Red Velvet Cake is a southern U.S. tradition that is so popular it can even be found in the cake mix aisle. I can’t date when my obsession with this cake began, though I think it first came to my attention while watching Steel Magnolias where the groom’s cake was shaped like an armadillo and it looked like it was bleeding when someone cut into it.
And I’m also not sure what the reason behind this obsession is. Must be something about the virginal white icing hiding the slutty red interior and all its metaphors.
Essentially, it’s a chocolate layer cake infused with red food colouring that turns the cake into a shade of crimson that plays against the white, cream cheese icing.
But I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to take this on for a dinner party Sunday night.
1) It’s the first cake I’ve ever baked that did not involve me opening a box and praising Betty Crocker.
2) It involved at least 30 minutes worth of research on dutch processed cocoa vs. natural cocoa. (Nutshell: dutch processed is treated to neutralize its acidity, so has to be used in recipes that call for baking powder as it may not react with baking soda.)
3) It also involved a further 30 minutes of research to figure out whether the cocoa I bought for this (Fry’s) was or was not dutch processed, since it was not indicated anywhere on the can. For the record, it is.
On the upside, attempting this cake also gave me an excuse to buy some new toys for my kitchen: an offset spatula and two new cake pans.
I was initially hesitant to make this cake, having never baked one that didn’t come out of a box. This hesitation was amplified after I went out on a blind date with a man who considered himself quite a baker. While the meringues he brought to munch on over coffee were good, I thought it was a bit presumptuous when he tried to talk me out of my red velvet plan.
“You’ve never made a cake?”
And then: “You should make brownies. There’s a great recipe by Alton Brown, just cut back the sugar to half a cup.”
Brownies, he said, were good and easy and hard to screw up.
“You don’t want to make your friends your guinea pigs,” he added.
That was pretty much the end of the date. There won’t be a second one.
And, after that, I was much more determined to master the Red Velvet.
I won’t call it a resounding success — as kind as my friends are for saying it was delicious — but it was a worthy first effort. And, frankly, anything coated in that much cream cheese frosting can’t be all bad. I learned a few things, including the need to sift all the dry ingredients together or suffer the consequences. In this case, that meant cocoa swirls throughout the not-quite-flaming red layers; and that a crumb coat is definitely the way to go when dealing with such an intensely coloured batter.
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
- 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tbsp. liquid food colouring
- 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9″ round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. (And ensure the cocoa is evenly distributed.)
Beat butter until soft, then add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well each time. Add vanilla.
In a measuring cup whisk the buttermilk and red food colouring. (I used food colour gels here, so added two tbsp. of water and mixed in the gel, adding more and more until the desired colour.)
Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture to the butter and eggs, ending on the flour.
Mix in small cup the vinegar and baking soda. Watch it fizz, then add to the batter.
Pour the batter into the two pans and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool in wire rack in the pans for 10 minutes, then out of the pans until cool.
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
- 3 cups icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Beat butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla. (Prepare to be coated in icing sugar cloud.) Beat to combine.