red velvet cake; a true southern classic

in the past, our family birthday tradition was an ice cream cake, a store bought ice cream cake.  not a very exciting tradition but our girls loved it.  as the girls have grown up, they have moved on to other types of cake.  blame me for that.  several years ago, i insisted that they make me a birthday cake, from scratch, no mixes allowed and definitely no ice cream!  it just seemed to me that if the cake was made by my family, it would be better and have more sentiment than anything that could be purchased.  and it did; it was one of the best birthday cakes i could have had.   the girls caught on to this quickly and let me know exactly what cake they would like me to make.  my husband still prefers the ice cream cake…

our younger daughter, devon, is coming up on her 21rst birthday.  while she was home for the holidays, i told her i would make her a cake-even though it was early since i wouldn’t be able to make her one on her birthday.  she quickly chose a red velvet cake slathered in cream cheese frosting, it is her favorite.

 if you follow food trends, you are most likely aware of the over abundance of red velvet.  from cookies to pancakes and cheesecakes, everything including hot chocolate mix seems to have been repackaged as red velvet.  yeah, it needs to stop.  a recent column by sean timberlake on listed the reason why, the various concoctions just do not taste all that good and neither do most versions of the classic layer cake.  well sean, i invite you to try a slice of the cake made from my recipe because like you, i did not care for red velvet cake either until i needed to come up with a recipe for the cafe.

so what’s not to like about red velvet cake?  for starters, almost every recipe you read will call for either shortening or vegetable oil and neither offers any flavor to the cake.  then for some strange reason, the recipes all ask for cocoa powder in amounts so ridiculously small that it seems like a waste of time to include it.  honestly, what can a tablespoon or (possibly but not necessarily) two tablespoons of cocoa powder do for a cake?  and finally, that bottle of red food color that must be included to call it red velvet cake.  it isn’t hard to see why i might not get excited over this southern classic.

so how does one make this concoction tasty?  butter for starters because it really does add flavor.  since i did not want the red color to be the only other flavor, i upped the ante on the cocoa.  my recipe calls for 1/3 cup and it makes a big difference  in the flavor and the color.  but it doesn’t stop there, the recipe also uses dark brown sugar, vanilla extract and buttermilk for a tender as well as tasty cake that is definitely birthday worthy!

all dressed up in a generous amount of cream cheese frosting.  don’t you love the vintage fenton cake plate?  we received it as a gift from my mother in law and this was the first cake i put on it.

 i love the red color that the combination of dark brown sugar and cocoa powder give the cake.

it did not last long in our house!  to see the recipe, follow this link to the cafe’s website.  so, if you make one, raise a fork to the diva!

buttermilk cake with fudge frosting: my favorite birthday cake

when it comes to birthday cake, i love a homemade cake.  homemade from scratch that is.  people are always scared to bake one for me though.  they think that because i can bake, that anything they do would never be good enough.  then they either make one from a mix or buy one from the grocery store.  4somehow, that is supposed to be better than anything they could make.  i will never understand that logic, and those cakes will never convince me that they couldn’t do any better-just that they weren’t willing to try.

good cake isn’t hard to make.  you just have to follow a some important rules:
1.  use heavy gauge pans for even baking.
2.  preheat the oven for at least 20 minutes and use an oven thermometer to check the temp.
3.  read the entire recipe, twice, and check to make sure you have everything needed before you start.    
4.  room temperature means that the ingredients are about 70 degrees so let the cold stuff sit out for a    
5.  measure properly.
6.  use a timer rather than glancing at the clock and winging it.
7.  test the cake for doneness near the minimum baking time-if it says 40-45 minutes, check it at about    
     38-40 minutes and adjust the additional baking time as needed.
8.  cold cake layers are easier to frost and slice but cakes should always be served at room temp; let it sit
     out before serving if you had it in the fridge.

vanilla buttermilk cake with instant fudge frosting
makes an 8 inch triple layer cake serving 12-16
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp
frosting, recipe follows
preheat the oven to 350.  spray 3 (8″) heavy gauge metal cake pans, line them with paper(wax or parchment) and spray again.  
whisk the eggs, yolk, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the buttermilk to combine.  set aside.  place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.  with the mixer on low speed, blend the ingredients to combine.  with the mixer off, add the soft butter and the remaining buttermilk.  mix on low to blend.  turn the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  add the egg mixture in 3 additions, scraping the bowl well as you go and mixing only to combine thoroughly.  divide the batter between the 3 pans and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, 28-32 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, turn out on to a rack and cool completely before frosting it.
the layers can be wrapped and cooled in the fridge overnight to make frosting easier but serve it at room temperature for the best flavor and texture.
instant fudge frosting
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar, no sifting needed!
12 ounces unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons half and half
1 tablespoon vanilla
using a large capacity food processor, place all of the ingredients in the bowl and pulse to combine.  allow the machine to run and process the frosting until it is smooth and glossy.  
to frost the cake, place one layer, domed side down, on a cake plate.  top it with 3/4 cup of the frosting and spread it to the edges of the layer.  top it with the next layer and repeat the process.  place the top layer on the cake and using the remaining frosting, frost the sides and top of the cake.  if you would like to pipe a border or other decorations, be sure to set aside about 3/4 cup of frosting to use in a piping bag.  
adapted from my first book, sky high