… with my apologies to Andrew Lloyd Weber…
So for some reason the past couple weeks my mind has been on cake. Maybe its because I made that delightful carrot cake to take to Yngve’s mothers for dinner this past weekend (which, by the way, got RAVE reviews from everyone)- or maybe I’m just in the mood for baking- probably the latter, in the past week as well as the carrot cake, I’ve baked several loaves of bread and made scones and brownies. I think the cold weather just makes me want to spend time in the kitchen baking up yummy treats.
So, the question remained… what kind of cake to make? Do I go with a classic chocolate cake with chocolate frosting? Nah, too much chocolate. I had my brownies last week, I dont want chocolate right now. Hmmm…. maybe a plain yellow cake with buttercream frosting? Nope, too simple. I want something a little more spectacular… I want something with pizazz- something that also hearkens back to my love for all things old fashioned. I want…. red velvet cake.
So I’ve been pondering the idiosyncrasies of red velvet cake now for a good few days. Historically, its been a cake traditional to the Southern American states; an unnaturally colored bright red cake with just the slightest hint of chocolate. Do any of you remember the scene in Steel Magnolias when the grooms cake (yet another wonderful Southern tradition) was a red velvet cake obscenely shaped like an armadillo?
Hilarious. Anyway, red velvet cake gets its color both from the copious amounts of red food dye and also from a chemical reaction between the chocolate and the buttermilk and vinegar additions to the cake- its something in the chocolate called Anthocyanin that causes it.
Well, in a way, this is a problem. Here in Norway, I find food dyes to be pretty expensive. I dont mind using a little of them to color frosting, but I’m really not happy about using an entire bottle of red dye in a cake. Plus, I find red food dye to sometimes taste a bit bitter. Soooo…. I get to thinking, I was certain I had heard somewhere that sometimes beets were used to color the cake, so why wouldnt that work? I had some beets in the fridge, couldnt I try using them? So I went on an expedition to find what seemed like a decent red velvet cake recipe utilizing beets. What I tended to come up with, however, were vegan or low fat alternatives to red velvet cake- ew. come on people… if you’re going to make cake, MAKE FREAKIN CAKE. Why bother with using egg substitute and low fat buttermilk or whole wheat flour when you’re putting in like a cup and a half of sugar, oil, and you’re going to slather the thing with frosting! And dont fool yourself into thinking that your low calorie version tastes just like the real thing. It doesnt. It tastes like dirt. ADMIT IT.
So ANYWAY, I decided to see what I could do about making my own recipe. With a little advice from some friends and some comparisons of recipes I created a somewhat complex, but (hopefully) good recipe.
I thought I would start with boiling the beets and making them into a beet puree. Whilst my beets were happily boiling away, I popped on the computer to speak with my mom via IM…This is what happened next:
janet says: Why Red Velvet ?
Jessica says: Why not red velvet?
janet says: Just that its sometimes a harder cake to make
Jessica says: well like dad aways says…. the lord hates a coward
skip through some conversation about how my cats are doing…
I burned my beets
janet says: whoops ! How ?
I had them boiling on high
and came back in here to talk to you and forgot about them
janet says: oh !
My feelings over burning the beets can only be summed up by quoting one of my favorite childhood movies, A Christmas Story:
“I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.”
I “wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”
(or in my case, Siberia)
No matter, though! only a couple beets were charred on the bottom! They were easily discarded and I still had plenty of beets for my beet puree.
Then I mixed together my dry ingredients… I mixed together my wet ingredients… I added the beet puree… I mixed together my wet and dry ingredients… the result seemed quite satisfactory. Nice and reddish-brown, looks good.
So I stick it in the oven on 350 and almost exactly 45 minutes later I withdraw my glorious red velvet cake from the oven to discover… it isnt red. Its brown. Ok, ok… lets not panic- even yellow cake is brown around the edges when it comes out of the oven.
I wait a while for it to cool, then cut it lengthwise (since I’m going to frost it in the middle) annnnnnnnd its brown. BOOOOOOOO. My red velvet cake is brown. Brown like dirt. *sigh*
So, I decided to frost the thing anyway. No need to waste good cake, eh? Since I had deviated from the norm with the beets, I choose the traditional cooked flour frosting that is supposed to go on red velvet cake. Also known as gravy frosting (ick), ermine frosting, or boiled milk frosting, cooked flour frosting seems kind of gross at first glance. Its basically just flour and milk cooked together into a paste, then when it has cooled, its creamed together with butter and regular old granulated sugar. Still not convinced? I wasnt either- but now I am a cooked flour frosting convert.
The frosting is a Depression and WWII era holdover- its cheap, though a bit more time consuming than buttercream. What you end up with when its all said and done is a frosting that is light and creamy- almost like buttercream- but soooooooo smooth. If you make it, give it time to set up- dont be impatient! The frosting will be a bit slack at first, stick it in the fridge for a while and let it thicken. (I frosted my cake a little too early so the frosting wasnt set as much as it should have been)When you take it out, whip it up again -Its SOOOOO worth it! I beg you all to try it. Try iiiiiit. Check out this recipe here.
So in conclusion, the red velvet cake didnt turn out red at all, it turned out brown. Dirt brown. Bleh. The taste… well… not quite what I was expecting either. It wasnt inedible or foul… it just tasted a little… beety. There is some hint of chocolate in there, but I find that the flavor of the beet is a little bit stronger than I would like. The cake itself was nice and moist and dense. Still, not AT ALL what I wanted. Well kids, what have we learned here today? If it aint broke, dont fix it.
Next time I make a red velvet cake I’ll just buy the damn red food coloring and do it that way… slathered with that glorious cooked flour frosting of course.
PS. At least dinner turned out well: (More on that tomorrow!)