Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Velvet, If You Please

When I was pregnant with my son, I experienced a fierce form of what the obstetrical community calls Irritable Uterus. Yes, I'm serious. From 26 weeks on I had violent bouts of time-able Braxton-Hicks contractions for hours at a time that had me grabbing the nearest wall or furniture and breathing deeply to get through them. The difference between IU and pre-term labor: while there is potential for it to trigger PTL, IU does not cause a change in the cervix that productive contractions do. After two weeks (and a trip to the ER meeting my midwife there thinking he was coming fast at 27 weeks) of fighting through, my midwife took me off work. I was raised on a dairy farm and in all of my years of life(that I could remember, anyway) I had never not had a job, yet here I was with nothing to do but relax, put my feet up, drink plenty of water, and play with my then-1.5-year-old. So what did I do? I baked. A lot. That may explain how I gained 30 pounds that trimester when I hadn't gained ANY weight in the previous 30 weeks, but I digress...
One day my husband asked why I never made red velvet cake. Why? Because I'd never had it before so it wasn't even on my radar. I did a lot of research, read through various recipes and reviews, and finally decided on a basic one, with butter cream frosting(we'll discuss the frosting later). It was DELICIOUS. How had I gone 24.5 years without it?
Since then I've done plenty of tweaking and have decided on MY official red velvet cake recipe.


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1-1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs DARK cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbs red food coloring
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbs distilled white vinegar
   Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 
   Cream butter and sugar VERY well, until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well until fluffy once more. 
   Make a paste of cocoa and red coloring. Add to creamed mixture. Mix salt, vanilla, and buttermilk together in a small bowl on the side. Add alternately the flour and the milk mixture to the creamed mixture Once they are all completely combined, mix the baking soda and vinegar together, then immediately fold into the batter VERY gently. 
   Pour delicately into the cake pans without any extra stirring, and bake for 27 minutes. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN! If your temperature is spot-on, then just trust your oven. Resist the urge to do the toothpick test! They will be just a touch underdone in the center. Remove the cakes and allow them to cool in the pans for five minutes, then move them onto cake cooling racks. 

Butter cream frosting
It is hotly debated whether cream cheese frosting or butter cream belongs on the red velvet cake. My stance: HANDS OFF THE CREAM CHEESE! I have heard SO many times red velvet cake is bland, dry, etc, and NEEDS the cream cheese frosting to carry it. NOT SO! If this is the case with your cake then you're doing it wrong. I realize I probably just insulted A LOT of grandma's and bakers out there. I'm okay with it.
The thing is, when it's cooked properly and is nice and moist red velvet is a rich, delicate chocolate flavor with melt-in-your-mouth moistness. Even a minute too long, though, and it crumbles and all its flavor is lost in a mouthful of bland red crumbs. When you add cream cheese frosting to a nice moist red velvet cake you drown-out the beautiful flavor because of the intensity of the cream cheese flavor. A fluffy, delicate butter cream is JUST what a properly done red velvet cake needs to compliment the richness without over-powering the chocolate flavor. 

  • 5 Tbs all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tsp REAL vanilla extract
   Mix flour and milk in a saucepan and heat over low heat until it thickens to the consistency of a heavy gravy, stirring frequently to avoid flour lumps. Once thickened, pour into a heat-safe bowl and place it in the freezer until cooled completely(30-40 minutes). While flour mixture is cooling, cream sugar, butter, and vanilla on high until fluffy and whipped. Add the flour mixture and whip again until uniformly fluffy. DO NOT FROST THE CAKE UNTIL IT IS COMPLETELY COOL!


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