And now from my classmate, peer and contemporary James Felder—proprietor of the snazzy photoblog Snapshot Artifact—comes an entry about velvet cake. Red velvet cake? No no. This velvet cake is black. Enjoy!
After a somewhat lackluster attempt at making a Red Velvet cake in early December from a decent, but outdated, recipe in the James Beard Cookbook, I decided to try baking the cake again from a different recipe. I got this Red Velvet recipe out of the More From Magnolia cookbook. I usually like to bring to parties vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting that I make from a recipe in the first Magnolia book. It’s a real winner. Easy to make, foolproof recipe, happy partygoers with sticky fingers (hehe).
The Magnolia Red Velvet recipe was okay, but I encountered a few problems.
The first difficulty I ran into was that my friend Gregg’s New Year’s Party I was making the cake for had a “black & white” theme. All food had to be black and white. At this point let me explain for those who don’t know out there, that a Red Velvet cake is a white trash specialty which is a a bright red cake (food dye enhanced) with white frosting. [As a sidenote, Val and Darren in our program at NYU inform me that in the African-American community this dessert is known as “Sock It To Me Cake.”] My solution to the black & white theme was to take the cocoa mixture that is normally dyed red, and dye it black before adding it to the batter.
(the dye mixture in progress, 3 parts cocoa, 6 parts dye)
This raises another problem specific to the Red Velvet world. The cake is a sugary concoction that is very moist and vaguely chocolate-flavored. Its main flavor, to our primitive animal brains, is “red.” But as you can see, a black-dyed Red Velvet Cake (which I was foisting off as a sensuous Black Velvet Cake), really is a sugary chocolate cake. The red color is like the “red-flavored” punch you get in pizza parlors –– a delicate deception between the eye and the palate. This cake, while tasty, tasted just like a normal chocolate cake.
(thinking of Mickey Mouse for some reason…)
The next problem was the frosting. I will admit upfront that a) I stink at anything that involves a sugar thermometer and b) my childhood ideal of frosting is that sugary stucco you get in cans. So, I was happy when I looked at the “creamy vanilla frosting” recipe Magnolia recommended. No hardball, softball stuff. But there was a hidden danger lurking on the horizon.
The frosting had two components. The first was the flavoring: your average butter, sugar vanilla frosting ingredients.
The second was a base to be mixed into the flavoring that was (here’s where it got weird) a very thick béchamel of flour and milk –– when cooked and cooled according to recipe, it was like a soft, dense rubber.
The recipe called for the base and flavoring to be mixed together for five minutes. I’m guessing ten minutes would have been better, for this was where the frosting problem arose. As I frosted the cake, I noticed that there were little yellowish rubber cement balls in the frosting –– unmixed bits of the base. Yeech. Before the party, my friend assured me it wasn’t noticeable and not to tell anyone.
(frosting, mixed & set in the refrigerator)
Sure enough no one noticed. Out of the bowl the frosting tasted like a buttercream with strong meringue overtones (even though there was no egg in the frosting). On the cake, later, it tasted like a rich whipped cream. Nothing great. The Buttercup Bake Shop (formed by the partner who split off from Magnolia) actually does a better Red Velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting. I’m going to try that recipe next time.
(nasty yellow balls in frosting visible)
Two other unexpected problems arose that had nothing to do with the recipe as it was printed:
First, as Craig, a partygoer, was cutting a slice of the cake, he asked “what’s this in the cake?” Oops. I had forgotten to take the parchment paper off the bottom of one of the cake layers. That is what we call a faux pas in sophisticated circles. If you’ve ever seen the trick where a magician whips the tablecloth off the dining room table and all the glasses and silverware remain, you’ll get a good sense of how I dealt with the parchment paper.
The second problem I won’t go into detail here. Let me just say though, when you consume an evening’s worth of various delicacies that have been dyed black, the aftereffect of it hours later is a bright mossy green. Enough said.