I’d love to know who was baking one day and thought to themselves ‘I know what would perfect this recipe, a generous dose of red food colouring!’ Such a bizarre missing ingredient but it somehow manages to turn a humble chocolate cake into something pretty amazing.
To be totally honest I’d never really jumped onto the red-velvet bandwagon. I’ve sampled one or two cupcakes over the years but never been quite convinced of their superiority.
I stand corrected. Take one bite of red velvet cake with buttercream icing and you’ll be transported straight into a happy place. Traditionally, red velvet cake has cream cheese icing but replacing it with American-style buttercream ‘frosting’ takes it to a whole new level. The deliciously smooth and creamy icing cuts through the sweetness of the ruby-red cake and the tender crumb gives way as you take a bite. If you can resist going back for seconds, you’re much stronger-willed than me.
The method is a little bit different to your basic cake recipe. Actually in the magazine, these are called brownies but I don’t see one part of them that even remotely resembles a brownie (or is that cake in America?) so I called it cake.
You start by melting the butter in a small saucepan then add the water and cocoa and stir it all together until it’s smooth. Take the saucepan off the heat. Put the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and then pour the chocolatey mixture over the top. Mix it on low speed to begin with (not LOW if you don’t want chocolate from one end of the kitchen to the other) and then increase the speed to high and beat until everything is very well mixed together.
Add the red colouring, egg, buttermilk (or soured milk like I used) and vanilla then start on low speed again and increase it to high to beat everything well. The batter is really really runny at this stage. I actually didn’t think there was even a slither of hope that it would bake into something resembling a cake but I kept on going. Scape the batter into a lined tin. It’s best not to use a spring-form tin or it might drip all over your oven.
Once you’ve licked the bowl, pop the tin into the oven at 160C for 25-30 minute or until a cake tester comes out clean. Once it’s cooked, leave it to cool completely in the tin.
If you watch Two Broke Girls you might have seen the ‘buttercream is a b-i-t-c-h’ episode. They have a little cupcake business and get an order for 60 cupcakes with buttercream frosting which they have to transport on the subway. I’ve always thought buttercream was just butter beaten with icing sugar and a little milk or water the thin it so I wasn’t quite sure what the big deal was with transporting cupcake topped with it across New York in summer.
Actual American buttercream is completely different to what I thought. It’s light and fluffy and not too sweet and there’s not a bit of icing sugar in it. The downside to the buttery goodness is that it’s very temperamental and easily splits resulting in a melted, ugly mess. I think it’s best to serve buttercream icing-topped items straight away.
To make it, heat the sugar, milk, flour and salt in a small saucepan, whisking constantly until it starts to bubble and thicken. It probably takes about 5 minutes. Once it starts to thicken, reduce the temperature and whisk it for one more minute then take it off the heat and add the vanilla. Set it aside to cool to room temperature.
Don’t be tempted to move on to the next step before it cools or your icing won’t be too pretty. Once it is cool transfer the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer then a little at a time, add the softened butter, beating until the icing is thick and smooth. It might start to curdle a little but keep on beating – it’ll smooth out eventually.
When your icing is ready, spread it into the cake and call your friends. You don’t want to be alone with this once you’ve got a taste for it let me tell you. I imagine it’s what vampires feel like once they savour a drop of blood.
It looks like there’s a lot of icing for such a small piece of cake but believe me, it’s just right. Being red and white, it’s the perfect cake for your Christmas dessert table (oh sorry is it just me who has an entire table dedicated to dessert?). Enjoy!
What about you? Did you get on the red velvet bandwagon?
- 1 cup water
- 250g butter
- ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 cups plain flour
- 2 cups caster sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk (or use milk soured with a little lemon juice)
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla
- 2 tbsp red food colouring
- 1 ½ cups caster sugar
- 1 ½ cups milk
- ⅓ cup plain flour
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 375g butter, softened
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C fan-forced and grease and line a 30x20cm baking tin. Make sure you extend the paper over the sides.
- Place the butter in a medium saucepan and heat it over medium head until it melts then add the water and cocoa and bring it almost to boiling, stirring constantly.
- Place the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and briefly beat them together.
- Add the cocoa mixture to the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined then increase the speed to high until everything is well mixed in.
- Add the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and red food colouring and beat on low until everything is mixed in then up the speed to high for one minute.
- Scrape the batter into the pan (it will be very runny).
- Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Leave it to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
- Meanwhile make the buttercream icing.
- Place the sugar, milk, flour and salt in a medium saucepan and heat, whisking constantly, over medium heat until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.
- Reduce the heat to low and heat, continuing to whisk, for a minute.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla then leave the mixture to cool to room temperature.
- Transfer the cooled mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.
- On medium speed, start to beat the mixture and then add the butter one tablespoon at a time.
- Keep beating until it is thick and smooth (it may look curdled but keep beating and it will come together).
- Spread the cooled cake with buttercream icing.
- Serve immediately.
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