Red Velvet Show Down

Since I was a kid, I've had an aversion to red velvet cake. Its first appearance was in Olga's kitchen... I was eye level to the table. I stared at the bizarre confection and wondered- why is it red? What the hell kind of cake is RED? It didn't make sense. That can't be right! Sketchy cake, stay off my plate!

This was an early warning sign of my modern tree hugger ways. Yes, organic is great but sometimes it's just too expensive. I don't police the grocery list. You are what you eat, and it feels good to eat real food. Use real ingredients, not some chemical concoction to cut back 5 calories. So why does the cake have to drenched in food coloring? Why!?

You can imagine my cognitive dissonance when a friend said they wanted red velvet cupcakes. I put my prejudice aside and went for it. Well. Some things change with time. This is not one of them.

Red velvet cake, oh red velvet cake. You still make me uncomfortable. I've only had one red velvet cupcake I loved and it was from Bake Shop. It's the amount of oil that makes my mouth dry. I know butter is just another form of oil but it's like I can taste the oil. Then dousing the batter in artificial color? We added some blue to first batch and they were slightly purple! Ahem. Traditionally, the red color comes from beet juice. I wasn't going to even attempt that method, there's disaster written all over it.

The key chemical component of this cake is the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk with cocoa. The acidic reaction reveals the red anthocyanin in the cocoa. Note the fizzles when vinegar meets baking soda! The more cocoa you add, the darker the color. You can compensate by going crazy on the red food coloring.

I was torn between two recipes: Bakerella's version (left- and slightly purple, moo ha ha) and Smitten's (right). We made both. The taste test winner by a hair: Smitten. Honestly- either recipe will suffice because there was barely a difference. I thought Smitten's was a touch more moist. Other than that, same thing. This is a very simple and basic cake to make. Prep time is like 10 minutes. If you like red velvet, you'll like this.

The frosting was a simple cream cheese frosting that's smooth and soothing. I have yet to meet an offensive cream cheese frosting. I sprinkled a little cinnamon on top. It's really great for frosting because of the firm texture. You may want to let the cake sit in the fridge before you frost. It's a moist cake and red flakes shine through on white.

In the end, my efforts bit the dust. Literally. Bruce was furious I was frosting and not petting him. He strategically bumped my arm when I was finishing up the cake. The Red Velvet plummeted to its death. Bruce and Parker rejoiced, licking up the left over frosting. I'll take it as a sign- it was not meant to be.

Note: Out of buttermilk? Remain calm. Place add a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. Fill with milk to the 1 cup line. Let it stand for 5-10 minutes. Bam... buttermilk.

Red Velvet Cake
from Smitten's adaptation

1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 cups canola oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons red food coloring or 1/2 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons white vinegar.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins or grease two 8x8 cake pan and line with parchment paper.

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla.

Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar- fizzzzz! Add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

Basic Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cinnamon for dusting (optional)

Blend the cream cheese and butter till smooth, slowly sift in sugar, add vanilla. So easy!