Monday, March 26, 2007

Red Velvet Cake

rec velvet 2


I think red was in the air when our monthly baking group, now officially named the Daring Bakers, voted to make to red velvet cake for our March recipe. As a departure from our usual modus operandi of everyone using the exact same recipe, we decided to use a recipe of our choice. The New York Times printed a recipe recently and our very own Peabody shared a traditional recipe from Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah, Georgia. But in the end, after browsing through a dozen recipes, I chose a cake recipe from the Martha Stewart website that was very similar to Peabody's recipe.

I've never made or tasted red velvet cake before. (But I do remember the groom's cake from the movie Steel Magnolias which was shaped like an armadillo and was blood red on the inside. I've been told that it was a red velvet cake.) Now, as far as I can tell from the recipe, red velvet cake is basically a yellow cake with a bit of cocoa powder for flavor. And the red part comes mostly from adding food coloring. I say mostly because the chemical reaction between the cocoa powder, buttermilk and vinegar creates a slightly reddish cake.

I originally decided that I would skip the red food coloring because that just seemed too unnatural. I read that beet root juice could color the cake red but I was worried how it would affect the delicate flavor of the cake. So I made a "tester" cake without the coloring or beets just to see how red, or how un-red, it would be. The cake was reddish brown but it was definitely brown and nowhere near velvety. It was then that I decided a bit of food coloring was not a bad thing. After all, this cake is supposed to be red.

When the time came to make the real thing, I proceeded with the recipe and added the entire one ounce bottle (30ml) of red food coloring to batter. It was at that very moment that I felt I had a made a huge mistake. The batter was scary red! But after adding the flour and buttermilk to the mix, the batter became less red and I calmed down. Who knew adding food coloring to a cake could cause such an emotional response? After the cakes were baked, they were a nice mahogany color.

I wasn't sure what kind of frosting was traditionally used for red velvet cakes. There were boiled frostings, seven minute frostings, and cream cheese frostings. There were frostings with and without nuts, using pecans or walnuts. Egg white, milk, heavy cream, or butter based. After tasting my tester cake, I thought a straightforward cream cheese frosting without nuts would pair nicely with the fluffy cocoa cake.

My overall impression of my red velvet cake was mixed. Although the frosting was nice, I actually preferred the cake plain. I really liked the subtle cocoa taste that was not quite chocolate nor was it vanilla. The texture of the cake was similar to a chiffon cake but fluffier and less elastic. As far as aesthetics, the deep velvety mahogany cake layers and the creamy frosting resulted in a visually striking cake.

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Our Daring Bakers group is growing! I've added the DB blogroll to my sidebar, so check out all the red velvet cakes that you can handle. And see that cool James Bond-esque silhouette and the snazzy meringue mountain above? Thanks to the wonderfully talented Ximena, we now have our very own logo! If you don't know her work, please visit her at Lobstersquad, where she combines food blogging with her illustrations.

red velvet 1

Red Velvet Cake
(from marthastewart.com)
(one 2 layer 9-inch round cake)

2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups flavorless oil (I used grape seed oil)
2 large eggs
2 tbsp red food coloring (one 1-ounce bottle)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vinegar (white or apple cider)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Generously butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans. Sprinkle with flour, and tap out the excess. Set your pans aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside your dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the sugar and oil on medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add food coloring and vanilla, and beat until well combined.

Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add vinegar to batter, and beat for 10 seconds.

Evenly divide the batter between your prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from the pans, and return to the rack to cool completely.

red velvet 4

Cream Cheese Frosting
(enough to fill and frost a 2 layer 9-inch round cake)

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
12 ounces (1.5 bars) cream cheese, softened at room temp.
1 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until combined, about 2 minutes.

Note: One of my cake layers was more domed than the other. So I shaved off the dome to level my cake layer. Then I crumbled the shavings and lightly coated the sides of my frosted cake.

38 comments:

Freya and Paul said...

Looks lovely! I think if i had made two layers instead of three, the cake might have been more 'cakey' and less stodgy so that's a learning curve for me. Love the use of the cake crumbs as decoration!

lobstersquad said...

thanks, mary, for your kind words. I´ll be looking forward to your daring baker posts, it looks like a lot of fun. I really enjoyed doing your logo.

Helene said...

Those are stunning pics. I love the contrast with the white. Lovely recipe. Cake crumbs make easy andd nice decorations. Beautiful cake...

Riley & Tiki said...

Looks yummy. Another variation that my family uses (we use cream cheese frosting too) is to decorate the top and edges with red raspberries (pat dry after washing)

RTM

Rachel said...

It looks so pretty! Often you see them with cream cheese frosting!

breadchick said...

Your pictures are absolutely beautiful and I like what you did with the "domed top" of the cake. I agree with you, I like the cake plain better than with frosting but the frosting, oh how I love cream cheese frosting.

gilly said...

Beautiful, Mary!

veron said...

You are so creative with the crumbs. I really need to learn how to decorate from you,peabody and helene!

Quellia said...

Your cake is so pretty! Oh and I'd be happy to volunteer myself for any unwanted frosting. :-)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

A beauty! I really love the cake crumbs, they are so perfect.

hester said...

I always love to see how you style and photograph your cakes - always something a bit different, and very clean and beautiful!

Ellie said...

Looking good! I'm insanely jealous of your cake-icing skills - how the heck did you get that layer of cream cheese so perfectly straight?! So so jealous!

Brilynn said...

I always find it interesting how different people react to the same thing. I wouldn't make the cake again but could eat the frosting all day long!

Ivonne said...

Mary,

Your cake is gorgeous! I'd love to dig my fork into it.

I too considered skipping the red food colouring in favour of beet juice but having never worked with beets in that way I didn't think that this was the right time to experiment.

