If there’s one thing I cannot understand, it’s why I am so helplessly attracted to red velvet cake.
One of America’s more exhibitionist cakes, its tacky contrast of bright red sponge and snowy white icing should in theory put me off. What’s that saying about all fur coat and no knickers? But there’s something about the way the sponge looks so moist and heavy crumbed, and the way that frosting crowns it so dreamily that makes me want to give in every time I see one. And the fact that it’s red, far from making me recoil, is for some bizarre reason a real selling point.
Interestingly, there’s no official explanation for why the red food colouring is added. Some say it comes from when cocoa was unprocessed and would react with the vinegar and buttermilk in the recipe and turn red. Others say it was because beetroot was used instead of sugar to sweeten it during the Great Depression, and sure enough, you still find some recipes using beetroot today – although it’s more to keep the cake moist now, than to actually sweeten it.
It’s not the most laidback of cakes to make. It involves egg separating, multiple bowls and folding-in in batches, but the results are pretty spectacular. Not for nothing is it called red velvet. The cake almost melts away in your mouth – it’s moist, giving and ever so slightly tangy from the buttermilk, and it combines so perfectly with the cream cheese. My mouth is watering just writing about it.
Of course, you will find strewn about the internet some fake recipes that are really just lily-livered chocolate cakes dyed red, but these completely miss the point. You shouldn’t be able to decide whether a red velvet cake is vanilla or chocolate flavoured. It should have a texture like no Victoria sponge could achieve, and should create a bit of a gasp when you present it to the table. Our red velvet cake recipe took a few goes to achieve perfection, but it was worth the effort. So if the baking urge overtakes you this weekend, I can think of few better things to whisk up.
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