Friday, 1 May 2009

Red Velvet Cake


I think my big downfall as a cook is that I don't revisit recipes enough. I'm always distracted by something new and shiny, and don't spend time getting a small selection of recipes right.

So when I decided to bake a cake for this weekend, I didn't go for an old favourite, I went for Red Velvet Cake.

I'd never really heard of this cake until recently. A lot of the blogs I frequent are American, and it pops up fairly frequently. I found it strange that a basic chocolate cake could get people so excited, seemingly just because it had food colouring in. When I found a recipe for it in "Bake" by Rachel Allen, I had to see what the fuss was about.

It was fairly complicated to make, as cakes go, as it involved alternating between wet and dry ingredients. While I managed to find buttermilk in a local deli, I couldn't find cream of tartar anywhere, except for in the Co-op, where I found a ticket for it on the shelf, but they'd sold out. As it was just in the icing to make the mixture more acidic, I replaced it with a few drops of lemon juice.

The cake took me quite a while to make, as my flatmates were watching tv and I didn't want to use the noisy electric whisk. This is one of the many joys of living a shared flat with a kitchen diner instead of a proper living room! I used a spatula to cream the butter and sugar, which took a while, then fold in the other ingredients. There was also a bit more mixture than I was expecting, so the mixing bowl threatened to overflow towards the end!

I turned the sandwich pans after 20 minutes in the oven, and at this stage they were noticeably wobbly in the centre. They rose quite a lot, but sunk as they cooled so they were only slightly domed, although if I was making this for a special occasion I would probably level them off so they looked a bit neater and more professional. As it was, I just filled in the gaps with the icing.

The icing was easy to make, although I've never made a meringue based icing before. I wasn't sure how much the icing was meant to be heated, but it seemed to come together ok. This is another problem with trying new things - I often don't know what result I'm aiming for! On eating, the mouthfeel was a little grainy. I think I probably should have heated it more, but I was worried that the eggs would be overwhipped and collapse. I iced it once with a thin layer to catch the crumbs and then thickly with little flicked peaks.

My cake looked quite similar to the one in the book, so I think I got it right. My American flatmate was the only one in the flat who had tasted red velvet before, and he confirmed that it tasted as it was supposed to.

Very red

It was pretty nice, with the only flaw being the slightly grainy icing where the sugar hadn't dissolved fully. However, I just don't get the appeal of red velvet cake. The cake was moist and soft, with a definite chocolate flavour, but I didn't like the icing though, and found it sickly. I thought it would have been much better with a chocolate icing. The red colouring impressed my flatmate H, and the red and white contrast looked good, but I think the novelty would wear off quickly. (H also said that syphilis was known as "French velvet" during the 18th Century so her opinions may be slightly skewed.)

A piece of cake...(I'm hilarious)

In terms of revisiting this recipe, I think I will make the cake again, but not bother with the food colouring or the icing. Instead I might try a chocolate fudge icing or a ganache. I guess you could also dye it other colours for special occasions, although I can't think of any right now... maybe green for St Patricks? Blue velvet?


MsMarmitelover said...

I'm not a big cake fan actually, but that looks fantastic.
I know what you mean about constantly going for the new.

Holler said...

It does look great, but I too would be put off by the thought of adding food colouring, if it doesn't really need it. As long as it was tasty :P

Jenny said...

A big reason for baking at home is that you are in charge of what goes in to your food. No additives or other bad stuff! Why use colouring if you don't have to?

Ghislaine said...

I made a red velvet cake last weekend and used this recipe .I actually did a combination of red beet juice and food coloring because I did want it to be red but I didn't want to put in a toxic amount of food coloring. Who knows I might grow another arm :).

mangocheeks said...

I have yet to make this cake.

I really love the title of your blog.