Red Velvet, If You Please
By Julie Tudor
Red Velvet Cake is a Southern favorite: a soft, fluffy, mildly chocolaty cake that also happens to be frighteningly red. In order to mask its color before the cake is cut and to showcase its scarlet hue once it is, Red Velvet Cake is traditionally enrobed in a white cream-cheese frosting. It is a holiday favorite due to its bright red interior, and you can even go all-out campy and use green food coloring in the frosting. Garishly great!
The first time I had Red Velvet Cake was when I was attending college in North Carolina. Although I had lived in Florida half my life, I had remained a dissatisfied New Englander at heart, surrounded by transplanted Northerners intent on playing golf and attending water parks until they died. In retaliation, I had found myself seeking out čOld Floridaî whenever I could, searching in vain for authenticity in the prefab world that sprang up overnight along the Southwest coast. Though we did get to spend our Christmases on the beach, aside from a few redneck shrimp shacks, Jimmy Buffet, and some amazing grouper sandwiches, I had come up mostly empty-handed in my search for the čReal South.î
North Carolina remedied that for me, starting with the first road trip I took to Nags Head when I was 18. And life in Winston-Salem was a crash course in the finer points of all things Southern, which I took to quite quickly. I felt embraced by a culture like I never had before. Folks there were so willing to share their homes, their family secrets and favorite recipes, with nothing expected in return but a kind word and a smile. I still feel a strong connection to that part of the country; the red clay and gentle twang of its collective voice says home to me like nothing else. So this holiday season, I will light my 26 Point Moravian Star and bask in its gentle Southern glow as my fork slips into this heavenly cake.
RED VELVET CAKE
(Just hear those sleigh bells ring-a-ling!)
2 — cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons high quality cocoa powder
2 1-ounce bottles of red food coloring (equivalent measure is — cup or 4 tablespoons)
˝ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ˝ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350®F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Combine the sifted flour and salt, and set aside.
Put the cocoa in a small glass bowl, and add the food coloring gradually, stirring until mixture is smooth. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar together, beating for 4 or 5 minutes at medium speed with a hand mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for at least 30 seconds after each addition.
With your mixer at low speed, add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture, a bit at a time, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the cocoa/food coloring mixture, mixing until the color of the batter is uniform. Do not overbeat; overbeaten cake batter will result in a tough cake. Oh, and have fun licking the beaters, but be careful! Red food coloring stains.
In a small bowl, mix the vinegar with the baking soda. It will foam up. (This part makes me feel like a Mad Scientist!) Stir it briefly to mix, and then add it to the cake batter, folding it in to incorporate well, but do not beat.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow layers to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning out. Let cake cool completely before frosting. You can do it as a two-layer cake, but the real way is to make it as a four-layer cake. To do this, take a long strand of dental floss (!) and draw it carefully parallel through each cooled cake. Gently lift off each layer and assemble. You may need to make a little extra frosting to accommodate the extra layers, but a little extra frosting never hurt anybody - at least not overtly!
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
6 oz. light cream cheese
6 T. butter
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
Allow cream cheese and butter to come to room temperature. Beat together with vanilla and powdered sugar until creamy. Içve also heard of folks putting chopped pecans in their frosting. If that suits your fancy, by all means, do go ahead.
Julie Tudor is currently writing a compilation of recipes inspired by essays and essays inspired by recipes. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
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