Saturday, April 28, 2012

Personal-Sized Red Velvet Cake

You may recall in my last post that I was baking for a small army event. A few days before the event, my friend organizing said event called and mentioned that one of the guests would be celebrating her 40th birthday that night. Don't you think we should have a cake for her? Of course everyone needs a cake on their birthday! So I told her I would see what I could do.

Hmmm, I didn't want to do a chocolate cake, since the rest of the group would be getting the Texas Sheet Cakes. And I didn't want to go back to the grocery store (yet again) so all of the ingredients needed to be naturally occurring in my kitchen. Ah-ha! Red Velvet Cake! That is definitely a special cake. There is nothing like slicing into a red velvet cake and seeing that red pop. I just have to smile when I see that red cake! Decision made!

Now, amongst many there is a bit of an argument as to what sort of frosting goes on red velvet cake.  Do you use "cooked" frosting or cream cheese frosting?  Truly, in my opinion you cannot go wrong, but I decided this called for a bit of research.

There was a time when there was no cake as we think of it today.  (Can you imagine???)  In the early 1800s, baking powder had not yet been developed, thus cake wasn't really CAKE.  Baking powder gives your batter volume and a light texture to the crumb.  After the invention of baking powder in the 1850s, the layer cake was born.  One of the first layer cakes was the velvet cake, named after it's fine crumb.  Cakes started to be made using brown sugar (or as it was called then, "RED sugar", and cocoa powder entered the mix to give more lightness to the crumb.  The cocoa was not necessarily used for flavoring, but with the entrance of "red sugar" and/or cocoa, cakes became a darker color, the inspiration for a red colored cake. 

In 1888, John Adams created the Adams Extract Company, and extracts and flavorings were born.  The company did well until the Great Depression hit.  As the Adams business started to slide, John Adams had the brilliant idea to create red food coloring.  He advertized the coloring on red posters with photos of ruby-colored velvet cakes.  Every new Adams purchase came with the recipe for this red wonder, plus 2 bottles of red extract!  What a smart businessman!  The recipe changed some over time and and a bit of a competition began to claim the "original" recipe.  The cake is most well known in the United States from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  This version is made with a "cooked" buttercream frosting, but Southern versions are often made with Cream Cheese frosting.  I now understand my personal confusion as to the "right" frosting!  I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO, where red velvet cakes are made with cooked frosting.  Then I moved to Texas (definitely what you would call "Southern"), where red velvet cakes appear to be made with cream cheese frosting.

How is that for a history lesson today?

I found the recipe for the Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake and decided to try it out.

Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 oz. red food coloring
2 TB cocoa (heaping)
1 c. buttermilk
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vinegar
3 TB. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour 2 8" cake pans.
Cream the shortening, sugar, and eggs.  Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa.  Add to the creamed mixture.  Add buttermilk, alternating with flour and salt.  Add vanilla.  Add baking soda to vinegar (a cool reaction happens here), and blend this into the batter.  Pour into cake pans and bake for 24-30 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small saucepan, slowly add milk to flour, whisking constantly.  Cook flour and milk until it is very thick, stirring constantly.  (It kind of looks gloppy at this point but just try to keep it smooth).  Cool completely. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Add cooked mixture and beat on high speed until very fluffy.  You may notice some lumps from the cooked mixture, just keep beating and they will disappear!  This frosting looks and tastes like whipped cream!

NOTE:  The original recipe I found said it made 3-4 8" cake pans.  I halved the recipe and made 1 cake pan.  Either they have some seriously thin layers or this is just an error.  In my opinion, this recipe would make 2 nice layers.  In addition, I halved the frostng recipe and it made VERY little.  I had just enough to cover my small cake.  If you like nice thick layers of frosting, you may want to 1 1/2 or double the recipe. 
Printable Recipe

It may also be of note that I did not use regular food coloring.  I used Ateco Gel colors, so I did not actually use 2 ounces of red food coloring.  I also did not make a paste with the coloring and cocoa because with a gel that wouldn't work very well.  I just added the cocoa to the creamed mixture and squeezed in a few drops of coloring gel until I thought it would make a nice red cake.  Use as little or as much of the gel as you want.  Here is a thought though... I found this cake to be a tad dry.  This could be because I was lacking in those extra 2 ounces of liquid!  I would probably add more shortening if I made this again with gel colors.  Or just find a new recipe!  There are LOTS out there.  One thing I have noticed is varying amounts of cocoa.  I say more is better!  Another recipe you may try is from Bakerella.  Besides the fact that she is super creative, Bakerella has a red velvet cake recipe that she claims is really moist so this could solve the problem right there!  Hers uses oil instead of shortening and uses more vinegar, so there is more liquid in general.  Using a coloring gel instead of food coloring would probably not make much of a difference. 

Back to my personal sized birthday cake.

Here is my freshly baked red velvet cake!  Yum.  It is nice and tall, which I like.  But again, if you wanted to make a regular 3 layer cake, you could probably make the whole recipe and have a layer just a little shorter than this.  I wanted a nice tall layer since it would be a little cake.  My cake was taller than it was round. 

Go back to middle school in your head and grab your compass to make a 4 inch circle.  If you got rid of your school supplies, just find a random small circular object in your kitchen (a soup can?  a small bowl?  A small saucer? ) and trace around it onto cardboard or a thick paper.  Place your template on your cake and with a sharp serrated knife, cut out 2 circles.  Keep the extras!

Now, since I felt my cake was a tad dry, I rectified that with a little baking secret.  Simple syrup!  Mix together equal amounts of water and sugar until boiling.  Add vanilla extract (or whatever flavoring -if any- you think will be nice with your cake).  Lightly brush over the top of each layer of your cake before frosting.  I used 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup sugar, and about 1 tsp. vanilla.  You have now infused your cake with more moisture! 

Frost the cake as you normally do.  I did not do a crumb layer (not enough frosting for that) so I ended up getting lots of crumbs in the frosting.  That was all right with me, as it worked just fine with my final product!  After the entire cake was iced, I crumbled up the remaining red velvet cake and gently pressed it to the sides of the cake and a little around the top.  I added some more red food coloring to the remaining icing, plus 1/8 tsp. of Wilton Piping Gel.  I put this into an icing bag with a number 3 tip, and piped the decorations on the top.

Happy Birthday!

Happily, the birthday girl enjoyed her cake.  It just so happens that Red Velvet is one of her favorites, so I lucked out!

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