Cake is not one of my favorite things to make. I much prefer cupcakes. I stress and stress about making a perfect cake every time. Considering I only make full cakes a handful of times of year, it’s probably unreasonable to expect perfection each time. But each time I do, and each time I disappoint myself with my errors. Of course, most people will not notice the little imperfections that us perfectionists notice. They will notice a delicious, homemade cake. And that’s what matters.
Red Velvet is the one cake I’ve struggled with not just on the decorating side (that’s with all cakes) but with the cake itself. But as they say, practice makes perfect and I’ve certainly had my fair share of practice with this cake!
The first time I made red velvet it was brown (I ran out of food coloring), dry, and really not all that great. The second time I used a different recipe. Again, it came out average. The third recipe I tried was Smitten Kitchen and finally felt I was on to something. The first time I did this recipe though, it didn’t turn out perfect, mostly because I strayed from the recipe! Tsk, tsk! I try not to do that the first time using a recipe, and I did and suffered! It seemed so minute, how could it cause me problems? She clearly states “1 tsp red gel coloring dissolved in 6 TB of water.” Instead, I simply dumped gel food coloring into the cake until it was my desired color. I think that affected the end result. Maybe not the only thing, but the second time I made the cake I dissolved the gel and the color was not only better, but the cake was better! Who knew?
Finally, the third time, this most recent, the cake turned out so wonderful. Yes, my piping was just average. But the cake, oh my god. So yummy. This time I used King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour. I love this flour! Thankfully, it is now sold at Publix. And, it isn’t bleached. I still don’t understand the need for bleaching flour. Extra chemicals? No thanks. But this flour was soft and delicate, and I’m certain it contributed to the wonderful, moist cake. Did I mention how good this cake was? I wish there was some left.
As noted, you should use non-dutch process cocoa powder. I have tried dutch process and it doesn’t work well. If you aren’t sure if it is dutch process, just look at the ingredient list. Straight cocoa will just say cocoa. If it says anything else, it is dutch process. Also, DON’T forget to sift your cocoa powder! For most everything else you can get by with just whisking but with cocoa powder you are almost guaranteed to have lumps! Lumpy cakes are no good!
The pictures aren’t great for this post, but well, we were busy devouring the cake. We had a lot to celebrate! I’m sure you understand.
I followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe exactly, except I made two 10 inch cakes instead of three nine, and I added the flour/buttermilk in three batches instead of two. I also used her cream cheese icing but modified it slightly. I tripled it (yes, triple. I like my icing) and used one part mascarone and two parts cream cheese.
As you may notice in the first picture, I did multiple layers. The easiest way to do this is to use cake boards and a turn table, both of which can be bought for relatively cheap at your local craft store, particularly if they offer coupons! Second, you should use a serrated knife. Make small sawing motions while turning the cake and slowly work your way through the whole layer. Do not do this in large motions – it won’t work as well. Once you are done, use a cake board to help flip the layer you won’t be using right away. Load up on the icing, then top again with the layer. Repeat.
Before doing the crumb coat, you may want to take your knife around the entire cake and even it out. This is easy, only takes a second, and will really improve the appearance of your cake. Also, if you are really a perfectionist like me, you will also level out the top since cakes often bake with that “bump”. Then, you can enjoy the crumbs! After the cake is all level, do a thin layer of icing and chill for about 30 minutes. Then put another layer until the desired thickness. Smooth the icing and you have a beautiful cake!
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing from Smitten Kitchen
Red Velvet Cake
Yield: 3 cake layers
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulate (room temperature)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (room temperature)
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl. Be sure to sift your cocoa powder first!!
3. 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. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in three batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine. Always end with the flour mixture.
4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.
Cupcake variation: The yield is approximately 35 cupcakes, with the liners filled only 3/4 of the way, and the baking time should be between 20 to 25 minutes, but check in on them 2/3 of the way through in case your oven gets the job done faster.
10 inch cake variation: I figured it would take longer to bake 10 inch cakes, but it didn’t. They only took about 30 minutes, but this could just be my oven. The lesson here: keep a close eye on your cakes! Another way to tell if your cakes are done is when they pull away from the side of the pan.
Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from several sources
Makes 6 cups
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon 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 and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.
Note: as mentioned, I made this recipe times three, and used eight ounces mascarpone and 16 ounces cream cheese. I like the texture the mascarpone provides.