I might have mentioned that I made a cake.
The first red velvet cake I made was in high school for a long ago boyfriend. I doubt he appreciated my efforts. I don't remember much about the endeavor except my surprise that it was meant to be red. Cut me some slack, okay? I was young! I think I thought the red was for the icing or something. I made it in the evening, for Valentine's Day maybe. My dad was out of town and my mom painted our sunporch as I stood in the kitchen, my eyes moving from cookbook to measuring cup. I was never very confident about that guy in the first place, and I think that cake made me less so.
After that, I largely forgot about red velvet cake. I know I've mentioned before that I'm not much of a baker, and truth be told, we're not huge sweet tooths (sweet teeth?) around here either. But with my dad headed toward us for a weekend visit, Callum and I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store and got inspired.
Red velvet cake is considered a quintessentially southern cake, but in truth, its origins are murky. In the late 1800s many cakes were referred to as "velvet" to describe how moist they were or how fine their "crumb." And when cocoa powder is combined with buttermilk and vinegar (essential ingredients in these cakes), it can turn red, hence the combination of red(ish) + velvet = cake. In the 1920s, New York's Waldorf Astoria had red velvet cake on its menu, and in the middle of the 20th century, Adams Extracts really turned things around for red velvet cakes. A Depression-era sales promotion including vanilla extract, butter flavor and red food coloring turned families throughout the South and Midwest onto this beautiful cake, and a role as the groom's cake in Steel Magnolias cemented its significance as a southern dessert.
Dessert may be decadent in and of itself, but how glorious to eat a cake called Red Velvet?
Because we were sitting in the grocery store parking lot when we decided to make this cake, Callum and I didn't dig too deeply for recipes. We landed on this one from Joy of Baking. It was pretty awesome. There was a definite cocoa flavor, but not too much, and the cake itself was not overly sweet. It was stunningly moist with a deep red color which contrasted beautifully with the bright white icing. And here's the thing about the red in the red velvet. It is red food coloring. And everybody talks all the time about how awful the dyes in red food coloring can be. Of course. But we're not drinking the stuff around here. I've heard other alternatives, such as beets, being used, and I am totally on board with trying that sometime. But we were limited on time and baking is challenging enough for me. I'm not going to roast beets on top of icing a layer cake. Not this time. Besides, red food coloring is part of this cake's history and what works for James Beard, works for me. (Also, some recipes have called for up to 1/4 cup of food coloring! YIPES! Mine called for 2 tablespoons, but I think you could easily get by with less.)
Still, what made this cake for me was the icing. I am not the biggest icing fan on the planet (see: not a huge sweet tooth), but this icing? Ah-mazing. I will never say "no" to cream cheese icing, but how about cream cheese and Mascarpone icing? Think you can handle that? You can find the recipe for the cake and icing in the link I provided above, but I thought I'd share the icing here.
Cream Cheese Icing for Red Velvet Cake from Joy of Baking
1 8 oz tub package cream cheese (227 grams)
1 8 oz package Mascarpone (227 grams)
1 t vanilla extract
1 C confectioners sugar (115 grams)
1.5 C heavy whipping cream, cold (360 mil)
With cream cheese and Mascarpone at room tempertaure, beat together with elextric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla and confectioners sugar and beat until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment and slowly add the cream until icing is of a consistency to spread. Add more sugar or cream as needed.