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?)