There are so many things I don’t get about red velvet cake: One, that despite all claims of acid plus baking soda reactions to the contrary, that a color created by food dye is considered so exciting. It could just as easily be blue, and oh, it has been. The second thing I don’t get is that it is considered chocolate cake, when a good lot of the better-known recipes hover around one or two tablespoons of cocoa (and never over a half-cup), a barely distinguishable flavor distributed over a three-layer stack. The last thing I don’t get about red velvet cake is, if at least according to my husband, the frosting is the very best part, why that same vaunted cream cheese frosting couldn’t just be put on another cake, one with a distinguishable flavor and absence of egregious amounts of food dye.
Obviously, I am way too analytical and quite probably, no fun at all. Nonetheless, I do know one thing well: People go ape shit over red velvet cake, and I aim to please. Thus, with my friend Jill in town for her birthday this weekend, and this aforementioned ga-ga reaction being the goal, I knew it was time for me to get over my red velvet bewilderment, at least for one night.
I’m really glad I did, though, because this cake was seriously, seriously good. Moist, every so slightly tangy and with a half a cup of good-quality cocoa, I actually recognized the underlying flavor. As for the cream cheese frosting, I have seen recipes with sugar levels ranging from one cup to one pound (I kid you not), but found the three-cup level to have a good balance of classic sweetness but not so much that your teeth feel like they’re about to stage a revolt.
But because I can’t leave well enough alone (ever), I decided that after making seven round birthday cakes in a row, I was bored and busted out the carving knife. Never one to deprive you of your right to make your own flower cake at home, I hope my most recent Microsoft Paint scratching will help you along your way. Pink piping is of course optional, but by the time you’ve painted your cake red and cut it into a flower shape, who are we kidding? The decorations just have to be pink.
It’s My Part-ay! Would you believe that it was but one year ago that I kissed iVillage goodbye and launched this site? Talk about a splendiferous idea! My biggest fear was that I had nothing new to offer the established food blogging genre, and that I’d quickly run out of steam. Frankly, the only thing I’ve run out of is time to blog the recipes I have on layaway, and I’d never have this much steam without you, yes You. So thank you for a fantastic year.
One year ago: White Batter Bread, Chocolate Orange Bread
Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” by Elisa Strauss via the New York Times 2/14/07
Yield: 3 cake layers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.
Cupcake variation: Since this has been published, many readers have written in to express that it adapts well to cupcakes. The yield is approximately 35 cupcakes, with the liners filled only 3/4 of the way, and the baking time should be between 20 to 25 minutes, but check in on them 2/3 of the way through in case your oven gets the job done faster.
- Some red velvet cakes have no cocoa, others have up to half a cup. The less cocoa, the brighter the red, and the less food dye is needed to give it the desired hue. This cake has more cocoa and quite a bit of red dye, but as you cans see from the picture, it is a real stand-out red. Feel free to use less, but make sure you dissolve it in 6 tablespoons of water to compensate for any moisture lost.
- Dutch versus Non-Dutched cocoa: This recipe uses baking soda, so it calls for non-Dutch-Processed cocoa. The reason is that Dutch-Process cocoa is neutral and will not react with baking soda, so it can only be used in 1) recipes with baking powder or 2) recipes with enough other acidic ingredients that will compensate for the lack of acidity. However, you’ll notice that this recipe has both vinegar and buttermilk in it, or quite a bit of acidity, leading me to wonder if either kind of cocoa could be used with success. I had non-Dutch on hand, so I used it, but if you only have Dutch and try this recipe, let us know if it works. Personally, I prefer the Dutched stuff because it usually is of a higher quality with a more delicate chocolate flavor.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from several sources
Makes 6 cups
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.
- Technique: Cake decorators will always tell you to ice a cake in two batches, first a “crumb layer” and then the more decorative one. Though I rarely bother, in this cake in particular, with its dark hue barely disguised by a thin layer of frosting, it is especially helpful. To do this, place a small amount of frosting on the cake and spread it over the entire surface that will be iced, thereby anchoring wayward crumbs in place so that they will not mess up the final product. A few minutes in the freezer or longer in the fridge will firm this up so that you have an ideal surface to build the real layer of frosting upon. (I did a rushed, half-assed one, hence the visible crumbs in the final product.)
- Quantity: The recipe here creates an amount of frosting that allows for a thin coat between and over the cake layers. I found it to have the ideal cake-to-frosting balance for this recipe. However, you might want to double the recipe if you prefer a more decadent, padded frosting layer.