Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

Lots o' pictures! Sometimes, that's just how I roll. I made Red Velvet cake for Jeremy's Uncle Randy the other week because he was visiting over his birthday. Red Velvet is his favorite. It's a lot of people's favorite. Laura, his wife, asked me to make a "real" red velvet since sometimes people just make white cake and dye it red. A travesty. White cake is NOT red velvet cake. There are a few things that separate authentic red velvet from regular white cake. Number one being, red velvet, by nature, is not white cake. It's like a half chocolate, half white cake. Cocoa is always added to enhance the deep red color it is supposed to have. You don't add enough of it to deem it a chocolate cake though, however, once you add any cocoa and it's definitely not a white cake. It's a hybrid of sorts. The more cocoa you use, the deeper the red color (and the more red food coloring you have to use) but as you can see from the picture of the finished slice itself, mine is a very pretty deep scarlet color. We use lots of cocoa and lots of food coloring! The pictures make the batter and unfinished cake look sort of brownish red, but really it should be red, red. My camera bites the big one...but I won't have that problem for long! My sweet generous husband informed me last night that he bought me a brand new, wonderful camera. This is all on his own, mind you. I mentioned I wanted one and he did some research on the one I had previously specified and just bought it! That stuff doesn't happen too often anymore, so I was thrilled! Food photography is tough with a point and shoot! It's tough anyway, but maybe this will help.

The other thing about Red velvet cake is it does not have any butter, just oil. This might not seem weird to anyone who is used to making box cake mixes (they all call for oil) but from scratch, it's not all that common. Most require you to beat the butter with sugar for a while at the start of any cake recipe. Then there is the addition of the baking soda and vinegar. Baking soda, OK, but vinegar is another strange ingredient called for that lends itself to the mystery of red velvet. Actually its not a mystery. Baking soda mixed with vinegar makes a chemical reaction. It foams up and you in turn fold this mixture into your cake batter. It's equivalent to folding in egg whites, really. It makes for a tender, fluffy cake.

Let's get real for a minute. Most people love red velvet for the cream cheese icing. I don't love cream cheese icing. I don't not like it, it's fine and all but sometimes I prefer a creamy vanilla icing on my red velvet. I'll provide both recipes down below and you can make the call for yourself.

FYI: You are going to need A LOT of red food coloring...6 tablespoons to be exact, so buy a couple bottles of it!

Also, since this is a layer cake I had wanted to give you a few pointers about how to handle and frost such things because it will make your life way easier a yield a better looking result.

1) When the cake has cooled after baking, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. The cake will be stiff enough to work with without the danger of flaking or breaking apart. Then I take a serrated knife and cut the cakes across the top so the surface is flat. To achieve this best, cut the cake about 1" in all around, rotating as you go (like in picture 3) that way when you cut across the middle it will be perfectly straight. Sometimes if you just cut all the way through you can't get it as even. I bend down and look at it eye level to ensure it's even after I've cut it, then I trim if needed.

2) Whenever you frost a cake that is darker than the icing you are applying, you will want to do a crumb coat. A crumb coat is just a very thin layer of frosting all the way around the cake as demonstrated in picture #4. It seals in all the crumbs so you don't see it all in your frosting. Then you refrigerate said cake with the crumb coat for about 30 minutes until it's set (if you are in a hurry, you can skip this step and the crumb coat will still be helpful) applying the rest of the icing generously over.

Red Velvet Cake
adapted from "The Confetti Cakes Cookbook" by Elisa Strauss via Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 2 tall cake layers or three thinner 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
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Place a teaspoon of butter in each round 9-inch layer cake pans and place 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. Alternately, butter and parchment your pans how you normally would. Just please, parchment, people! Please!

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl (or sift together on some aluminum foil if you re like me and want to save a dish)

Place oil and sugar in a 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 the red food coloring. (Take cake: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat long enough to just combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans and place in the oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40-45 minutes (check at 40 min.) Let cool in the pans on cooling racks for 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off the parchment paper. Cool completely before frosting.

Cupcake variation: yield 35 cupcakes. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 of the way with batter, and bake between 20-25 minutes, but check them 2/3 of the way through in case your oven gets the job done faster.


2 packages cream cheese (8 ounces each) at room temperature
2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 dash pure maple syrup (optional)

Beat together the butter and cream cheese until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low until combined. Add the flavorings and mix thoroughly.

CREAMY VANILLA FROSTING: to use if you don't care for cream cheese frosting

6 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk flour into milk in a medium sized saucepan. Place over medium heat and stirring constantly, cook until mixture becomes thick and begins to bubble, about 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature.

Beat butter until smooth; gradually add sugar beating continuously for 3 minutes, until fluffy. Add vanilla then add cooled milk mixture and beat on medium high speed for 5 minutes. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Use immediately.