Confession time: I have always looked very much askance at red velvet cake, particularly the modern version currently en vogue, like, everywhere. You see, what had historically been a tribute to the creativity and good taste of Southern bakers challenged with stretching their ingredients as far as they would go–deliciously–has now largely become a red-dyed monstrosity that’s purely an excuse to eat poorly made cream cheese frosting… with confectioner’s sugar. *CAKERAGE*
Right, but as I was making preparations for our aforementioned Southern vegetarian new year’s day dinner, my original plan to make pies got tossed RIGHT out the window when I realized that we were expecting 25-30 guests. I only had a day to bake and so needed something delicious and monumental that would take less time that sixty-badillion pies. So… cake. And Southern. Red Velvet was the obvious choice. Adored. Emblematic. Problematic. Frig.
If I was going to make it, I was going to make it right, and it was going to be good. How fortunate, then, that I found the perfect recipe courtesy of Julie Richardson. A northerner like myself, she’d shared my skepticism over the edibility of red velvet cakes as well but included a recipe in her new book, Vintage Cakes.
And, fiiiine, it’s a good cake. Rich and moist, with a bouncy, even crumb and a nice lactic tang from the buttermilk that enhances the cocoa flavor. The latter is of particular importance because red velvet cakes were originally CHOCOLATE cakes, with the redness emerging from the ph reactions in the batter. So, hooray for a cake that tastes like something other than, you know, red 40. That said, I did feel compelled to add the requisite food coloring, not wanting to rain on anyone else’s parade. Hrmph.
For the party, I doubled the recipe and baked it in two 9″ x 13″ pans (slightly decreasing the baking powder to prevent cratering). The version below hews to the original proportions and will produce two 9″ rounds. I also swapped in my standard–and AWESOME–white chocolate cream cheese frosting for Richardson’s mascarpone version. The combo was pretty awesome, and there was veeeery little cake left. Always a good sign, even for this skeptical Yankee.