28 June 2010

Red, White and Blue

Seeing as the Fourth of July is just round the corner, what better way to celebrate Independence than with a Red Velvet - a proper all-American Southern cake?  Be that as it may, I did not quite have this in mind when I baked this cake.  After all, my country's independence is in August, not July.  And, truth be told, I don't need much persuasion at all to turn out a Red Velvet Cake.   Just a couple of blocks of cream cheese and a carton of buttermilk in the fridge, and my mind will subconsciously incline itself towards this tender-crumbed buttermilk cake.      

Add to that the fact that I am as much a fan of buttermilk cakes as I am a sucker for striking visuals.  Which explains why after having (I believe) developed a more refined palate over the years I still find myself inexplicably giving in to the lure of the golden arches and all the empty calories it represents.  So, much as I am aware that the cake owes it's glorious hue to Wilton's food colouring, I can't help but fall for the beautiful contrast of its bold, velvety red against the creamy white frosting.  Good looking cakes just taste better.  Just ask my Sugababes, who will eat almost anything heart-shaped and pink.

My favourite way to eat this cake is with lots of blueberries and raspberries heaped on top and sandwiched between its layers.  Alternatively, you could eat it like a true Southerner, with a generous topping of flaked coconut.

The recipes for Red Velvet Cakes tend to be pretty standard, with some substituting vegetable oil for butter to produce a more tender crumb. I prefer however the full flavour of a butter cake. The recipe below produces a cake that is not only tender, but which also has an open fluffy texture from the dual leavening action of creaming butter and the reaction between buttermilk and baking soda. 

Recipe for Red, White and Blue Velvet Cake 
(adapted from Saveur and Bon Appetit) 

2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
2 heaped tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk (shake well before using!)
1 tablespoon red food coloring (I used 2 tsp Wilton's Christmas Red colouring paste)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

454 grams cream cheese, room temperature
113 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
2  cups icing sugar, sifted
2 tsp lemon zest
1 cup blueberries/raspberries
1.5 - 2 cups flaked coconut 

For cake:
Preheat oven to 180C. Line with baking paper, two 7.5" by 10.5" rectangular cake pans (alternatively, two 9" diameter cake pans) with at least 1.5" inch-high sides. 

Dry  ingredients: Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl.  Mix dry ingredients well with a whisk. 

Buttermilk mixture: Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. 

Using electric mixer, cream sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add beaten eggs in 2 instalments, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions. 

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 - 30 minutes.  Do not overbake. Cool in pans on racks for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely. 

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in lemon zest and vanilla. Add icing sugar and beat until smooth.

Trim each cake of its domed top to get flat cake layers.  Frost cake with cream cheese frosting between layers and over top and sides of cake. Top (and/or sandwich cake) with blueberries or flaked coconut.  Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1/2 hour before serving.

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