Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Double DB Challenge - I'm Seeing Red!

First and foremost: Happy Independence Day to everyone!

And second: Oh my, ah can't believe ah'm gettin' ta bake somethin' that's so close to mah Southern roots. How verah excitin'!

Did that sound like Scarlett O'Hara? LOL! I headed South in my quest to follow in the footsteps of the Daring Bakers. At this time they were still a small group of ladies (try about 15 then versus over 1,000 now!) and they had just gotten the opportunity to share their new logo with the blogging world. Whoohoo! And this particular time they made red velvet cake.

Now, I'm from Mississippi, which is a historical mecca of beautiful antebellum homes, gracious ladies and gentlemen, and wonderful food. A lot of things have changed in the American South (human slavery being one, thank God), but one thing that hasn't changed is the welcoming nature of people all across the region. I mean, Mississippi is known as The Hospitality State - how much more obvious is that?! When we get together for pretty much anything, we eat....and the care put into making food - from a bridal tea to Sunday dinner to football tailgating - is phenomenal. To me, Southern meals exude a real love of life and community.

I have made red velvet cake before. When I was in high school, my friend Brad got me to join the church choir with him. The rest of the choir consisted of adults; I'm sure they were amused by us, as we're both extremely goofy by nature and from my own recollection sat around laughing at everything (when Brad and I got together at ANY time, we laughed - about something, about nothing at all - I'm laughing my butt off as I type this, thinking about the times we just sat around laughing).

When the choir Christmas party rolled around, everyone was instructed to bring something. We decided we'd cook together, and I don't remember how we came about deciding that we'd make red velvet cake but we did (we also made a 2nd dessert but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what it was)!

Anyway, we had a blast, of course, making this cake. At one point, Brad's mom came into the kitchen and said, "Oh, y'all, that looks soooo good. Can I try some?"

"Yes-ma'am," we replied (to not reply with "-ma'am" or "-sir" in the South shows signs of a substandard upbringing), and Mrs. C proceeded to get a spoon and daintily dip it into the batter. "Mmmm, y'all, that's good! I just want one more taste." She turned the spoon around and dipped the handle end into the batter so as not to contaminate it with the end of the spoon she'd already licked.

Brad and I howled with laughter and told his confused mother that we'd been sticking our fingers into the batter and icing repeatedly to taste-test. We were typical teens with no scruples, people! I think we got an exasperated eye-roll and a "Y'all!" Yes, we were nuts, and life was good that way.

The Daring Bakers group chose their own red velvet cake recipes in March 2007, so I went straight to my baker's rack full of cookbooks to find the recipe I would use. When my eyes fell upon Southern Grace, the cookbook that is put out by my alma mater (Mississippi University for Women, also called "The W" - I'm tellin' y'all....I'm Southern!) I knew with no doubt where I'd get the instructions for my cake.

Sure enough, there it was in the dessert section, preceding a recipe for brown velvet cake (really going to have to try that, as it sounds delicious in its own right). I knew that The W wouldn't let me down - she hasn't thus far. Here is a quote from the page of the recipe:

"The origin of Red Velvet Cake goes back to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, but Southerners have made it such a part of their holiday traditions for so long that it is now considered a Southern specialty. It is a beautifully textured chocolate cake that happens to be astonishingly red. The white icing is a startling contrast to the rich red cake. Red Velvet Cake has been a favorite with MUW students for decades and worth making two trips through the cafeteria line for that extra slice. Anyone who's seen the movie Steel Magnolias will remember the armadillo-shaped grooms cake with the blood-red interior. It HAD to be Red Velvet Cake!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Red Velvet Cake
from Southern Grace - Recipes and Rememberances from The W

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. baking cocoa
2 oz. liquid red food coloring
2 1/2 c. cake flour
1 tsp. salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. milk
5 Tbsp. cake flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Cream 1/2 c. butter, 1 1/2 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Mix the baking cocoa and food coloring in a small bowl to make a paste. Add to the egg mixture and beat well. Sift 2 1/2 c. flour and the salt into a bowl.

Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk into the egg mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and beating well after each addition. Mix the vinegar and baking soda in a small bowl. Add to the batter and beat well. Pour into 3 well-greased 8" cake pans [I had two, so used them both once and reused one a second time].

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Mix the cold milk and 5 Tbsp. flour in a small saucepan.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Pour into a bowl. Chill until cool to the touch.

Note to self: When chilling in freezer, be sure to turn ice maker OFF....

Cream 1 c. butter, 1 c. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla...

(That's vanilla powder ^^^)

...in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

Add to the cooled milk mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy.

Spread between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake.

Yield: 12 servings

"Stars and Stripes Forever"
I traced out a star shape with a skewer tip and then filled it in with small blueberries, so I'd have a red, white, and blue cake! Hoh hoh hoh, I am so cool, no?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *


This is the second cake I've made with an frosting recipe that makes b-a-r-e-l-y enough icing to cover the flipping cake, and it royally ticked me off. The other time, it was with Dorie's Perfect Party Cake and again, it really frustrated me that I was having to skimp and scrape and pray that I had enough!! I was just about to whip up another half-batch, but I realized that if I scraped the frosting from the beater then I should be OK. Still, next time I'll make 1 1/2 times the original recipe; I don't want to have to worry where the heck the icing's coming from when I'm trying to make my cake pretty! I mean, Fiddle Dee Dee, y'all! ;> I guess I'll just have to resign myself to the fact that this is a personal issue and I just like lots of icing.

Little wagon and swingset in the background. :)

Another thing I wished I'd done differently was to not bake the cakes quite as long as I did. I cooked them for 25 minutes, which was within the recipe's time frame, but I wish I'd checked them at 20 minutes and pulled them out then so that they'd have been moister. Not that the cakes were dry, but it's borderline for me as to the moistness and softness of the cake.

