Friday, April 16, 2010

Adventures in Red Velvet



top photo via Food Network

bottom two photos by Anthony Palatta

One afternoon I was flipping channels while on the treadmill at my gym, and I happened to land upon Cooking for Real, which features Sunny Anderson. Though I haven't made any of her recipes before, I like watching Sunny, who strikes me as a fun, big sister type, and also seems to enjoy food even more than I do.

That afternoon, Sunny was making a red velvet cake, but not just any red velvet cake. This was a four-layer, frosted extravaganza. It began by baking a single wide sheet of cake in a jelly roll pan. The sheet was cut into quarters, and then layered with a creamy-looking sugar frosting that Sunny had cooked on her stovetop, just as she used to watch her grandmother do.

I immediately went home and printed out the recipe. However, it's taken me about six months to actually dare to make it.

There were a few modifications. Sunny's recipe calls for two ounces of red food coloring, which I couldn't find in any of my usual grocery haunts. Instead, I ended up buying professional grade food gel from Broadway Panhandler, which worked just as well. (The batter looked rusty pink, but the cake turned deep red as it baked.)

One of the people commenting on the recipe at the Food Network site said she'd added a tablespoon of vegetable oil to the party, which sounded like a good idea to me to keep the cake moist. And the cake took only 22 minutes to bake in my oven, as opposed to "about 30" in the recipe. Finally, I decided to omit adding chopped pecans between each layer (mostly because I don't like nuts in cakes), though I did sprinkle a few on top for decoration.

After taking the cake out of the oven, I made the boiled frosting, which came together easily, though it was thinner than I'd expected, more of a glaze or sauce.

My biggest issue was trying to stack the layers as Sunny had done so easily on her show. Once the cake was cool, I inverted it, as the recipe directed, onto a cutting board. I then cut the cake into quarters and transferred it to a plate, one layer at a time. Unfortunately, the moist top of the cake kept sticking the plastic cutting board. Also, the cake was so tender that it broke in half. Finally, I resorted to making two four-layer square cakes instead of one long rectangular one.

I may not have used enough icing between the layers, either. My result ended up looking nothing like the luscious picture on Sunny's recipe at the Food Network. (See top photo on this blog for a comparison.)

Still, the taste was absolutely delicious. The cake is one of the best red velvets I've ever tasted, though four layers are a bit decadent. I think one reason it came out so moist was that I used buttermilk from a wonderful cheesemonger called Saxelby in the Essex Street Market, here on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

My verdict is still out on the frosting. The flavor compliments the cake, but the runny consistency made it difficult to work with and build up volume between the layers.

All in all, a successful red velvet adventure!

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