Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red Velvet Cake: crooked but delicious

There will be no hating on this cake. It might be a little bit crooked, but it was the perfect compliment to Mirna's Bosnian Vday Dinner.

The idea first came from "Cunt," an awesome book. I don't really know how to describe the book, but I think a line from the first pages sums up the book's beauty: " 'vagina' originates from a word meaning sheath for a sword. Ain't got no vagina."

Anyway, she mentions a community she visited that throws an all red party for girls when they start their periods to celebrate their femininity and share stories between generations of women. They ate red velvet cake. Hence, we ate red velvet cake at our valentine's day party. damn good red velvet cake. Thanks to mom's good southern church ladies for the awesome recipe

1/2 cup butter, left out to "soften" for a few hours
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa
1 oz. red food coloring
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour (all purpose was fine. I'm sure cake flour would have been better. As always, I think King Arthur's Flour is by far the best)
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

The order of these steps is best for most baked goods with similar ingredients. Basically, you are making a cream of the butter and sugar, combining the wet ingredients, then the dry, and adding the last two alternately to the creamed mixture.

But to be more specific:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Leave the butter out for a few hours before starting to let it "soften," as many recipes will say. Letting it soften makes for a smoother cream. Once creamed, add in the sugar and blend until smooth. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, blending just until the yellow gets fully incorporated (in chocolate cake recipes the yellow of the egg will disappear, but for this recipe it all just turns yellow)

Make a paste out of the food coloring and cocoa powder. Add to creamed mixture.

Using two separate bowls, mix together the buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla in one, and the flour, salt and baking soda in the other bowl. Add these two alternately to the creamed mixture, letting it all blend between additions. Alternating in this way keeps the batter from getting either too moist or too dry at any point.

This cake has 4 layers, so I used a full sized cake pan and cut the finished cake into fourths, but you could also use two 9" round cake pans for a two layer cake, or probably even a bundt pan, depending on what shape you want the cake. If you just want a one layer, in pan cake with icing on top, use something smaller, like 9x9.

Whatever your pan, coat the inside with butter, and throw a small handful of flour into the pan, shaking the flour around until there is a think layering of flour coating the pan. Make sure to do this thoroughly, including corners, or the cake could break as you try to get it out of the pan.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, more or less depending on your pan choice: a little less if using more shallow pans, and probably more like 45 minutes at 325 if you're using a bundt pan.

I also put a small dish of water into the oven while it baked. I am not really sure it helps with this kind of recipe, but my hope is that it makes the cake more moist.

Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. Place your drying rack over top of the pan and gently flip both drying rack and cake pan together so that the cake wont break in the transition. Let cool fully, and even refrigerate it for a while before icing.

I was a little torn on the icing. I wanted to try the method that came with the cake recipe, but couldn't help adding cream cheese. This recipe turned out fluffier and lighter than the cream cheese icing recipe I usually use. It was yummy, but I think I'm sticking to mom's cream cheese icing from now on.
Here is the fluffier version I used tonight.

8 oz cream cheese, softened (left out for a while to warm up)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
5 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar (Im guessing a box of confectioners would be better)

On the stove, heat up the milk and flour, stirring constantly. After a few minutes on the stove it will suddenly thicken into a paste. Keep stirring and remove it from the heat. Maybe this is curdling the milk? Im not really sure. Either way, cool this mixture COMPLETELY before adding it to the mixture below.

Blend fully the softened butter and cream cheese. Mix in the sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the cooled paste milk mixture.

Continue to blend this - it will grow in size as air is incorporated - until it looks like whipped cream. Refrigerate.

Decorating: To assemble, make sure both icing and cake are reasonably cool. There is a cake decorating technique called the "crumb layer" where you add a thin layer of icing to the cake and refrigerate it before adding the pretty outer decorations. This is because as you start to ice the cake, crumbs often get mixed in with the icing.

I didnt really think this was necessary for a homemade and served cake, but it might come in handy if you are going more public.

Either way, mom's best trick for decorating cakes is to use very generous dollops of icing and use a long, metal utensil to gently connect the dollops to each other. If you are layering, add a generous dollop to the center of the bottom layer, only spreading it part of the way to the edges because the weight of the top layer will spread it the rest of the way.

If you want to write on or decorate the cake, scoop some colored icing (just stir in food coloring) into one corner of a plastic bag and cut off the very tip of the corner, making a nice squeeze pen of icing.

Also, the layers kept wanting to slide off tonight, so we stuck some toothpicks in the corners. This seems kind of silly, so hopefully there is a better way. Refrigerating it for a while before adding each layer should help set the icing.

Other than that, good luck! You'll probably have to come up with your own techniques.

1 comment:

  1. JESUS that looks delicious. I love me some velvet cake. honestly im gonna say that all i did was look at the pictures of that cake. i didnt read any of the post. but im sure it was very well written and insightful. Also, 8 followers! your getting popular. hope everything is well.