Monday, March 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Red Velvet Cakes and Sixteen Daring Bakers

This past January I noticed that several of my favourite food bloggers were making croissants... all at the same time and posting some of the funniest stories about their results. 'How much fun is that', I thought at the time. Then even more of my favourite food bloggers joined the group in February to make the most decadent of all chocolate cakes, flourless chocolate cake. 'Oh man...', I thought, 'I want to join a group like that!' Just as I was ready to send a pleading, begging, and food filled bribe to one of the founders of this merry band of bakers, I was was ever so nicely drafted (along with a few other fellow food bloggers) into the secret service of baking...known as The Daring Bakers! And what, pray tell, are we all baking this month? Red Velvet Cake!

I have always wanted to make Red Velvet Cake; especially after seeing the movie Steel Magnolias at at second run movie house in Ann Arbor, MI oh about thirty times in the early 1990's (Boy, did Kleenex have a windfall quarter that summer). There was something about the groom's cake in that movie, all blood red on the inside and shaped like a armored rat...I mean armadillo...that called to the Southern belle want-to-be in me. Later, I had a piece of Red Velvet Cake at a wake for the father of a friend of mine. He was from Texas and his favourite dessert was Red Velvet Cake. It was the first time I had ever seen one up close and I remember thinking to myself, 'I wonder how they get it that red?" Turns out it is red food dye...and lots of it! In the case of the first recipe offered by Peabody for the Daring Bakers to use in our cake-bake-athon it was an entire 5/8 ounce bottle of red food dye!

According to several food sites this wasn't always the case. Prior to the introduction of dutch processed cocoa, the interaction of the buttermilk, baking soda and vinegar with the natural cocoa used made the cake turn it's reddish hue.

Making Red Velvet Cake became even more personal for me a few weeks ago when MBH informed me that Red Velvet Cake is his father's favourite cake of all time. MBH's father suffered a stroke in November and has been slowly going down hill ever since. A once vibrant true Southern gentleman with a booming voice who always had a joke or corny story for me on the phone, he now can only haltingly talk in a soft voice and most days not even do that. So, making this Red Velvet Cake became a personal tribute to a man I adore as much as I adore his son.

Red Velvet Cake: Daring Bakers Style

I have to admit to being torn between two recipes for this cake. We got to choose a recipe to use and I liked the original recipe suggested by Peabody (from Mrs Wilkes Boarding House in Savannah, Georgia) but I had been drawn to the recipe printed on Valentine's Day in the New York Times. Since I couldn't decide which one to make, I combined the two recipes. I had a bit of disagreement with myself (in only the friendliest way) about the frosting and nuts. but ever the compromiser (or "waffler" as MBH calls me), I finally decided to use both! The only thing I didn't do was add them to the frosting but rather I sprinkled them between the layers and then on top of the cake.

Red Velvet Cake:
3 cups cake flour, sifted (cake flour is necessary; it provides the velvet texture)
1/3 cup cocoa (not dutch processed)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups canola oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
3 Tbsp red food dye
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees and prepare three 9" cake pans with butter, flour or cocoa (I used cocoa), and line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper. Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa, and salt and set aside. Using a stand mixer, combine the oil and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and eggs and beat until fluffy. Add the red food dye and vanilla. Add the buttermilk and flour mixture; alternating between the buttermilk and flour mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium speed until flour is combined scraping down the bowl as needed. Turn off mixer. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda, turn back on the mixer at medium-low speed and add the vinegar/baking soda mixture. The batter should be slightly frothy and reddish maroon.

Divide batter equally into prepared cake pans and bake for 40-50 minutes or until tester comes out smooth. Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Red Velvet Cake Frosting:

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 lbs confectioner sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine nuts in a bowl and set aside. Using a stand mixer, combine cream cheese and butter until smooth. On slow speed, add confectioner sugar and mix until completely combined. Add vanilla and milk, beating on medium high speed until frosting is fluffy. Add more milk if needed to make frosting spreadable and creamy.

Assembling the Cake:
Trim off any "domes" to the layers (set aside to eat as a treat later with any left over frosting and nuts!). Spread a small amount of frosting in the center of a cake plate to anchor the bottom layer. Place one layer, bottom side down onto cake plate and spread a thin layer of frosting on top. Sprinkle with nut mixture. Frost the top of the second layer and invert on top of the nuts. Frost the bottom (now the top) of the second layer and sprinkle with nuts. Frost the top of the third layer and invert on top of the second layer of nuts. Frost the top of the cake (third layer's bottom) and side of the cake, filling in any gaps between the layers. Sprinkle the top with remaining nuts.

I was surprised when I cut into the cake how much the cake had darkened during baking. The batter was so red but the baked cake was more dark maroon and almost brown with a reddish tint.

So how did it taste? I took this cake to my weekly engineering meeting as my swan song to my current job (I start a new gig the first week in April). It was gobbled up quickly with comments like "Best cake you've brought" and "I love the frosting/nuts" and "Now who is going to bake cakes like this for us?". I thought it was good but a bit bland like a few of the gals have commented but it had a fantastic crumb and I did love the frosting!!