Monday, April 12, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

So I asked Domenick what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, which is a yearly question that has resulted in chocolate cake with pb icing (a personal fav), rocky road cupcakes (awesome), chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing as well as some other creations. This year he wanted Red Velvet Cake with vanilla icing. I have to admit that I have never made a Red Velvet Cake, so I had to do a lot of research. My main issue with making this cake was that I cook naturally, which means no artificial colors, flavorings, preservatives, and other crap like that. Oh and I always use unbleached flour (preferably organic), cage-free eggs (preferably organic), organic sugars, and humanely obtained, if not organic dairy products. So my challenge with this cake was the red color. It turns out that there wasn’t always food coloring added to give it the red color that we have come to know and love. The reason it was red was that the cocoa , which wasn’t dutch processed at the time, reacted with the buttermilk and vinegar. It doesn’t get the bright blood red but instead a reddish brown hue. Then when cocoa became dutch processed (adding more alkaline) people started adding food die to the cake either by making their own die by adding beets to the batter, by boiling beets and using the water from it, or using artificial food coloring. I know my husband, and there are very few things he despises more than beets, so making my own color was out of the question. I shop at Whole Foods and I know they carry natural dyes so that was my first choice. So I went to WF’s and guess what, they were out of dyes, apparently Easter had wiped them out and they were unable to get more dye in. I was planning on getting the non-dutch processed cocoa anyway so I began looking. My Whole Foods carried 3 brands of cocoa powder. One was clearly marked dutch processed so that was out. The second was organic Green and Blacks. It didn’t say it was dutch processed but it did contain alkaline. Since their chocolate is a bit bitter for me, and the cocoa had a ridiculous price tag, I decided against it. The next was Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa. It stated that it only contained roasted cocoa. I did a search on their website and it looks like their sweetened ground chocolate and sweetened cocoa are dutch processed, but it doesn’t state whether or not the unsweetened is dutch processed. Anyway I ended up with Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa because I love their chocolate.

I found a recipe for Red Velvet Cake online but I doctored it up a bit. I did not add the food coloring simply because I did not have it, I added more vanilla because I normally do, and I added way more cocoa (it only called for 1 tsp can you believe that??). I also baked it in a 9 x 13 because I did not have 2 round cake pans or a carrier for a round cake. It took a lot less time to bake than it said it needed so I would keep an eye on it if you decide to make this cake.

Before we start I must mention that everything must be room temperature when baking. I honestly have heard a dozen reasons why, but for me, you do not question the authority of your elders/professionals on baking. A quick way for dairy (milk, butter, etc) to get room temp is a low setting on the microwave. For eggs put them in some warm water (not hot) in their shell, until they warm up. If they make the water cold just replace it with warm water. Also when it comes to baking be prepared for everything and anything to happen; a cake flopping, crust burning, batter spilling, etc.

Red Velvet Cake

• 1 cup vegetable shortening ( I used spectrum organic since it’s non-hydrogenated)
• 2 eggs
• 1 1/2 cups sugar
• About 6 teaspoons cocoa powder (the recipe called for 1 so use as much as you like/need. I needed to keep adding more for the color and plain red velvet cake is pretty bland hence the traditional cream cheese frosting)
• 2 ounces red food coloring (I didn’t add any but if you would like to add it)
• 2 1/2 cups cake flour (about that, I do not have cake flour, which is simple to make by subtracting 2 tbs of sifted flour and adding 2 tbs of cornstarch to the measurement of all purpose flour but I didn’t have cornstarch so I just used organic unbleached flour and it turned out fine. My personal feeling is that there is no need to invest in fancy flours when you can make them at home)
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the shortening, eggs and sugar. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa and food coloring (I skipped this step). Add the paste to the shortening mixture. Sift the flour and salt together over parchment (I did this in a bowl). Add to the batter alternately with the buttermilk in 3 additions. Add the vanilla extract. Fold in the baking soda and vinegar.

Here’s where the recipe differs:

Actual recipe: Pour the batter into 2 greased 9-inch cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes or until an inserted cake tester comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack. Invert the cakes from the pans.

My recipe: Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13. The batter is quite thick, so it doesn’t exactly pour and you will have to spread it evenly with a spatula of some sort. Bake for 23 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack.

White Frosting:
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1 cup milk
• 1 cup unsalted butter
• 1 cup confectioners' sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Over medium heat, cook the flour and milk until thickened. Let cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour mixture. Frost the top of the first layer with frosting and set the second layer on top. Frost the entire cake with remaining frosting.

So here’s a fun little story: I have never made cooked icing of any sort and I’ve heard what a pain it was, and let me tell you it was! The first time I added the flour to the milk and cooked it over medium, apparently I didn’t stir it enough, which means the entire time you are cooking it, so it ended up lumpy. The next time I was successful but when the recipe means until thickened it meant a lot longer and a lot thicker than I got it. So I basically had a ton of sort of thick milk which means one super soupy icing! So I stuck a stick of butter in the microwave enough to soften it, added flour, powdered sugar and more vanilla, creamed it and then gradually added back in the soup mixture. It worked out fine and tasted good, but pretty much like my moms no cook version, so I will NEVER be making this version again!

I didn’t bother taking a picture of the entire cake because the cake wasn’t decorated. I normally fancy up cakes, especially bday cakes by making some fun shape (I’ve done a martini and a marlin, yes the fish, my dad fishes), by icing with different tips, writing on it, adding shavings of chocolate or cookie crumbles, and/or dyed icing, but we were pressed for time so I just simply iced the cake with a spatula. It definitely tasted the same but it would have been nice to have been able to spruce it up a bit.

I brought the cake to Domenicks parent’s house and everyone seemed to like the cake especially Dom!


  1. i made this red velvet cake a few weeks back for a friend's birthday (topped with crispy fried bacon instead of pecans) and it was an absolute hit. the best part? the frosting!! sooo good and easy to make. maybe try it out next time? if i can make it on the first try, it must be foolproof :)

  2. That sounds awesome! Too bad I wouldn't be able to eat it! I could always make that for Dom though! He already put his request in for next year and cookies and cream cake! So now I have a whole year to plan and research!