Friday, August 15, 2008

An old southern favorite recipe: Red Velvet Cake

Baking is turning into a new hobby for me. I've always been more than happy to stuff myself with baked treats, but actually creating them seemed like far too much effort. I've always heard baking is a science, so exactness is required, and that level of detail had always scared me off. Now that I've tried my hand at a few recipes, I've found that thus far baking isn't nearly as hard as I'd imagined and the reward - a delicious homemade dessert - is worth a little attention to detail.

So when the boyfriend's brother and his family came to town, it was baking time again. Usually the boyfriend lets me pick my menus without much input but this time he was quite specific about he wanted. Red Velvet Cake. I suggested cupcakes might be more manageable, and he firmly said cupcakes wouldn't do. Red Velvet Cake it was.

This was by far the hardest recipe I've tackled. Simply getting the right groceries to make it ended up being a challenge and required 3 separate grocery store trips. Publix was out of red food coloring and cake flour, Kroger had those ingredients but then I realized that the icing took a full pound of confectioner's sugar, and I didn't have enough, so after one more trip I was finally ready.

After reading through every online recipe I could find, I chose this one from

Sylvia's Red Velvet Cake
Recipe courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, 2007

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 ounces red food coloring

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 pound box confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans


For the Cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk. Beat in food coloring and vinegar, then add vanilla. Spread the batter evenly in the pans.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

For the Frosting:

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners' sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Stir in pecans. Use frosting to fill and ice cake.

Slice and serve on individual plates.

As a novice baker, I had no idea what sifting meant exactly. I was envisioning putting powder through a sieve of some sort but little sister saved the day and informed there is in fact a piece of kitchen equipment called a sifter. Who knew? So I bought on of those and started sifting the flour. The recipe called for 2 1/2 cups of sifted cake flour, so I figured that meant you had to sift that first then sift it with the other ingredients. 2 1/2 cups of unsifted flour turned out to be much more than 2 1/2 cups of sifted flour so I guess I did the right thing because I was able to get rid of the extra flour before sifting in the other ingredients. How's that for exactness? Of course in the process, I got flour, cocoa and baking soda EVERYWHERE.

The other tough thing about this recipe is the red food coloring. Once again I didn't notice that the recipe called for the equivalent of two standard sized bottles of food coloring, so I had to make due with one. I had read that some people complained of too much food coloring taste, and in the end my cake was plenty red, so it seems like another bottle would have been overkill. Alas, red food coloring stains, and like the dry ingredients, had a way of getting on everything. So I spent much of my time cleaning up every last drop from anything it touched. Wouldn't want to see the boyfriends face if I stained everything in the kitchen!

Food Network's site says this recipe takes 25 minutes of prep time. Ha, more like an hour and a half. Can't say I'd tackle this recipe again any time soon because it made an unholy mess, and I found it pretty challenging. That said, it turned out wonderful. The red color was vibrant and the cream cheese icing (with a pound of sugar!) and walnuts was ohmygod yummy. So good in fact that the leftover icing has been slowly disappearing as the boyfriend puts it on everything from pita chips to his fingers!

My biggest concern was that I couldn't really try a piece of cake before I had to serve it up to the boyfriend's family. Talk about pressure! I told them in advance that I'd never made it before, so I was trying to set expectations low. Turns out there was no need - the cake was moist and delicious, and the guys even had seconds (after a Watershed fried chicken dinner no less!) When you move one layer of cake on top of another some of the bottom of the cake ends up on the pan, so I had a pretty good sense that the cake was going to be good, but still it was a relief!



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