In the kitchen: Red Velvet Cake

So where have I been? Under the thumb (hem?) of the bridesmaid’s dress, which will be calling the shots in terms of food intake and exercise for another week. That did not, however, stop me from fulfilling a promise to a friend- namely a red velvet birthday cake from scratch for a surprise party.

I had promised, in a moment of weakness, to bake a cake for a surprise party for a friend of mine. When I asked the other guests if they knew what kind of cake the birthday girl would like, the answer filled me with dread. The last time I made red velvet anything was the mix-based cupcakes that I spiked with too much chili and ended up grossing folks out with. Not a happy thing. Everyone said, “How hard can it be? It’s chocolate cake with red food coloring?”

Hah. Right. said I, oozing sarcasm from every pore. Then I went on to explain about the complex reaction of the baking soda and vinegar and so on.

Which was apparently the wrong thing to do, because then he talk turned to mutters of concern. “Can you handle this? Can we help?”

I am perfectly capable of making a cake, I responded. (What I didn’t say is that I’ve never successfully made anything cake-y from scratch but my friend Ruth’s almond cake, chocolate death cake, and… that’s it. No need to scare folks unnecessarily.) I was not worried for I had two secret weapons- namely a really good recipe and an “Ali.”

The recipe came from a friend of my aunt. Mrs. B had prepared a delicious red velvet cake for a wedding shower for my cousin. Having had red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, and finding said frosting to be overpowering, I was pleasantly surprised by the icing Mrs. B had made- it had a mild flavor, creamy texture and was a great complement to the cake. In fact this icing allowed me to taste the hint of chocolate. In short it was like buttah, but not.

My “Ali” is a baker and I’ve eaten her red velvet cake. She was born in this area, but her family lived in Texas for a spell, so she makes her cake with cream cheese frosting and was shocked SHOCKED when I turned up my nose at it- apparently in the South, cream cheese frosting is a way of life. At that point I felt I had to point out that as a Jew living in the South and not being able to eat pulled pork sorta made her just as much of a freak. In response, Ali graciously agreed to overlook my transgression and help me out. So, Saturday morning, before bridesmaid shoe shopping, we went to work.

Red Velvet Cake a la Boardman
yield: 3 8-inch rounds or 2 8-inch square cakes

INGREDIENTS:
½ cup butter (or shortening)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ cups cake flour (can use all-purpose flour)
2 1 oz bottles red food coloring (2 oz. total)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. cocoa (we used 3 because too much of a good thing is really good)
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk (can use powdered… or not)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. white or apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two square pans or 3 rounds.
  2. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Add food coloring to cocoa and stir to dissolve. Add to egg mixture.
  4. Sift flour, salt and soda into a medium bowl. Add alternatively with buttermilk, beating well after each addition, using medium speed. Add vanilla. By hand, stir in vinegar.
  5. Bake in 3 greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until done. Toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

ICING

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup milk
2 sticks butter (can substitute one stick of margarine for one of the sticks of butter)
½ cup flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook milk and flour until thick over low heat, whisking continuously to keep smooth.
  2. Cream together remaining sugar and butter, whip for 2 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla. Add the flour and milk paste and whip for 5 minutes or until fluffy and stands in peaks.

Things I learned- Basic stuff, like beat the eggs before you add them into the butter mixture, and when mixing the cocoa and food coloring (or milk and flour for the icing) always pour wet into dry. It’s easier to get the dry ingredient to dissolve this way, apparently. And when making the icing the flour’s natural thickeners are activated by adding the milk instead of vice versa.

The cake turned out well. I still don’t know why the center rose and cracked, but that’s going to get figured out through experimentation and patience. Mmmm… more cake!

Anyway, the birthday girl was pleased, and so was I. It was pretty and it tasted good, which I think is largely due to the recipe (which was “me”-proof) rather than my skills. Regardless, I’m adding it to my repertoire.

Of course after my one indulgence for the week I had to get back to work at the gym.

Since I firmly believe that running is something one does only when being chased by someone larger and more threatening, this past week has been tough because we were told to ramp up our cardio (ie “more running”). I gave it my best shot, but frankly I got a mite burned out. I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm, but I kept at it, figuring that if nothing else I would get my mile time down- it’s at about 11 minutes from 14 something. But then something happened:

I was taking a break in the locker room between cardio sets to slather on some cortisone cream, because lately when I get stressed I don’t get hungry I get a rash on my calves, (How convenient.) when I heard this voice:

“I know you!” I look up and there’s this blonde chick looking at me with an excited expression on her face. It takes me a second to recognize her. We chatted about a month and a half ago when I first started the bootcamp- she was deciding whether to join the class I was taking or just get a trainer since she was prepping for her own wedding. I smiled at her.

“You were going to be a bridesmaid this month, right?” she continued. I nodded, dumbly. “I gotta tell you, I can see you’ve lost weight. You look really good!”

I blushed and mumbled like, “Really?” Because, you know, hungry for compliments.

“Oh yeah!” she enthused. I looked down at myself. Since starting at the gym I had changed my baggy cotton tshirts and yoga pants for Umbros and sleeveless bike jerseys (which wick and are generally more comfy to run in- your arms can move freely, etc.). I no longer have to suck in my tummy (although I have a bit to go before I’m comfy in a bikini) and my belly button is sitting a bit higher.

“Thank you,” I managed, still in mid-blush.

“Keep it up!” she chirped, grinning broadly. “And have fun at the wedding!” And with that, she went off to find her trainer. I was absolutely stunned. My friends have either said they’ve noticed a change in my face or not said a thing at all, so I had started to feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere. Wow.

The rest of my workout was like buttah.

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