My first introduction to Red Velvet cake was at the rehearsal dinner for some friends' wedding. Red Velvet was the groom's favorite cake, and so it was meant to be a present to him from the bride. Unfortunately, the restaurant somehow forgot to make a red velvet cake, and so, when we cut into the cake, it was just plain chocolate. Yikes.
I remember two things from the aftermath:
1. the bride handled this mistake with considerable grace (personally, I would have had the manager's head on a platter as my centerpiece). 2. when I asked her what, exactly, makes red velvet cake "red," she replied only that I "didn't want to know."
Anyway, I did eventually find out that red velvet is usually colored with not the blood of misbehaving southern children but with either red food coloring or beets. It occurs to me that red food coloring is probably terrible for you (red dye 40 apparently gives you ADHD or something). So maybe I should have used beets--which are certainly an effective dye for counter-tops, in any event. Well--maybe next time.
The following recipe is from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008. I know I was a little cranky about their website (Cooks' Illustrated is by the same people) in the last post, so this is my peace offering--the books are usually pretty damn good. In fact, this cake is so good I don't think a week went by in my old apartment that we didn't make red velvet cupcakes from this very recipe.
Even though you probably can't tell from the photos, I actually only baked half a cake. This is an easy thing to do if you don't feel up to eating a whole cake. Just half the recipe and then cut the resulting cake in half and frost as you would normally, laying one half on top of the other. How many times can I say "half" in one sentence? Jeez.
The cake kinda looks like the Eye of Saruman because I couldn't find a toothpick, and so I checked it with a knife.
Red Velvet Cake from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008
12 TB unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans 2 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda pinch salt 1 c. buttermilk 1 TB white vinegar 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 large eggs 2 TB natural (not "Dutched" [ew?]) cocoa powder 2 TB red food coloring 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
16 TB unsalted butter 4 c. confectioners' sugar pinch salt 16 oz. cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
FOR THE CAKE
1. Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the middle position. Generously grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs together in a medium bowl. Mix the cocoa and food coloring together in a small bowl until a paste forms.
2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half the buttermilk mixture and beat on low until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cocoa mixture, then mix on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir.
3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and smooth with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes, rotating the cake pans halfway through. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. Make sure they are completely cool before attempting to frost. ...And it will be an attempt if they're still warm.
FOR THE FROSTING
With an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use, but allow to approach room temperature before starting.
Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cardboard round (I like to stick strips of wax paper underneath to protect the platter). Spread 2 cups of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second layer on top, then spread the remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Slip wax paper out from under the cake and serve.