(And in it's cupcake version):
Okay, so I kind of missed posting this before Valentine's Day because I made it the day of Valentine's Day. I thought about waiting a year and then posting, but then I realized that this could easily be dyed green for St. Patrick's Day and red, white, and blue for Independence Day (oh, my).
Now let's talk about cake.
The Part Where I Justify Its Color:
This one gets a lot of flack for being so...so red (or green, o ye Irish lads and lasses). And it's true, you're going to dump a whole ounce of food coloring into this so be prepared for that. You could skip the food coloring. You'd get an almost vanilla cake that isn't as pretty, but that is still quite good. However, it will also be missing some type of flavor and moistness that the food coloring gives it. I'm sorry; that is just the way it is. In my opinion, there is something that food coloring gives it besides just color. Whatever this is, it's probably a bad thing health-wise. But we're not talking about health; we're talking about cake. If you're going to eat cake (and you certainly should) I don't think you should expect it to be healthy. Also, I don't think it should be something you expect to do every day. If those two expectations are met, you can probably come to peace with this most amazing of cakes and trust that a little food coloring once a year isn't going to kill you--at least not before something else will. So you can see that I am clearly justifying my actions, but I'm not going to apologize. This is not quite the same without the color.
The Part Where I Justify Its Frosting:
I grew up loving Waldorf Red Velvet Cake. That's what my mother called it and what it said on the little card in her recipe box. I mention this because I believe that there is a difference between Waldorf red velvet cake and the traditional southern red velvet cakes. The southern cakes tend to have cream cheese frosting and sometimes toasted pecans in the frosting. They're very good and I believe a cream cheese frosting is becoming our country's standard for red velvet cake. However, I believe there is something better. The Waldorf (from, I believe a hotel in NY) is my favorite. It uses a flour based frosting that is heavenly. (Note: It is also traditionally made from two 8x8 inch squares that are then cut in half into thin layers, so you wind up with 4 thin layers of cake. I didn't do this because I was short on time and short on one square pan, and I had three heart shaped pans and it was Valentine's Day so that fit. But but it always makes me happy when I do make those thin-layered square cakes. Next year, people, next year.) It is also often dusted with shredded coconut--at least the ones my mom made. I love this. But Kip doesn't like coconut and I am not--I repeat not--going to eat an entire cake by myself no matter how good it is. So I usually leave the coconut off and then sometimes sprinkle a bit of my own slice (but if you and yourn like coconut, it's really great). Let me note here, too, that I don't claim to have the original Waldorf recipe, just one that is somewhat different from the southern-style red velvets.
The Part Where I Justify Its Defiance of Being Considered Chocolate or Vanilla:
Red Velvet Cake also always has a little bit of cocoa in it. It usually ranges from 1 teaspoon to a couple tablespoons. I don't know why it contains cocoa, but I believe it is because the cocoa (NOT Dutch process) and the food coloring can work together to make things very red (you know how devil's food cake has a red hint too it--yeah, so the chocolate would give it a little something something like that). However, lately, there is a trend to include more chocolate in a red velvet cake. I'm sure that this makes a perfectly delightful chocolate-ish, reddish, devil's-food-esque cake. Maybe there's even a tradition in it somewhere (probably those southerners again). But to me, it does not make a Waldorf red velvet cake. This type of red velvet cake isn't chocolate and it isn't vanilla. It's red, darn it. And it will not apologize for that. It will not try to be chocolate. It will not try to be vanilla. It will be what it is. Which is one of the moistest, most delightful cakes you will ever eat. Yes, it will. Especially this one. Trust me, I've tried a bunch in search for the perfect one.
Red Velvets remind me of my mother who died last year and whose birthday was in February. She wouldn't have apologized for this being all red and crazy like it is either. And she would have helped herself to a second slice thank you very much.
Why You Should Eat It:
It's moist. It's dense without being anything like a brick. It has a lovely crumb. It tastes different somehow than any other cake you'll ever eat. Try it. Love it. And don't even think about preaching to me about that once a year red food coloring if you've got a diet Coke in your hand.
Waldorf Red Velvet Cake
adapted from Johnie Gabriel
makes 3 layers or 2 chunky square layers
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
flour: .40, sugar: .25, oil: .25, food coloring: 2.00, milk: .15 (buttermilk is more, but I cheat), other stuff: .10
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 1/2 C sugar
1 1/2 C canola oil
1 tsp vinegar
1 (1-ounce) bottle red food coloring (or whatever other color you like)
1 tsp vanilla
1 C buttermilk (or 1 scant cup regular milk with 1 Tbsp vinegar mixed in)
Prep time: 10 minutes, but there is a cooling period, so it'll need an hour or two.
milk: .30, flour: .15, sugar: .35, butter: 2.00
2 C milk
1 C flour
2 C sugar
2 C butter (or 1/2 C butter and 1/2 C shortening for a whiter frosting, but the flavor isn't as good)
2 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare pans by spraying with oil and then lining with wax paper.
Sift flour, baking soda, and cocoa.
Beat sugar and eggs together in a large bowl.
In small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, food coloring, and vanilla. Add this to the egg/sugar mixture.
Then add part flour mixture, part buttermilk, part flour, the rest of the buttermilk, the rest of the flour.
Pour batter into pans. Bake (for 3 layers) 15-16 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Don't overbake it.
Let cool for ten minutes, then turn out on cake rack (or whatever) to cool completely.
Cook milk, flour, and salt over medium heat, whisking constantly. It will thicken. Don't be afraid to get it quite thick. COOL completely. (If you don't let it cool, this frosting will still taste good, but it will sort of separate and look weird.)
Cream together butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add cooled flour mixture. Beat it until it's nice and smooth (although if it's a little lumpy, it won't kill anybody). Frost cake.