Sugar High: Baking the Perfect Red Velvet Cake

Jul 8, 2014
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This topic was definitely inspired by Jeffrey Steingarten's article in Vogue magazine about baking the perfect coconut cake.

Fans of each type of cake would find various standards, expectations, and aspects to enjoy about a cake... so I thought that each cake would be worthy of examination.

I was actually disappointed to find out that red velvet cake was essentially cocoa-flavored. There is no reason whatsoever to disguise a cocoa or chocolate cake! Red Velvet is supposed to be a sort of sister-cake to devil's food cake and angel food cake, both of which are characterized by their immensely fluffy and soft textures. Sadly, I would say that by characterizing itself by its appearance, I have never chowed down on a red velvet cake and been enraptured by the texture. It just looks nice, and the cream cheese makes it interestingly savory...but as I said, I was surprised to find out that it was cocoa-flavored. And I always thought that the "velvet" bit was just branding so to speak, because it never struck me as particularly soft.

First, about that flavor... I would like to make a red velvet cake that is recognizable as cocoa-flavored, especially so that the cream cheese becomes an appropriate counterpoint to the chocolatiness. Aside from the coloring and appearance, the novelty of a savory cream cheese on a sweet cake seemed really the thing... even so that I would consider it a true red velvet cake, if the cream cheese were slightly sour!

Next, the coloring. I don't want Magenta Velvet Cake, Maroon Velvet Cake, or Deep Pink Velvet--I want it red. Like, Taylor Swift's love life red. Food coloring makes this a cinch, but historically red velvet came about when rationing during wartime meant that cakes didn't look too good. Bakers would resort to using red beetroot, and extra baking soda would bring out the redness of the cocoa (which would be broma-processed, not Dutch-processed like so much cocoa today.) Perhaps getting Dutch cocoa would defeat the purpose of ingredients that would bring out the color of the cocoa.

Perhaps for the body of the cake, I should just take Steingarten's cake recipe and replace any and all coconut flavoring agents with cocoa, and add red food coloring? He seems to really appreciate a fluffy cake. Unlike Steingarten, I don't have a role model for the perfect red velvet cake. I'm a fan of red velvet because I appreciate the concept...which deserves a good execution!

What do you think, red velvet fans?


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