Sunday, January 18, 2009

Not-Red Velvet Cake

Have you had red velvet cake? I haven't, but I'm strangely fascinated by it. The visual effect of the bright red cake in contrast to the white icing is absolutely gorgeous, yet strangely unnatural at the same time. On top of that, have you noticed that people who love red velvet cake are absolutely fanatical about it? People like cake. People like cheesecake. People like cookies. But people LOVE red velvet cake. So I'm curious what all the hype is about, especially since red velvet cake is typically described as a vanilla cake, or a lightly chocolate scented vanilla cake.

So I start looking for recipes for a red velvet cake, and am extremely troubled by the fact that most call for one to two ounces of red food coloring. That sounds like a recipe for a bright red kitchen to me. Maybe some of you don't do this, but when I bake or cook, the kitchen is a complete disaster area afterwards. A chocolate disaster I don't mind so much. A bright red disaster would be an issue. I managed to find ONE recipe without a boatload of food coloring. Supposedly, the acidic buttermilk/vinegar reacts with the basic cocoa powder to cause the red color, so theoretically, the cake would still be at least reddish without the food coloring. The other striking difference with this recipe is that it calls for a lot more cocoa than most. Most call for about two tablespoons, whereas this one calls for a scant half cup, which is about 6 to 7 tablespoons. Oh well. A cake that tastes like chocolate. That's hardly a crime.

When I went to the grocery store, I could only find lowfat buttermilk. Those of you who know me know that I subscribe to the Paula Deen school of butter, so I don't really do lowfat anything. I'm a little concerned that this might affect the color. But, worst case scenario, I have a chocolate cake that looks and tastes like a chocolate cake. I don't see a problem.

Red Velvet Cake
Source: Michele Urvater, from the NY Daily News

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup (scant) unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
2 cups superfine sugar (blended granulated sugar)
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 drops red food coloring
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 cup buttermilk
Frosting (recipe follows)
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

Red Velvet Cake

Serves 12-14

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease and flour two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, tap out the excess and line bottoms with parchment or greased and floured waxed paper circles.

Sift the flour with the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt twice, and set aside. With electric mixer on low speed, beat shortening for 1 minute. Slowly add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, and when all of it has been added, continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute, or until mixture has consistency of wet sand. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 10 seconds between additions. Then beat for 2 minutes or until smooth. Beat in vanilla and food coloring. Stir the vinegar into the buttermilk.

With large rubber spatula, fold sifted ingredients into the batter in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions. Beat with electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute, or until mixture is smooth.

Transfer batter to prepared pans, smooth tops and bake 35 to 45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in their pans on a wire rack until they reach room temperature. Unmold and peel off the paper circles just before frosting. Frost the cake.

ETA: Sadness. Not-red velvet cake fail.
1. Cake is brown.
2. Cake is a tasty light chocolately flavor, but has a rather unpleasant texture. It's almost more brownie-like than a cake. It's heavy and dry. I had thought about substituting the shortening with vegetable oil to keep it moist, but I thought there might be something magic about the creaming method. I should have tried the veggie oil. And used full-fat buttermilk. Fat is your friend.

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