I have to say, I’m still not quite sure what all the hype is over red velvet cake. I enjoy it, probably as much as the next cupcake, but I just do not understand some of the hubbub. You know what I’m talking about, those people who seem to practically want to throw themselves in front of a bus to convince you that XYZ bakery/cookbook/celebrity chef has THE BEST RED VELVET CAKE/RECIPE EVER. I mean you can practically see them having a relapse, like a crack addict. They start scratching and itching, foaming at the mouth, their eyes start rolling. Oh and don’t even get me started on the debate over cream cheese icing vs. boiled icing. My god, they’ll come to blows.
Ok, well maybe it’s not that bad. But you catch my drift. Red velvet is an incredibly divisive topic in the baking world. People get really attached. The first time I ever made it, was actually for my old roommate’s wedding. Ella and I lived together back in Pennsylvania, with a third roommate Rachel, when we were all graduate assistants for various art departments at my alma mater. To say that it was an eventful year would be a massive understatement. Besides coping with the fact that all my friends had just graduated and I had essentially become a “townie,” a bedbug and a flea infestation, a possibly haunted house (holy crap is that a story I should tell sometime), Ella went into the end stages of liver failure.
I remember the day it happened, I was out to lunch with my mother who was visiting for the day and I got a call from Rachel who had seen Ella at the Art Barn. She looked like she was highlighter yellow. She was very obviously jaundiced. The fight we had to put up to get that girl to the ER was intense, but then everything with Ella is intense, and this is a lesson you learn very quickly with that girl. Love her to pieces (HEY EL!) but good god there is no setting between SUPER HIGH INTENSE and sleeping for her.
She went through multiple (ultimately not so great) surgeries, and we toted her back and forth to the hospital, hosted her family when they came to help, hosted a friend of hers who helped her recover while Rachel and I tended to our other responsibilities. Dealt with her crazy mood swings from the weirdest drugs ever prescribed. It was tough on all of us for sure, and I’m certain if it had happened to anyone else we would have shipped them off to family members and called it a day. But it was El, and lord knows that girl has never had it easy, so we all pitched in. Even our good friend Kelly who had just moved to China that summer was helping by proxy of her parents who lived in town.
Obviously we were all pretty relieved to move on from that year and Ella got a liver transplant, ultimately from her sister, here in New York and I visited and helped when I could. Through it all though she had Rander. Rander graduated the same year as me and took off for BC to pursue a PhD in some fancy science topic that I tune out every time I hear about it, I don’t do complicated science. Anyway, they had their ups and downs for sure, who doesn’t, but good golly if that kid wasn’t the glue that held Ella together that year. Luckily he was on a 3 hour time difference so when she was up in the middle of the night, so was he. And well, that’s the love story.
They got married last summer. It was a lovely affair, in a friend’s backyard in Connecticut with an awesome pig roast, a couple of his Canadian friends in actual Canadian Tuxedos (one girl even found a jean-skirt and vest, it was impressive dedication). I made my first ever tiered cake confection, two actually. It was so hot and humid that weekend in June I was in tears most of the morning because my cakes were falling, my icing wasn’t drying out and nothing was working. And once we got to the venue it was almost worse. My frosting melted almost immediately off the cake and all the flowers slumped no matter how much cornstarch and powdered sugar I used to stiffen it up. I almost ran out of frosting. Oh my lord. I’m surprised The BF is still dating me after that experience.
In the end, the wedding was beautiful, and the crowd was great, and I hear the cake tasted fabulous. Unfortunately I had to leave early for another event and never saw it, but they were both very pleased, so I’d call that a win. The recipe I used was recommended to me by the media professor at my grad school. It’s from the Buttercup Bakeshop cookbook I believe. I don’t use the boiled icing, since I prefer the awesome cream cheese icing that I got from the Commissary for their carrot cake. Just beware, if you eat too much cake you may have a frightening experience the next morning in the, erm….bathroom. I warned you.
Red Velvet Cake
Recipe from the Buttercup Bakeshop
Makes 2 dozen cupcakes for 2 9-in rounds
4 tbsp red food coloring
2 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups + 4 tbsp cake flour (not self rising)
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350°F, grease and flour two 9-inch rounds or put liners in the cupcake tins.
Whisk together the food coloring, vanilla and cocoa powder until smooth in a small bowl. Cream together the butter and sugar for about two minutes in a separate bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until thoroughly incorporated.
In a separate bowl whisk together the cake flour and salt to aerate. Add the flour to the butter and sugar mixture in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix just until incorporated after each addition. Add the cocoa mixture and beat until no streaks of white remain. You may need to scrape down the bowl a few times to ensure even coloring.
Right before baking mix together the baking soda and vinegar so it foams then add to the batter. Pour into prepared pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes for rounds or 20-25 minutes for cupcakes. Let cool in pans for about 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from the Commissary Carrot Cake recipe
8 oz package of cream cheese, softened but still cool
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, softened but still cool
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix until incorporated. Gradually add the powdered sugar by cupfuls until desired consistency is reached. If it’s too thick add some milk to thin it out, by teaspoonfuls. If it’s too thin add more powdered sugar, or cornstarch if it’s too sweet.