Whoa! A red cake? It was the colour that got me. Not the terribly decadent name, nor the rich, delicious taste. I'd never seen a red cake before I laid my eyes on a Red Velvet cake in a bakery somewhere in New York some years ago. Deep ruby red it was, cushioned and layered with a thick white frosting (cream cheese it was, I later learnt) and topped with dessicated coconut. Oh my. If ever there was a vampy cake, this was it.
Why hadn't I seen the red velvet cake before this? Was I so unobservant or is this a relatively new (old; revived) craze. I remember when I was a pre pubescent kid, the "it" cake at the time (it was the 1980s) was the blackforest cake. At the time, it was ... almost exotic. It's still tasty but it's lost the allure it had (at least for me) then. Then in the late 1980s and 1990s it was cheese cakes that ruled my world. Bakeries everywhere touted their cheese cakes -- Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Oreo, Marble, Blueberry, Strawberry, Mango ... you name it, they had it. Somewhere in between there were phases where carrot cakes took center stage for a bit; and, of course, who could dismiss the Chocolate Banana craze. Now that's one combo I still can't appreciate, but never mind me. Of course, most recenty the craze has been for cupcakes. Cupcakes for meetings, parties, reunions and even for weddings! So now, it seems, its time for the Red Velvet cake to come front and centre.
Anyway, I tried a slice. I liked it and vowed to look it up and make it when I returned home. Fast forward some four years and I have finally gotten down to it. Why's it take me so long? Well, in case you haven't figured it out I a tough challenger for the title of "world's biggest procrastinator". I'll get things done ... but on my own schedule.
The problem with this cake is that its appeal lies mainly, at least initially, in it's appearance. Don't get me wrong; a good Red Velvet is moist (the texture is almost velvety, I swear) and the almost chocolate-could be vanilla flavour melded with the cream cheese topping ... divine. But, because people get caught up with the colour, many eateries get away with mediocre Red Velvets: dry, crumbly chocolate cake rip offs that make you go, "that's it?".
The origin of the Red Velvet is apparently unclear. Some say it's from the South (in the US) while others say New York, An article in the New York Times quotes an urban legend where sometime in the 1920s had the cake at the Waldolf and was impressed, she asked for the recipe and was charged some US $100 for her cake. To protest, she passed the recipe along to abyone she knew ...
Doesn't really matter where it came from. Google red Velvet Cake and you;ll find hundreds of recipes and hundreds of interpretations to the cake. Many achieve the red by way of food colouring (gels, not liquid) but some prefer to find a more "natural" way of colouring the batter. Beetroot? Rhubarb? Cherries?
I decided to stick with the food colouring. Rhubarb is next to impossible to find here and beetroot wasn't available in the grocer last weekend. Cherries cost a bomb (well, the fresh ones do). Apart from the colour, the cake has cocoa, buttermilk, butter, sugar and, naturally, flour. Also, a baking soda+vinegar combustion. Nice.
I must say beforehand that I halved the recipe that follows as I didn't want to make a huge 1 kg cake. Instead I made two mini cakes and 6 cupcakes. Kept a couple of cupcakes for myself and shared the rest with some friends at work.
What you need:
500g superfine flour/cake flour
4 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk
red food colouring
230 g unsalted butter
2.5 cups castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp baking soda
For the frosting:
500 g cream cheese
dash of lemon juice
1 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp butter
dessicated coconut for garnish.
1. Whisk together flour, salt and cocoa. set aside.
2. mix red colouring with buttermilk till you get a deep, deep red.
3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, add butter and sugar and whisk till fluffy. Add eggs, one by one. Add the vanilla.
4. Add the flour and buttermilk mixture alternatively (3 or 4 rounds) and mix till well incorporated. Set aside.
5. Meanwhile, add the baking soda to the vinegar and let it fizz. Fold it into the batter.
6. Spoon the batter into your greased baking pans and bake at 175C for 30 to 40 mins or till tester comes out clean.
If you are making cupcakes, just spoon batter into a cupcake pan. If you're making a layered Red Velvet you can either divide the batter into 4 portions, bake one layer at a time (about 15 to 30 mins each) OR divide into two and slice each into half to get 4 layers.
After removing the cakes from the oven, CHILL them overnight (or about 8 hours) before frosting them. Believe me, it's a lot easier. Just out of the oven, the cake is crumbly and soft, making frosting it a messy, tiresome endeavor.
To make the frosting, cream the cheese and butter and sifter sugar and lemon.
Top with desiccated coconut.