Friday, August 3, 2007

Notes about Red Velvet Cake

I spent the past few hours making trial-run red velvet cupcakes. I met a lovely couple at the Guerrilla Truck Art show several weeks back, and they've hired me to do cupcakes for their wedding on September 1. Half of them are lemon with vanilla french buttercream, which is what the bride had the night I met her. The other half are to be red velvet cake, which I personally dislike and have never made successfully. I'm taking it as a challenge.

So I set out to find a couple of recipes to use as models. If you've never had it, red velvet cake is a southern tradition, made with a scant amount of cocoa powder, but hardly considered chocolate cake. It commonly includes a small amount of distilled white vinegar. It's best topped with cream cheese icing, which is the only thing that makes it salvageable. I believe that it's not the flavor of red velvet, but it's shocking appearance that has caused it's resurgence in recent years. It is so unnatural, so kitschy. People who order red velvet are somewhat equivalent to label whores. It's all about the look.

Just before I started on recipe #1, I realized that I had failed to restock my pantry with cocoa powder and that it called for buttermilk, and realized shortly thereafter that I was too lazy to go to the grocery. Substitute a few tablespoons of melted chocolate for cocoa, and decrease the amount of sugar by a few tablespoons. Substitute whole milk for buttermilk. Leave out the vinegar, as the only kind I had are balsamic, apple cider, and tarragon. I used a gel-based red food color. Jeez, they're not good at all. Drier than the desert. Definitely closer to brown suede than red velvet.

After an inevitable trip to the grocery store, I felt better equipped to try again. I followed the second recipe to the letter, except that I halved the amount of red food dye. A full ounce seemed ridiculous. The results of the second batch, although better, are still far from satisfying. They're moist and have the correct color, but the cake tastes floury.

The cream cheese frosting is good, but that's because it's always good. It's not okay to mask the incredibly dull flavor of the cakes with tasty frosting. Both have to stand up alone before they get paired together. The search begins for a suitable recipe. If you have one, please share it with me. (Kristal?)


Nif said...

I'll be a taste tester.
How are you, Beth? I miss you! We should go to Crust soon.

Anonymous said...

are you using butter or oil as the fat in the recipe?
- kristal

Beth said...

First time around I used a combination of butter and oil. The recipe looked good...butter for flavor, and oil for moisture. The amounts of each seemed to be in line with what the fat percentage should be for the recipe. I am surprised they came out as dry as they did.

The second batch used oil exclusively, which I think is a necessary evil. I need to bake them off the night before they are being served, so I need some assurance that they'll stay moist.

Suggestions? How did we do them at Alliance? Or was it from a mix?

Anonymous said...

i think using only oil is the way to go. it needs that stability and moisture. now i may be wrong but i think that buttermilk and vinegar is merely used for a chemical reaction that makes the cocoa become a tinted reddish-brown color. it isn't in there for taste. thats for sure.
so maybe you can omit these items and just use a good "normal" cake recipe and then mix your red dye and cocoa powder together in a bowl and then add to the cake mix. the food dyes are a little more evolved than they were back in the day when this recipe was invented.

at alliance we used (gasp) a white cake mix (pillsbury) and used a red dye (not the decorators dye) mixed it with the cocoa powder to form sort of a paste and then added it to the batter as the very last step.
call me if you need anything i would love to help!
- kristal