But two things:

  1. Red velvet cake, by nature, is just a denser cake. Period. So, to an extent it's just going to be that way. Just deal with it and grab a glass of cold milk.

  2. I also was baking via convection, so I should've thought to set the timer a little earlier, but the batter looked so dense I really thought it would need that baking time.

And gripes about the frosting aside, I have to say that it was really good! I was surprised that it wasn't a cream cheese frosting, which seems to be the traditional frosting of choice for Red Velvet Cake in the South. I'd never made icing with a milk/flour mixture so I was interested to see how it would turn out - and it ended up a light fluffy buttercream consistency that was kinda addictive.

Also, 2 oz. of red food coloring doesn't sound like much, until one goes to the store and finds out that 2 oz. of food coloring comes in a small brown glass bottle - NOT those little squeezy ones with the colored tops that come in the box with blue, yellow, and green! No wonder these cakes are so flippin' red.

Although we got the 4th off of work for the Independence Day holiday, we had guests over on the 5th and Hubby cooked out; I made baked beans and cole slaw and the cake. Our friends were very complimentary of the cake, including their 3-year-old, who told me, "Aunt Amy, your cake is good!"

A slice of cake out on the deck

Good food, good friends, and compliments from preschoolers. Can't get any better than that.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Double DB Challenge - Flourless Chocolate Cake!

I'm getting in a little late on the Double DB challenge for June - but I'm here, baby! It's not that this one was necessarily difficult, it was just that I had so little time (hence, it being over a month since my last post). :P That was due to the fact that I was out of town two different weekends and I started a new job (which pays more but is also more time-consuming), so it cut down on those precious large pieces of free time that I usually get after the weekly grind.

For Chriesi's and my June Double DB challenge, we took on a decadent delight that the Daring Bakers did in Feb. 2007 - flourless chocolate cake. *sigh*

Here is my adaptation of "Chocolate Intensity" from Tish Boyle's The Cake Book. I halved the original recipe and made mine in a little 6" pan. #1, because it would be cute, and #2 because we surely didn't need one of these big things!! Speaking of the original, be sure to check out the creation that resulted from Chriesi's work!


4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 62% cocoa), finely chopped
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. espresso powder
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla powder
Pinch salt
2 tsp. (approx.) freshly grated orange zest

Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 6-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with a parchment round and butter the parchment. Place chopped chocolate in a large bowl. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, stir butter, sugar, espresso powder, and Grand Marnier until the butter is melted and mixture is boiling. Pour the hot mixture over your chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute; then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs vigorously until blended. Whisk in the vanilla powder and salt. [Amy's note: I actually used salted butter *gasp* and omitted the salt - it was fine.] Slowly add about 1/3 cup of the hot chocolate mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly. (Tempering the eggs with a little bit of the hot chocolate mixture will prevent "scrambled eggs" when combining the two mixtures.) Add the egg mixture to the hot chocolate mixture and whisk to combine well. Whisk in orange zest. Strain the batter through a sieve (to catch any cooked egg bits and zest) and then pour batter into prepared pan.

Set cake pan in a large roasting pan and fill the pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. [OK, my little pan kind of wanted to float, there!]

Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the center is shiny and set but still a bit jiggly. Transfer cake pan to a cooling rack and cool for 20 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Place a cardboard round on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. [I anticipated trouble removing the cake from the pan, but mine practically leapt out of the pan.] Remove pan and carefully remove the parchment paper. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours before glazing with chocolate glaze*.

*Bittersweet Ganache
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla powder
1 tsp Grand Marnier

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl.In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove pan from heat and add the chopped chocolate.

Cream, chocolate, vanilla powder - and maybe a splash of Grand Marnier

Let stand for 1 minute then gently stir until chocolate is melted and the glaze is smooth.Gently stir in the vanilla and Grand Marnier *hic*. Transfer glaze to a small bowl and cover the surface of the glaze with plastic wrap [whatever, like I really did that...] and let cool for 5 minutes at room temperature before using .

To glaze the cake: Place the chilled cake, still on the cake round, on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Slowly pour the hot glaze onto the center of the cake.

Oh ma GAH, that looks so luscious, no?

Smooth the glaze over the top and sides, letting the excess drip onto the baking sheet. [As you can see above, I just let it sit over a plate.] Scrape the extra glaze from the baking sheet and put it in a small ziploc bag. Seal the bag and cut a tiny hole in one of the bottom corners. Gently squeeze the bag over the top of the cake to drizzle the glaze in a decorative pattern. Grate a couple of teaspoons of orange zest over the cake. Refrigerate the cake at least one hour before serving.

New plate - not the one that caught the drippings

When I pulled the cake out of the oven, I was like, "Wha!" because it was standing about 1/2" over the top of the cake pan! I was going to take a quick picture of it, just in case it fell (which it did), but I couldn't find the dadgum camera. Hmph! It smelled awesome, but considering that I had made my July Double DB challenge the day BEFORE (more on that later!) it was kind of like, "Eh." Of course, it also could be that from licking the bowl I was satiated with cocoa, sugar, and the like. Nah.....

I took the cake to work with me the next day - naturally, this would also be the day that someone brought a big pan of cinnamon rolls (eh? wiseguy!) but I waited until after lunch and set it out by the microwave. Everyone took small pieces - it was extremely rich - and loved it! One of my coworkers said he wanted the recipe - so here you go, Tom! This was a fun challenge - I enjoyed making it but am equally glad that I halved the recipe, because I had just a little bit that I took home!