This past week heralded the 22nd birthday of one of my friends here in York. Her party provided the perfect occasion (excuse?) to bake. For those that have followed my blog for the past two years know that I love good food—more than that, I love cooking and baking delicious things. I often tell people: In another life I would have opened my own bakery/café. I’d be like Ana from Stranger Than Fiction. Making people happy through scrumptious baked goods. Lemon mascarpone tarts. Apple turnovers with cinnamon glaze. Vegan cranberry-walnut muffins. Pumpkin spice bread. Chocolate Bourbon cake…
Living in York has effectively hindered my baking habits. For a number of reasons. My student budget (read: broke) does not allow for unnecessary grocery items. My time is consumed by research and writing my dissertation. And I do not have access to most of the equipment or ingredients needed for the recipes I want to make.
So a chance to bake is a proper event, and I become ridiculously giddy. For Becky’s birthday I decided to make a red velvet cake. Originally a Southern tradition, it has now inserted itself into trendy boutique cupcake shops and the not-so-trendy Starbucks all over the States. (By the perplexed responses I received at the party, it sounds like red velvet still needs to circulate around the UK a bit more.) Red velvet is not my favourite cake by any means, but the rich red colour suitably impresses people. The subtle flavours of cocoa and vanilla pleasantly contrast with the tangy cream cheese frosting, as well.
The following recipe is one adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery in London. If you’ve got a mixer handy, use it. I do not have one here in the UK, and mixing becomes a real chore—and probably doubles the preparation time. That being said, mixing by hand will give your arms a great workout!
(For my stateside readers, apologies for the imperial measurements. You can still use the measurements easily enough if you have a cooking scale.)
For the cake:
120g butter, room temperature
300g caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
several tsp red food colouring*
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1Tbsp cider vinegar
For the cream cheese frosting:
400g cream cheese, room temperature
50g butter, room temperature (optional)
350g icing sugar (give or take)
1. Before mixing ingredients, grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Set them aside. Pre-heat oven to 170C.
2. Mix butter and sugar together until creamy.
3. Add eggs until fully incorporated.
4. Fold cocoa, vanilla and red food colouring into the batter. *In my experience, each food colouring brand has a different effect and strength. I used Silver Spoon and added nearly half the bottle for a deep red colour. Others might take more or less—it depends on how red you want your cake.
5. Pour in a third of the buttermilk. (If you don’t have buttermilk, as I did not, you can make an emergency substitution by pouring a cup [about 240ml] of milk over 1 tsp lemon juice and let it sit for 5 minutes.) Mix well. Then add a third of the flour. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour are mixed smoothly.
6. Add bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Fizzy bubbles! Beat together for a couple minutes.
7. Pour into prepared cake pans and bake for 30-40 minutes. (Mine took about 35, with an oven fan.) Since all ovens operate differently, check the cakes around the 25 to 30 mark. Insert a skewer or toothpick into the cake. When the skewer comes out clean, the cakes are done.
8. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly before removing from pans and placing onto wire racks. Cool completely.
[Note about the frosting: homemade frosting seems to be an artful science. And that’s putting it nicely. Frosting is a finicky b**** and as of yet, I have not conquered this skill on the first try. I believe no two batches of frosting are the same, so feel free to experiment. I hold this stance because I hate buttercream frosting or any other frosting recipe that calls for a pound of icing sugar. I do not like overly sweet frosting—they should compliment the cake, not overpower it. That being said, adjust the frosting ingredients as you see fit for your tastebuds.]
9. Whip the cream cheese and butter together. You don’t have to use butter, though it does thicken the frosting nicely.
10. Add vanilla and mix.
11. Stir in the icing sugar. You can always add more if you want thicker, sweeter frosting. But I highly recommend to use the least amount of sugar possible. The tang of the cream cheese offsets the cake flavours for a more well-balanced tasting exeperience.
12. REFRIDGERATE. Let the frosting sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (preferably an hour) before applying to the cake. If you end up with red cake crumbs in the frosting, do not fret. Stick the frosted cake in the fridge for another 30 minutes and add another layer of frosting. Voila, those pesky crumbs are hidden.
13. Go eat cake.