With over 50% of the votes, The Cake Slice bakers cake of choice to kick start 2010 was a Red Velvet cake. It seems we were all eager to start the new year off with a little colour and excitement. A Red Velvet cake is a unique and instantly recognizable cake due to its deep dark red colour thanks to a hint of cocoa powder and lots of red food dye. It has a soft and tender crumb thanks to the inclusion of vinegar and buttermilk in the cake and is often topped with a cream cheese or buttercream frosting. However, this cake is a little different as it called for a cooked milk based topping mixed with coconut and pecans which resulted in a nutty, nobly fluffy icing.
Red Velvet cake is relatively unknown here in the UK, although you do occasionally see it in London cupcake shops. I have only eaten it once, when I was in Chicago during the summer, and have longed to try baking one myself ever since, so I was particularly excited by this months choice.
I had no call for a large cake and so instead I halved the recipe and baked a batch of cupcakes instead. This also allowed me to use some of the cute red and white spotty cake cases I was given at Christmas. Just perfect for Red Velvet cupcakes!
The colour of my sponge turned out quite a lot darker than I expected, not the vibrant red colour I was anticipating but I think this was because I used gel food dye rather than the liquid version called for. Gel is more concentrated and so I reduced the amount – I now realize I reduced it a little too much, but the crumb still had a nice earthy red hue to it. Will add more next time!
The texture of the cake was wonderful. It was very light, quite tender and moist thanks to the buttermilk. It had a faint cocoa richness that paired with the sweet creamy topping perfectly, without being obviously chocolaty. The icing was soft and creamy and I loved its quirky nubbly appearance and texture. A bite resulted in a great contrast between the nutty sweet coconut icing and the soft cake beneath.
The icing itself was unlike any other icing I have made before. You heat some milk and flour together until it forms a thick paste, just like a rue when making a béchamel sauce. You leave the paste to cool and then beat in butter, caster sugar and a little vanilla. You end up with an icing the consistency of spreadable butter into which you stir the coconut and pecans. I was quite dubious about how it would taste but it was surprisingly smooth and creamy, thick without the need of too much sugar and I didn’t notice any graininess from the caster sugar either. Who would have guessed?! I think I still prefer cream cheese icing myself, but I would urge you to give it a go, for learning a new technique if nothing else.
Red Velvet Cake
(Recipe from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott)
For the Red Velvet Cake
300g plain flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
225ml buttermilk (see note below)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp red food colouring
400g caster sugar
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
For the Coconut Pecan Icing
2 tbsp all purpose flour
200g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g sweetened shredded coconut
100g finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Method – Red Velvet Cake
To make the cake, heat the oven to 180C. Grease two 9 inch round cake pans and line them with waxed paper to kitchen parchment. Grease the paper and flour the pans.
Prepare three separate mixtures for the batter. Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and use a fork to mix them together well. Combine the cocoa powder and the red food colouring in a small bowl, mashing and stirring them together to make a thick smooth paste.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute until creamy and soft. Add the sugar and then beat well for 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl now and then. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until the mixture is creamy, fluffy and smooth. Scrape the cocoa-food colouring paste into the batter and beat to mix it in evenly.
Add a third of the flour mixture and then about half the milk, beating the batter with a mixer at low speed. Mix only enough to make the flour or liquid disappear into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the milk and then the last of the flour in the same way.
In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar and stir well. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to quickly mix this last mixture into the red batter, folding it in gently by hand. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake at 180C for 20 to 25 minutes (20 for cupcakes) until the layers are spring back when touched lightly in the centre and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans.
Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 15 minutes. Then turn them out onto the racks, remove the paper and turn top side up again to cool completely.
Coconut Pecan Icing
Combine the milk and flour in a small or medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking or stirring often until the mixture thickens almost to a paste, around 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and scrape it into a small bowl to cool completely.
Meanwhile, beat the butter with a mixture at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar in thirds, beating well each time until the mixture is creamy and fairly smooth. Add the cooled milk and flour mixture and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides now and then to combine everything well. Using a large spoon or spatula, stir in the vanilla, coconut and pecans, mixing to combine everything well into a thick, fluffy, nubbly icing.
Place one cake layer top side down on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread a third of the icing on top. Place the second layer, top side up, on top. Frost the sides and then the top of the cake with the remaining icing. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to help the icing set.
Makes one 9inch double layer cake or 24 cupcakes
NOTE: If you can’t find buttermilk, stir 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar into 225ml of milk and leave to stand for 10 minutes before using.