17 December 2015

Red Velvet Cake

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The cake that made me famous.  Wait a minute!  I'm not famous, but this is the cake that boosted my baking credibility among my co-workers and my overall confidence in the kitchen. 

I first made this cake in June of 2003.  I remember the date because I made it for Angela's birthday, and Valerie and I were living in an apartment at the time.  This is probably the first cake I made in that apartment, and most likely one of the only ones since we just spent a year there.  Ang wanted a red velvet cake and I found this recipe.  I didn't have 3 9 inch round cake pans, so I baked it in a 9x13 pan.  I had never made red velvet cake before, so I didn't know what to expect.  The cake was very good, even in a 9x13 pan, so I kept the recipe.

A few years passed, Valerie and I moved to a house on Main Street, and my office was throwing a party for a fellow co-worker.  I don't remember what the specific occasion was, but I offered to bring a dessert.  Since it was around Valentine's Day, I decided to make the red velvet cake.  My kitchen equipment stash had increased by this point and I was able to make the cake in 3 9 inch round cake pans.  It's was a bit intimidating for me to walk into my office holding a cake taker with a three tiered cake inside of it, but I walked into the break room, set it on the table and headed to my desk.

A few hours later, people started coming up to me to tell me how much they liked the cake.  Several people mentioned how they didn't normally like red velvet cake, but this cake was the best they ever had.  High praise for a humble cake, but if it passed with the work crowd, I knew I had a winner.

Over the years, I have made this cake for other office parties (some not even for my own office), birthdays (some that I wasn't even there for), and even holiday open houses.  The cake is always met with rave reviews.

Since I normally make this cake for someone else or take it to an event, I didn't really ever have the opportunity to take a picture of it for latent chestnut.  I normally ice the whole cake and put crushed pecans on the side, so a picture of a whole iced cake wouldn't really do justice to the beautiful red cake on the inside.  Though, I did manage to snap a picture of one before I iced the sides.

For the holiday open house at Ole Rusty Nail, I was given the freedom to make whatever I wanted.  I thought red velvet cake would be a perfect visual for the Christmas atmosphere.  Since I didn't want to make a three tiered cake for the event, I decided to make mini-muffins with the batter.  I didn't know what to expect since I had never done it before, but the results were absolutely delicious and were just was I was going for, visually.  So, I topped some with sprinkles and some with a pecan, and I finally had my photo opportunity with this cake!

So enough about how much people like the cake, is it easy to make?  The answer is, yes!  The batter really comes together very easily.  I normally have most of the ingredients on hand, except for the 1 ounce of red food coloring, which is a lot.  I also can't stress enough how important it is to chill the cream cheese frosting before icing the cake.  It is somewhat loose when it's done mixing, so it would just ooze out of the layers when icing the cake if it's not chilled.  Unfortunately, I know this from experience.  It might be a good idea to make the icing before making the cake, so it can be chilled when the cakes are cool.

This cake really is delicious.  It does have a unique flavor, that I really can't describe.  It is light, moist, and the buttermilk and vinegar add a nice subtle tang.  There is also just enough cocoa to get a hint of chocolate, without it overwhelming the other flavors.  Overall, the cake isn't too sweet and the cream cheese frosting is a smooth and rich compliment to lightness of the cake.  The garnish of the pecans take it over the top with a nice nutty crunch.  The only left to say is, make this cake!

Red Velvet Cake

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (room temperature)
2 large eggs, (room temperature)
2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Crushed pecans, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour 3 9 by 1 1/2-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. Pour the cake batter evenly into the prepared cake pans.

Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart on two oven racks. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake begins to pull away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean; rotate the pans after 15 minutes of baking. 

Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a cooling rack. When cool enough to handle, remove the cakes from the pans and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer in the middle of a cake stand. Using an offset spatula, spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. Frosting layer should be 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Set another layer on top, and repeat. Top with the final layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top or sides with the pecans.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until well incorporated with no lumps.  Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Once smooth, add the vanilla, increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Important: Place in the refrigerator until somewhat firm before using.

01 December 2015


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Cookies.  Cookies aren't always just cookies.  Sometimes they are time machines.  These spritz cookies have been a Christmas family tradition ever since I can remember.  They are also one of my favorites.  The first bite of spritz I take every Christmas season takes me back to my childhood; my tiny hand full of Christmas tree cookies, sitting down to watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  It really does.  Every time.
Maybe the nostalgia is why it's one of my favorites, but I don't think so.  These cookies are light, buttery, simply sweet with a hint of almost extract.  Oh, the almond extract!  I love it.  Plus, I get to put sprinkles on them, and who can resist sprinkles?
I started making these cookies myself probably when I was about sixteen. Some of my first pictures with Valerie are of us making these cookies.  I used a cookie press with a twist top to extract the cookies. A couple years later I got a cookie press with a trigger mechanism that uniformly extracted the cookies with a single click. My cookie production increased dramatically with that tool in my arsenal. 
Over the years, we have branched out and started making spritz cookies for other seasons and holidays.  This year, we made them for Easter, and the results were very pretty.
It's nice because a single batch makes so many cookies.  What I have started to do is make a batch of dough and then split it up between the kids to let them pick which color to make them and which shape of the cookie press to use for their cookies.  Ahh, even more memories made with spritz.  More destinations for our sweet, buttery little time machine.
1 1/2 cups butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 or 6 drops of food coloring
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar until combined. Add sugar and baking powder. Beat in egg, almond extract, vanilla extract.  Add the flour and food coloring and mix until thoroughly integrated.
Place the dough into a cookie press and extract cookies into an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 8 minutes and cool on a wire rack.


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