… boyfriend’s gramma’s red velvet cake. I truly do.
Why is it that almost every gramma is notorious for producing only the absolute best cake that you ever put into your mouth? My own gramma (not the s’mores one, the other one) used to make those pound cakes that put all the other pound cakes to shame. She barely measured the ingredients, as she’d made that same cake practically every Sunday for at least the first 20 years of my life. And even though she now can’t remember what she ate for breakfast, if she ate breakfast, or even who I am on most occasions, I swear to you – if she were strong enough to stand and mix it – she could probably whip up one of them right now, at 94.5 years of age, and the taste of it would have you all begging for mercy. She can even play piano by ear, never having taken a single class, and any tune you played to her she’d gracefully glide her thin, frail fingers across those dusty ivory keys as if she were Beethoven himself.
My ex-boyfriend’s gramma? She was one helluva woman too; still is, probably. She loved me to pieces, and I loved her right back. She loved me so much that she made me a red velvet cake for every birthday, practically 5 years straight. I’d never even tasted a red velvet cake before hers, and was a bit confused when she first made it because it was deep burgundy-red and frosted (with cheese. cheese!) rather than yellow with a golden crunchy crust and the faint scent of lemon. But either way, I was truly in love; I looked forward to that cake each and every year. If truth be told, the hardest part about moving on was leaving that damned cake behind. Hell, the only hard part, really .
My dear mommy, she’s tried. If, by try, you mean picking up store-bought blood-red red velvet cake from Harris Teeter. I know, right?! But she’s not a baker, or any type of cook, and I did give an ‘A’ for effort because if nothing else, she remembered.
The problem is, is that I’ve remembered as well. There are no cakes like ‘ex-bf’s gramma’s’ cake’ and when she made them, I never thought about the fact that one day she wouldn’t. Although I should’ve, looking back. I should’ve stood in that hot, tiny kitchen and watched her every move, scribbling down the recipe while flour flew around like snow, clinging to every surface, each one slathered in red dye as if the CSI’s should be there instead of my eager hands.
But I didn’t. And so, instead, I’ve gone 10 years without that moist, barely chocolatey, buttery, tangy cake coated with sugary, cream cheese frosting and I’ve finally decided that enough is enough. In an effort to find the next best thing, I finally made my own.
And let me just add here, that I didn’t simply hop outta bed one morning (although, let’s be honest, I never “hop” out of bed, rather I roll slowly until I am forced to put my feet on the ground…) and decide to whip this thing up. I stumbled upon it over on the Pithy and Cleaver blog, became inspired, and traced the steps back to the original recipe - because I am weird like that and wanted to investigate it just as I have investigated every other red velvet recipe that’s crossed my path. The difference is that this recipe showed promise; this recipe was not, like all of those before, tossed aside like yesterday’s Red Eye crossword, crosswords with one or two empty clues that leave me pondering for hours on how to make things fit, crosswords I eventually give up on.
And so I took this promising recipe, I read it, I took a deep breath, I ‘mise-en-placed’, and I held out hope that all this thought and anticipation would result in something halfway resembling that taste I’ve longed for each and every birthday for the past 10 years.
Let’s just say – 3/4 of the way, at this point, is good enough for me!
if you are anywhere near as in love as i am with red velvet, you must try it. well, even if you aren’t or even if you’ve never even had it, you should try it. enough said.
2 t unsalted butter
3½ c cake flour, King Arthur brand
½ c unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1½ t kosher salt
2 c canola oil
2¼ c granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 container red gel coloring (1/2 oz) dissolved in 6 T water (or use ~3 oz liquid)
1½ t vanilla
1¼ c buttermilk
2 t baking soda
2½ t white vinegar
cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 2 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
Divide batter among pans (if you have a kitchen scale the easiest way to do this is to weigh them and make them close to the same), place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, ~45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.
Take one layer and place on plating dish. If you have a serrated knife, shave off some of the top to level it out as much as possible. Coat with frosting (to avoid smearing the red crumb from the shaving, do one thin layer of frosting and let it sit in the fridge for a few minutes to harden then add the rest) and add the second layer to finish frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
printable version (frosting only)
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package Neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese), room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract
Cream butter and cheese together in mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; turn mixer on low and begin combining ingredients (to avoid getting powdered sugar all over your pretty face) and once slightly incorporated, turn to medium to combine fully. If you want sweeter frosting, add sugar by the 1/2 c.
note: if your aspirations are even loftier than mine, this cake, if done in two pans, is perfect thickness to cut into four layers. If you do more layers though, I’d 1.5 the recipe (or even double) so you don’t run out of frosting.