Friday, December 10, 2010
Bad Idea Fridays: Red Velvet Cake
What a wreck.
I made Red Velvet Cake for my brother's birthday. It tasted like propylene glycol. (Wikipedia says Propylene glycol has no flavor. I accidentally got a face full when we were draining a cooling system, and I beg to differ.) I used the Cook's recipe, I followed it to the letter, I had my mother taste the result and confirm that it was the same cake her grandmother used to make and still I was horribly horribly disappointed. Still, I'm sure there are people out there- people who haven't had a traumatic encounter with food dye solvents- and they might enjoy the traditional cake.
Every single recipe I have ever read for Red Velvet Cakes briefly discusses the history of the cake. There's a lot of diddle-daddle about chemistry, a brief mention of Steel Magnolias, and a sneering reference to the wartime use of beets. Happily, I like beets. I am seriously considering making this week 'beet week'. Even more happily, my indestructible chocolate cake uses one cup of water as the fluid component. Beet cooking liquid is like water, except it stains everything it touches. Since the recipe has proven resilient when I muck around with the ingredients, halving the cocoa and doubling the vinegar shouldn't be fatal...
But what of the frosting? There must be a cream cheese based frosting- otherwise, there's no startling color contrast. I tripped off to the natural foods market to buy some vegan cream cheese. There a lovely woman told me that as a vegan, cream cheese was forever barred to me and that eating the vegan version would only make me crave the real stuff more. Plus, she said, it was gross. Better that I should make an icing of Crisco and powdered sugar.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together 1 and 1/2 cups white flour, 3 tbs. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 cup sugar in a 9 inch round baking pan. (I added 1/4 cup cocoa, because my hand usually shakes when measuring out 1/3 cup) If you are using a fluted Bundt pan, do the mixing in another bowl and grease the pan. Otherwise, the cake will be removed in chunks and will look like crap.
Fill a large measuring cup with 1 cup beet water, 1/3 cup oil, and one teaspoons almond extract. (To make beet water, get some beets. Wash them, cut them in half, put them into a pan, cover them with water, and simmer them for about half an hour. Reserve the beets. Use the water. On another note; I added the almond extract on a whim. It turned out to be the best part of this cake.)
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk vigorously until combined. Add four tablespoons cider vinegar and stir until combined.
Pop the cake into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove, let cool, gently coax out of the pan, fail, end up removing cake in three large pieces. Try to talk yourself into making buttercream frosting with Crisco. Fail. I made a glaze with the juice of one lemon, 1/2 cup powered sugar, and one cup dessert wine, simmered together until I could claim the alcohol evaporated. I also added 1 tsp. grated ginger, so everyone who tasted the cake could say "Ginger. Interesting." (This is exactly what they said.)
The cake was red going into the oven, but it was only a little red coming out. It smelled exactly like beets going in, but when it was removed it smelled and tasted like cake. Since it was reddish, sourish, and tasted of almonds, everyone thought it was a cherry cake. I dub this quasi-failure "Cherry Blossom Cake" and promise to oil he pan next time. Also, fie to the people who disparage baking with beets.
I realized this morning that I could have used haupia as frosting. The color contrast would have been perfect.