I mean, if we’re going to indulge ANYWAY…Red Velvet Cake.

Most of you probably don’t know me well enough to know this, but I have a bit of A Thing for red. Red hair (obviously), red lips (ditto), red nails, red walls. Red! The color of passion and pride! The color of luck! The color of lust! The color of big dogs and little hens!


Here are some keywords that Wikipedia has associated with red: passion, aggression, courage, energy, guilt, love, anger, hatred, pain, socialism, fire, heat, sacrifice, violence, bullfighting, emergency, danger, sin, negativity, blood, devils, lust, communism, stop, exit, honor, leadership. All powerful words; all very visceral and extreme. Red ain’t no wallflower, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it.

What strikes me, reading that list, was that so few of the words have to do with comfort, with warmth (not to be confused with heat); most of those words belong on the battlefield, not at the hearth. It barely scratches the surface of all the wonderful things we associate with red, it misses an entire facet. Red apples, red wine, red enameled cast iron. Red velvet cake.


(Yes, I know. I just used a semantic pondering to change the subject to cake. Accept and move on.)

Red. Velvet. Cake. The titan of cakery, with as many different approaches as there are people who enjoy baking. Personally, I favor a more traditional cake–neither colored by beets nor stained luridly red (though I do use gel food coloring). I like it chocolatey, but not too chocolatey; sweet, but not too sweet. And, of course, slathered in cream cheese frosting. It’s a difficult balance to get right, even when you have a  recipe; it’s also virtually impossible to make without staining at least one part of your kitchen. This is why this cake only gets baked for the ones I love best: if I’m going to make my kitchen look like a crime scene, it had best be for someone worth it. (And, conversely, if I’m going to be baking a cake for the people I love best, it had better kick all the ass. And trust me, this one does.) This is why I made it for the joint birthday celebration of Bench, Lady A, and Miss DeeDee, a small sampling of my very favorite people in the world.


This cake is, if I may hyperbolize a bit, the apotheosis of cake. Sweet, but not too sweet (yes!); chocolatey, but not too chocolatey (double awesome!); most of crumb and light of heart. It is, in a word, ridiculous (in the best possible way). It was also entirely too gargantuan for our small party to eat; this three-tiered colossus lasted through two gatherings and then a couple of days of being the only food Bench ate. It brought a little sweetness to some very difficult days; it helped me bring together some of the people I love best when I needed them most. It was the shot of color I desperately needed in the gray days of December.

But circling back to the whole point of this little tirade: all I was really trying to say is that I think Red is so much more than fury and power. Red can be healing, and sweet; warm, familiar. Here’s what I think of when I think of red: I think of warmth. Strength. Love. Light. Comfort. Community. And Cake.

Red Velvet Cake
The recipe I used belongs to Miss Deb over at the Smitten Kitchen–and I have no comments to make upon it, because it’s perfect. So I am posting it verbatim because I have absolutely nothing to add. That girl knows from cakes. Read her post here.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
31⁄2 cups cake flour
1⁄2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
11⁄2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
21⁄4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
11⁄2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1⁄4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
21⁄2 teaspoons white vinegar.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
  2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
  3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
  4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
  5. Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Also from Deb)

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

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