Though I grew up in the South, my very first red velvet dessert was in New York at 17. It was my first year of college, and I was having one of those lone (but not lonely) nights in the West Village, roaming the streets on a Friday, not yet entering bars I wasn't old enough to get into. Then I came upon Magnolia Bakery, with its toy-like displays of layer cakes and cupcakes, all that pastel frosting, the line out the door. That first bite of red velvet cupcake informed all the core values I'd later acquire in regard to red velvet, and desserts in general: caramelization, an almost crust, on the outside; chewy softness on the inside; balance of sugar and malt, never too sweet. I've injected these rudimentary taste memories into a cookie, a form which, I think, more readily allows for the aforementioned qualities that make a dessert truly extraordinary—and, for a wide-eyed 17-year-old, formative.
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon malt vinegar*
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Large pinch salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
*Any neutral vinegar is fine; just don't use balsamic.
Whisk together the cocoa powder, vinegar, baking soda, food coloring, vanilla, and salt and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and egg yolk until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the cocoa-vinegar mixture as well as the flour, stirring until just combined. Spoon the cookie dough onto a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 12–15 minutes (12 for rounded teaspoonfuls and 15 for larger tablespoonfuls). Cool completely before dusting with confectioners' sugar.