Friday, June 25, 2010

Birthdays and Red Velvet

Every birthday in our house begins with the same question, "What kind of cake do you want?" and the answer is never 'store-bought'. A couple of weeks before the big day, we begin plotting... Chocolate or vanilla cake? Butter cream or fudge icing? Over the years, my guy's clear favorites have emerged. The youngest is a pound cake kind of guy: a cream cheese pound cake to be precise. His dad has a thing for red velvet. The oldest boy is definitely a chocolate lover, but this year for his 17th birthday, he chose to follow in his father's steps, and requested the red velvet.

The recipe I use is one of those simple ones you find in old church cookbooks. This one happens to be one of my great aunt's recipes. I tend to make her cakes a lot... they're simple and straightforward, no-nonsense; just like her.

2 eggs                          Beat eggs.
1 ½ c sugar                  Add sugar, cooking oil and vinegar.
1 ½ c cooking oil
1 tsp vinegar
2 ½ c flour                   Sift flour and soda together. Add flour to cake mixture.
1 tsp soda
1 c buttermilk               Add milk slowly.
1 tsp vanilla                  Add flavoring and cake coloring.
5/8 oz red cake coloring

                Bake 20-25 minutes @ 350 degrees. Makes 3 layers.

8 oz cream cheese         Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy.
1 stick of butter
16 oz powdered sugar   Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

                 Add pecans and flavoring as desired.

The downside to these old recipes is they assume you already know a great deal about baking. I'll fill in the gaps for you, just in case this is a first attempt.

  • Warm up the eggs first; they'll beat up fluffier. Just remember to beat them like crazy since there's not a lot of leavening (baking soda/powder) in the recipe. The more air you have in your cake batter, the less your chances of a heavy, dense cake.
  • Let the butter and cream cheese sit out overnight so you won't have to work so hard at making them creamy.
  • Grease your cake pans. Cut some wax or parchment paper and line the bottom of the pan. Then sprinkle some flour into the pan and tap it around so it coats the sides of the pan. Now when you have to dump the cake out, the WHOLE cake will come out, not just the sides while the center remains stuck to your cake pan. That is maddening.
  • When you get close to the end of your baking time, start checking the cake every few minutes to see if top is still jiggly. The top should be firm but not hard; it should spring back when you touch it.
  • As soon as the top has finished baking, take the cakes out and let them cool enough for the sides to pull away from the pan, and then turn them out onto a cooling rack.
  • Some folks freeze the cakes to keep the crumbs from mixing into the icing. Red crumbs in your beautiful cream cheese icing are somewhat irksome. I never have the time to freeze the cake though, so I just put up with a few crumbs. However, if you pile the icing thick enough, you won't pick up many crumbs. *grin*
  • The recipe says it makes 3 layers, but I only have 2 cake pans so I only get a 2 layer cake out of the deal. It doesn't really matter – you could do anything you wanted to do with the batter... cupcakes, mini-loaves...
  • Most red velvet cakes have the crushed pecans in the center layers or sprinkled around the sides (which arguably make the cake easier to cut) but I've got a kid who won't eat nuts so I just lay the pecan halves across the top of both layers. He picks them off later.
My red velvet cakes are never the prettiest thing to look at, but the guys don't really care too much about that. It's all in the taste to them.


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