Excuse the slow updates, I just got back from a vacation and an unexpected trip to the US for a job interview. I didn't get the job and have spent some time in "woe-is-me" land. Hopefully, I'll be back to my regularly scheduled self soon. OK! Enough of that. Bring on the cake!
Red Velvet Cake (RVC) was always one of those cakes that I heard people rave about but had never tried. I tend to be a very curious and adventurous baker and love trying new thing, so I've always kept my eyes peeled for a RVC recipe that got rave reviews/high praise. A few months ago I found a Red Velvet recipe on chowhound.com called "Mom Mom's Red Velvet Cake" that seemed perfect. I filed it in my memory as a "must try."
What I really loved about the recipe was that it seemed so authentic. There's a fun vinegar/baking soda chemistry experiment in the main cake recipe and the buttercream frosting was unlike any other I had seen before. I tend to hate frosting in general, especially buttercream, and only really tolerate cream cheese frosting. Needless to say, most people think I'm nuts and don't want dry cake, so I'm always on the lookout for new frosting recipes. According to the chowhound thread, these kinds of buttercreams are meant to hold up to Southern heat and humidity and date back to the 40s. So with all of this new stuff to play with, I couldn't wait to give it a try.
Last month my mom's friend decided to come up to Canada for a visit with her husband. My mom had told me that she was a big fan of RVCs so I thought it would be a perfect time to give it a try. Instead of making the whole recipe, however, I decided to do a small test-drive and made what I'm going to call baby cakes. Not cupcakes. Tiny, personal cakes.
I made the batter as per the instructions, being especially careful not to overmix because apparently that makes this cake tough. I did leave out the 1 oz. of red food coloring, though. Hence the name Velvet Baby Cakes. I just couldn't stomach the idea of putting that much chemical food coloring into something just to make it look pretty. I know people also use beet juice but didn't have any on hand and couldn't convince myself of going through the trouble. Maybe RVC devotees will scoff, but I think the cake is just as pretty without the dye.
After mixing the batter, I poured it into one standard jelly-roll pan/cookie sheet. Once in the oven, I made sure to watch it like a hawk for signs of doneness. After poking it a few times, it was finally finished.
To make individual sized cakes I used a small stainless steel cup that had a nicely-sized mouth to cut around with a knife. I wish I had an array of cookie or dough cutters to choose from, but sometimes you just have to make due with what you've got on hand.
As you can see, I didn't quite get the batter perfectly distributed so some of the cakes were a bit lopsided or thinner. I think an off-set spatula would fix this easily. Ahem. I'm noticing that I need more baking supplies, tools, and gadgets all around!
Now that I had some naked velvet cakes, I needed some frosting. The recipe was great fun to try. First, you make a thick cornstarch and milk flour on the stove. I'm assuming this is what gives the frosting its "sturdiness" in heat and humidity. It also lends a really lovely, mild milky/creamy flavor that I'm not sure I've ever encountered. The rest of it is a pretty basic recipe and turns into a nice, tasty, fluffy, yet substantial frosting. I love it! I think it would be fantastic on many cakes and could even serve as a great canvas for added flavors.
Once I'd made the frosting, I started frosting the cakes and found there wasn't going to be enough to cover them all. So some cakes ended up fully dressed and others had just a top and a middle layer. My family actually ended up liking the half-dressed cakes since they could be held or eaten off of a plate. After that experience, though,I ended up making one big cake for the family's guests and doubled the recipe. I was happy I did because it definitely needed the extra to get the nice thick layer that most people like.
All in all, I'd say that I really like the recipe. The baby cakes were slightly tougher than the large cake but I think that could be remedied by using individual mini-cake pans. If you don't want to invest in those, I think this works pretty well. The larger cake also came out much cleaner because there were a lot fewer crumbs and I could do a dirty icing with the extra frosting.
If you're looking for an old-fashioned cake recipe and love Red Velvet then I'd definitely recommend giving it a try. I'd love to hear from Red Velvet aficionados (and I know you exist!) for recommendations, helpful hints, and/or their opinions of this recipe.