Thursday, April 2, 2009

Red Velvet Cake (err... Green Velvet Cupcakes)

So, I have a bit of a secret...

I was 25 years old before I had my first piece of Red Velvet Cake.

(I'll give you a moment to let that soak in).

That's right. I wasn't raised with red velvet cake (or grits!).

There. I've said it. Hopefully the South will forgive me and still accept me (who am I kidding, of course it will... the South forgives... we may not forget, but by golly, but we sure as hell forgive).

Even with two grandmothers, a mother, and about 3-4 aunts who all had/have mad cooking and baking skills... there was never a red velvet cake in sight. I can't even remember if I ever heard of it as a kid. But now, it's all the rage. Bobby Flay is throwing peeps down in NYC and everyone and their brothers are running out to their local bakeries for a red velvet cupcake. Sheesh. You'd think it was like crack or something.

Never one to shy away from cake and cream cheese frosting, I decided to not only try red velvet cake for the first time, but to also make it myself. And who better to strip me of my red velvet cake virginity than...

Martha Stewart.

That's right. Who better to teach me how to make the supposedly quintessential southern dessert than a Yankee from New Jersey?

I used her recipe (after seeing her make it on her Living show) and made a gigantic red velvet cake for Christmas one year. It sat proudly on display on my grandmother's antique buffet amongst all the Christmas Dessert Regulars... Pecan Pie, Coconut Cake , Claire (Chocolate Eclair), and various other pies, cookies and pastries. I distinctly remember that besides my mom and dad (who, by blood are required to taste all things I make for family gatherings, all the while I hover over them awaiting their reaction with bated breath), only my uncle Jim had a piece. And actually he had two and cut off a hunk to save for later. So, I've come to the realization that my uncle Jim is the only true southerner in my family. (He probably even eats grits when none of us are looking). The rest of us are just hillbillies.

That was the first and last time I'd had red velvet cake. I mean, sure it was delicious. Utterly delicious (we'll get to that later), but it was kind of like... okay, been there done that, let's move on.

Enter: St. Patrick's Day Party.

Swap out the red food coloring for green and BAM. Instant St. Patricks Day Party. These are now going to be a regular at the Annual St. Patrick's Day Party. (I've always felt like Southerners and the Irish are kindred spirits, anyway... but that's a post for a whole other blog).

Red Velvet Cake
Recipe from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. (2002).

For the longest time, I just assumed red velvet cake was a yellow cake with red food coloring in it. But, it's so much more than that. It's incredibly light and moist. Melt-in-your-mouth moist, in fact. And it's got a little whang from the buttermilk and the vinegar that is mimicked in the traditional cream cheese frosting.

I've recently found out that some people say that traditional red velvet cake actually has a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder in it. This recipe does not. Maybe it's cause Martha is a Yankee or maybe it's cause she's a genius. You'll never know unless you try it.

Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 1 minute
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 1 (9-inch) Layer Cake

cooking spray, for pans
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole buttermilk
2 1/2 tbsps red food coloring (yes, that says tablespoons)
Cream cheese frosting, recipe follows

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 3 (9 by 2 inch) round cake pans with cooking spray, and line with waxed paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla. With an electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix on low speed just until the flour has been incorporated. Slowly add buttermilk. Add food coloring and beat to combine.

Divide batter between pans; each pan will be about half full. Tap pans on counter to remove bubbles. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove the pans to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Invert pans onto wire racks sprayed with vegetable oil to cool cake completely, or quick chill in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
To assemble, place 1 layer, top-side down, on a cake stand. Using an offset spatula, spread with 1/4 inch of frosting. Repeat with remaining layers. To frost the top and sides of the cake, work from the center toward and over the edge, making sure to evenly coat. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Cream Cheese Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound confectioners sugar, sifted
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar, pecans and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Yield: 6 cups.