What cake to bake for the girl who bakes birthday cakes?
Back in September, we had our friend Rebecca over for dinner right around her 25th birthday, so I decided to make her a birthday cake for dessert. Problem is, Rebecca’s basically known for her cakes and cupcakes. She makes them all the time, and in so many different flavor combinations, it’s hard not to be intimidated. She even wowed us all at her super bowl party a couple years ago by cutting out a strip from the middle of each cupcake, putting the two halves back together, and injecting some frosting in between, to make oblong, football-shaped cupcakes, complete with frosting to look like the laces. Show-stopping, for sure. I’m sure you wouldn’t blame me if, after remembering those cupcakes, I reneged on the idea of baking for Rebecca and just served a fruit crisp.
But I didn’t. Not content to balk at the challenge of baking for a baker, I settled on red velvet cake, a crowd-pleaser if ever there was one and a cinch to make. I used a recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery that my friend Sara from work always raves about. I don’t have the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, but I’ll expose my inner nerd and tell you that I actually went to Barnes and Noble, found the book on the shelf, and copied the recipe into my iphone. I told you, big nerd.
The cake didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, and I’m convinced it’s because I didn’t have buttermilk. I made soured milk using warm milk and lemon juice, a classic but imprecise substitute. If you can get buttermilk, do it. I’ve made similar cakes before, and buttermilk really does make a difference.
And, of course, no red velvet cake would be complete without a very thick coating of cream cheese frosting, so you’ll find my favorite recipe for that below, from the lovely Ina Garten.
Times they are a-changin’! NDP also just celebrated a birthday — we’re 2 years old now — and along with the birthday came some tweaks and changes here and there. First, you’ll notice our brand spankin’ new banner, which I love. Hopefully I won’t get sick of this one for a long time. Second, I had no choice but to update to the newest twitter feed widget, so you’ll see my thoughts from 20 days ago until I can find a way to make it stop cycling through old tweets. Sorry about that! Lastly, I finally bit the bullet and made an NDP fan page on facebook, so go fan my page and get alerts about new recipes as they come out. I think that’s it. Onto red velvet cake!
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
4 tablespoons red food coloring mixed with 2 Tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Turn mixer to high and add eggs. Scrape down the bowl as needed and beat until all ingredients are well incorporated.
In a separate, medium bowl, combine cocoa, vanilla and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter, mixing thoroughly until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl; make sure batter and food coloring mixture are well-incorporated and that there are no streaks.
Turn mixer to low. Alternate between adding buttermilk and flour and salt, half of each at a time, until combined. Once all of flour and buttermilk are in the mixer bowl, beat on high until smooth.
Turn mixer to low and add baking soda and white vinegar. Turn to high and beat a few more minutes.
Spoon batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center cupcake comes out clean.
Let rest in the pan for 20 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
via Ina Garten
8 oz. cream cheese (straight from the fridge is fine)
5 tablespoons softened butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar. Continue to add more sifted powdered sugar until you reach a consistency and sweetness that fits your taste.\
I put two layers of frosting on cakes; the first layer acts as a base coat and seals in any crumbs so that the top layer looks smooth. Use about a third of the total frosting in this layer; first, put a big scoop of frosting on bottom cake layer, in center; use spatula or icing knife to spread outward. Top with second cake layer. Spread a scoop of frosting around sides, using a back-and-forth motion to spread evenly around circumference of cake, and do the same across the top. Stick cake in the freezer for 5 minutes if you have room — this will harden the base coat and make it easier to spread the top coat. Then repeat all these steps using a thicker coat of frosting; you should use up all frosting by the end.