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.
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 Cake
(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.
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.