got a vanilla buttercream and pastel confetti. It makes 24, so you get 24 liners, a piping bag, and then you also get ten gold candles, which I think is just kind of fun because it’s like a party in a box. And that kit is $26, so when you think that it’s 24 cupcakes for $26, it’s just a whole lot cheaper than going to Magnolia or Georgetown Cupcake and grabbing a couple dozen cupcakes. Plus, this is homemade.
Then red velvet cupcakes are our second most popular, and Nutella ones are our third. Outside of cupcakes, our brioche bread pudding is really popular. It’s made with Balthazar bread from Soho (we really try to source our ingredients locally). People also love our carrot cake, our coffee cake, and our tiramisu.
Where do you get the ideas for a lot of your recipes?
I come up with all of the recipes myself, and it’s a very seasonal menu. So right now for the spring we have lemon cupcakes, lavender cupcakes, coconut cake. We’ve got more strawberry dessert, like strawberry tart, strawberry shortcake, and things like that. Then in the fall, for example, our pumpkin cupcakes and cake do really well. We did a candy cane cupcake around Christmastime last year, and it did extremely well! It was this chocolate cupcake with peppermint frosting and mini candy cane sprinkles. They’re delicious.
You guys also offer a few options that cater to some dietary restrictions, right?
Yes, we get a lot of people asking us about gluten-free so it’s always really important for us to make sure that we have at least five or six options for that at any given time. So, for example, we have a gluten-free chocolate cookie that’s made with a pecan flour and cocoa. The next thing we want to try is vegan dessert, because we get a lot of requests for that. Unfortunately it can be tough to pull off, but it’s something we want to try.
Now for the biggest question of all: how do you think dessert plays into a healthy lifestyle?
To me, it’s all about portion control. I have a major sweet tooth, but it’s all about balancing that with lots of soups and salads and exercise. I mean, I feel horrible if I’ve spent the whole day eating cake, you know. It’s delicious, sure, but then you get that sugar crash and you feel bloated. Plus, it’s especially good when you’re making something homemade because you just know exactly what’s going into it and it’s not as bad for you because there’s nothing that’s been processed, or super refined. But I really thing that balance is the most important thing. You don’t have to have the entire pie you’re baking; you can have one slice and you’ll be just fine. You don’t have to have cake every day. I think you just have to listen to your body and do what feels right.