National Velvet

Growing up, my brother’s favorite cake was either a cookie cake from Great American Cookie Co for his birthday or Red Velvet on other occasions. Cookie cakes are sometimes hard to replicate, but for me Red Velvet has been… elusive. I have tried many different recipes and many different techniques and all have merely rendered me a decidedly chocolate cake. This last rendition was rather pinker than prior incarnations, yet still lacked the vibrant scarlet hue a true Red Velvet offers.

I assure you, the flavor was spot on. If you closed your eyes, it was Red Velvet through and through. It was rich and luxurious with a soft buttercream frosting. And yet… It wasn’t Red Velvet. I’m beginning to think either my New York Times Red Velvet Cake recipe either lied (and it has never let me down before) or the red food coloring gel I bought at Walmart was weaker than expected. The recipe called for 1-1/2oz of food coloring. The tubes of gel I used held a little over half an ounce each. I even used Hershey’s cocoa powder, a non-Dutch processed cocoa, which ought to have created the proper acidic reaction to produce a more vivid crimson shade.

All of the ingredients combined typically work together in a spectacular chemical reaction to bring out the natural mahogany in cocoa. Just think about the magical dance that happens when buttermilk and acidic cocoa and cider vinegar and baking soda are swirled together and subjected to inviting red food coloring to their party. They didn’t originally like playing with food coloring. They used to twirl in the bowl with macerated beets (which outstandingly lend sweetness and moisture to the cake if you should ever get the notion to add them in), but beets moved out of fashion after the depression and food coloring was ushered in by a new choreographer.

One thing I did alter was that I increased the buttercream by approximately 50% in order to frost the cake with an adequate crumb coat and finish with a second coat for aesthetic reasons. I then finished the top with a generous dusting of red decorating sugar. I so wish I’d gotten a candid of the perfectly imperfect adornment of candles placed in the cake by my sweet 4-year-old nephew!

1/2c Crisco
1-1/2c sugar
2lg eggs (or 2tsp psyllium husk combined with 3tbsp water – or beet juice for vegan)
2tbsp natural cocoa
1-1/2oz red food coloring
1tsp salt
1tsp vanilla
1c buttermilk
2-1/2c AP flour
1tbsp ACV
1tsp baking soda
2 sticks butter
6c powdered sugar
9tbsp heavy cream
3tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1) Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, combine 1tbsp flour and 1tbsp cocoa. Grease two or three 9in round cake pans with shortening and dust pans with flour/cocoa mixture.
2) In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the shortening until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat for one full minute after both are incorporated.
3) Combine the 2tbsp cocoa and food coloring together to form a paste. Swirl the paste and salt into the creamed mixture. Alternately, blend in the vanilla and buttermilk and flour, beating constantly. Once all is combined, add in ACV and baking soda and blend until all is well incorporated.
4) Divide the batter between the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted comes away clean (about 15-25min – depending on pan size). Cool the pans on a wire rack and turn out onto a cake plate.
5) While the cake is cooling, in a medium bowl, cream the butter and gradually add in powdered sugar in 1/2c increments alternating with heavy cream in 1-2tbsp increments. Whip in vanilla and salt. Beat until smooth and fluffy. Spread approximately 1/4-1/3 of the icing between the cake layers and 1/4-1/3 atop and around to seal in the crumbs. Chill for 30min. Using the remaining 1/2-1/3 of the icing, refrost the top and sides of the cake to create a “clean” aesthetic. Finish how you choose. Make it your own. Personalize or just leave it with a dirty crumb coat. It makes no difference. Just enjoy! (Any remaining icing can be saved to slather between two soft and chewy oatmeal cookies like your own Little Debbie’s Oatmeal Cream Pies!)

I would have preferred to use butter in place of shortening. That was the ONE issue I had with this recipe. Every thing I’ve made with the New York Times Essential Cookbook has passed with flying colors. I don’t get it. I guess I’m due a flop every once in a while. Le sigh. I still beat myself every time I don’t completely master a dish however. One day. One day I am determined to get the Red Velvet Cake right. I’ll keep you updated.

What is your signature dish?

Currently Reading: Honestly? Nothing. I’ve been so, so very busy at my part-time gig lately due to it’s being in an “essential industry” that I haven’t had much time for any reading. As much as I appreciate that I have work, I’m so ready for all this hoarding madness to end.

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