Love your cake!

Cheryl said...

I too love the contrast in the colors. Your cake looks so moist and delicious.

Anali said...

What a beautiful cake! And I love the new logos too. What a cool group. I'll have to visit all the blogs. I read the NY Times recipe and admit that the red food coloring freaked me out a bit. I guess I can get over it! : )

Morven said...

Wow - another spectaclar cake. I love the crumb effecton the outside. Great photos.

Lis said...

Wow!! Now that is the darkest red velvet cake I've seen yet! It's very striking against the white frost - too cool =)

You did a lovely job, Mary.. I like the crumb surround the outside of it - very, very nice =))

Peabody said...

Way to recycle your crumbs...looks great.

Canadian Baker said...

Your cake and pics look great! I like how you used the extra crumb to coat the sides. :)

Gwen said...

You've hit upon a subject that is near and dear enough to my heart to convince me to de-lurk. My name is Gwen and I've been making red velvet cake since I was a kid. I don't know where this thing of using cream cheese icing on red velvet cake started but it's just not right. The recipe I grew up with has an icing that is a cooked base of milk and flour which gets beaten into a creamed powdered sugar and butter mixture. The stuff is heavenly. Don't get me wrong, I adore cream cheese icing and will happily put it on almost anything other than red velvet cake. We always sliced the layers in half and didn't ice the sides, just let the layers show, but I do like your crumb decoration. I'll have to keep that one in mind.
I can't resist sharing one red velvet experience - I was decorating cakes as a side business when a bride asked for a very formal all white cake to go with her very formal all white wedding, but she did have a few deep red roses in her bouquet and wanted to represent the color somehow in her cake. So, in a tiny apartment kitchen, I had enough red food coloring to color an entire wedding cake and had to get it baked without leaving the tiniest drip anywhere to turn that white icing pink...

valentina said...

Mary, I am so in love with your cake. The frosting is so original and elegant. I did see it whilst I was waiting for my cake to cool off. However, as much as I wanted to make the perfect icing ( I am often pretty crap atit ) that was just not the day.I will practice though. Like you I wanted to use natural food colouring but just couldn't get hold of it in time. Maybe next time. Even though I did make this cake before I realized today that I had no recollection ( or not much anyway) of the making of it. I was terrified at the colour of the cake and God knows who will eat it. apart from me of course. Peabody's chosen recipe pleased me a great deal, and the nuts in the icing were like a magnet for my little spoon. couldn't stop eating it. Terrible!! I am glad to be part of the group. So much to learn, to improve , to share.

Abby said...

Maybe it's because I'm from the South, but I never think about making red velvet cake bc every function I go to ... there's one already there! Yours, however, is so classy looking!

And ...

"People were hacking into this poor animal that looked like it was bleeding to death."

I freaking love that movie.

Elle said...

What a beautiful presentation. Must remember the crumbs for decoration. Lovely photos, too. Glad that you gave lobstersquad a plug. I should have done that, too. The logo is great.

Claire said...

So beautiful! The coloring is great...not the glaring red I normally see but a pleasing (almost) maroon. I agree with Freya...love the crumb coat decoration.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Mary, I would never have guessed that this was your first red velvet cake - it looks stunning!

Mercedes said...

I adore red velvet cake, and it's so interesting to hear other people's opinions on it, especially people who didn't grow up with it. Your cake is beautiful, and would certainly fool me into thinking you were a southerner.

Anuhea said...

MMM, your cake looks so good! I espacially like the addition of the crumbs on the side. I've only had a couple red velvet cakes in my life but I love them...almost to the point at which I think I want it as my wedding cake!

Mallow said...

Perfect color - red enough for red velvet without being frightening.

sher said...

The cake looks perfect!!! I had the same reaction the first time I added a whole bottle of the red coloring. It made me very nervous, since I've always been leery of red dye. The cake looks soooo good.

Garrett said...

u know, red velvet is something I'm going to tackle one day, thanks for such a comprehensive review. every other blog or site just states the recipe and nothing about it. this was really helpful.

kelly said...

I always think "Steel Magnolias" when I think of red velvet cake, too! The pictures are beautiful and I agree - the crumbs really make the cake. : )

Pilar said...

I have never tasted the red velvet cake, but I am going to copy your recipe and try to do one, the half as good as yours.

Kisses from Spain
Pilar

Alicia said...

Hi Mary. I'm with Gwen on the cream cheese frosting. I love cream cheese too, but traditional red velvet cake frosting that made the cake for me growing up. My mother's recipe, which looked a lot like yours, was the one supposedly from the Waldorf Astoria. It was a cooked milk and flour frosting: not very sweet but magically rich and delicious. Really brings out the delicate flavor of the cake. Hmmm, this has got me itching to bake one right now...

Anonymous said...

Hi, I want to make a trifle out of a red velvet cake! any ideas for the custard....I agree with the other ladies regarding the flour/milk frosting, nothing beats it!!
Louise

Catherine said...

Try the red velvet cake recipe from the Waldorf=Astoria cookbook that was published in the past year. The frosting is a whipped cream/mascarpone/cream cheese combo that is amazing, and the cake matches perfectly with it.

Anonymous said...

I AGREE THAT THE BEST FROSTING FOR THE RED VELVET IS THE ORIGINAL......COOKED FLOUR & MILK
BASE......AND, I ONLY ICE IN
BETWEEN THE LAYERS AND ON TOP, LEAVING THE SIDES PLAIN......

THANKS FOR YOUR RECIPE...I'M GOING TO TRY IT, BUT MAY GO BACK TO MY ORIGINAL....
MARTHA S (NOT STEWART!)

Kim said...

I tried this recipe and used vegetable oil. It was pretty gross. You could really taste the oil.