Happy Valentine’s Day!
Honestly, I’m not much of a cake person but this holiday really does call for for it, no? Red velvet cakes, enjoying a resurgence of popularity, were popping up all over the internet over the past few weeks, and I had to give it a try. Besides, I needed something to use my 2 pounds of homemade cream cheese…
I’ve made red velvet cupcakes before, but was a little less than satisfied with the results. I’ve never quite understood the purpose of an artificially red cake with a hint of chocolate, but not enough to actually taste it. Traditionally, the acidity of the cake ingredients are supposed to react together, bringing out the anthocyanin, a natural red pigment found in chocolate. Food coloring is almost always used in addition, however.
So I scoured various publications until I came across a recipe that included what I consider a sufficient amount of chocolate. It deviates some from tradition, but it’s got the essentials.
I was also inspired by this cake decorating tutorial, which seemed simple enough with spectacular results.
Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
Recipe from Fine Cooking
For the cake
2 sticks (1 cup) plus 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (1-lb.) box light brown sugar (about 2-1/4 cups)
3 Tbs. red food coloring
2-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
For the frosting
1-1/4 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
2-1/2 sticks (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (2-lb.) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7-1/4 cups)
Preheat oven to 350 and coat 2 cake pans with butter, sprinkling flour on top.
Sift together 3 cups of flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Cream two sticks of butter with brown sugar, vanilla and food coloring, first on low speed to combine, then raise the speed to high until mixture is aerated and pale, about two minutes.
On medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, until fully combined.
On low speed, add one-third of the dry ingredients and half of the buttermilk. When combined, add a second third of the dry ingredients and the remaining buttermilk. Finally, add the remaining dry ingredients.
Spread batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for about 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Cream cheese frosting
I followed the basic recipe posted with the cake, but since I was using homemade cream cheese, I had to make some significant adjustments. Namely, I needed a lot more sugar to compensate for the extra creaminess of my cheese. Um, a LOT. I’m kind of embarrassed to even say how much. And as you can see from my droopy roses, it still was not quite stiff enough to pipe.
So, I would recommend using store-bought cream cheese, or perhaps try the cooked curd method, if you are worried about aesthetics. But if all you care about is taste, the consistency shouldn’t matter too much — in fact, in my opinion good-tasting icing and decorating icing are kind of mutually exclusive.
Anyway, to make a basic cream cheese frosting, beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla together until aerated and light, then gradually add the sugar on medium speed until it reaches desired consistency and sweetness. You can also add a bit of meringue powder to stiffen it up as well.
Here is a good video tutorial on assembly and frosting a four-layer cake.
Basically, the first thing you want to do is make sure your cakes are even and flat across the top. Use a long serrated knife to level things out if not. Reserve any resulting crumbs.
Then, take your serrated knife and draw a line around the side of the cake, to serve as guidance.
Split the cake into two layers along this line you have drawn, reserving any crumbs.
Repeat with the second layer.
Stack each of the four layers on top of one another, with a generous portion of icing between each one. Make sure the cake remains level.
When the cake is stacked, take about a half cup of icing and “spackle” it on to make a crumb layer. This seals the crumbs of the cake. It’s okay if some crumbs are visible through this layer.
A cake spatula is a very useful tool for this!
Smooth on more icing on top of the crumb layer to your liking.
As mentioned above, this icing was NOT conducive to decorating. The roses just did not want to hold their shape. I would love to try this again with a stiffer icing, however, because making the roses was not difficult at all.
Making polka dots, drop flowers, stars, leaves or curlicues is actually quite simple with the help of a basic set of Wilton tips and a pastry bag — they’re not too expensive and can make any simple cake look impressive. They work great on cupcakes and cookies too.
If you have reserved the crumbs, you can apply them right on the cake. Or cut it into shapes!
Well, in spite of my early skepticism, and my general lack of enthusiasm for cake — even I will admit this one was pretty good. It was perfectly moist. It had a delicate chocolate flavor that did not overwhelm. And I do love cream cheese frosting, especially when it’s homemade!
I would definitely make this cake again!