Sunday, 9 May 2010

Red Velvet complexities...

Perhaps I wanted to do too much.  This is often my problem in general, not just in the kitchen.  An editing eye is something that one develops over time- and just because I have mastered the skill in one area, does not mean I have in another.  I think I wanted this week's post to do too much... let me start at the beginning.  

So my thoughts in general about this blog are to keep my recipes and captured kitchen adventures relevant to the theme hopefully implied by the title of the blog 'Coffee in a Teacup'.  I want it to express my background, and the ways I go about adapting it to the tastes of British culture and ingredient availability.  

Last week I was greeted at work by a fellow American looking to make a connection through our shared American food culture- namely a red velvet cupcake.  Red velvet is a type of sponge cake that originated in the US, though the story(ies) behind it are a bit blurry.  Some claim it originated in the South, and is thought of as a 'Southern Chocolate Cake' (that's what I had always heard, although I suppose some of that connection could come from the movie Steel Magnolias, set in the South where the grooms cake is a red velvet cake, made into the shape of an Armadilo).  

There is another story floating around that a red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in the 1920's.  A woman dining there once asked for the recipe for the cake, and was given it.  She was later given a bill for $100 (quite a lot of money at that time).  She was so furious that she sent letters to all of her friends with the recipe details in a chain letter format, so they were to then pass it on to all of their friends etc. 

When foods were rationed during WWII, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes, as well as sometimes used them to replace the rationed sugar when it was unavailable or in low supply. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture.  Though now most recipes (like the one I followed) call for food dye, it may have been this useful substitution during a difficult time that kept the recipe alive.  

I love red velvet cake.  You can taste a hint of the cocoa combined with the rich velvety buttermilk- it's the perfect amount of richness and sweetness.  I love it so much that I introduced my British husband Nick to it, he loved it just as much as I did, and we had our wedding cake made from it (topped with chocolate ganache and alternating layers of a light orange marmalade butter cream and apricot preserves).  

So I wanted to make it for several reasons, and then some.  I wanted to make it to thank Nick for the encouragement he's given me to not only create this site, but to follow my interests into a completely new career path.  I wanted to make it to represent where I come from, and that 'American' connection I had earlier last week. Despite the fact I have grown to love and adapt to much of Great Britain's culture, I still like to recognise and be reminded of my own history.  And given the cake's ties to the South, I wanted to pay tribute to a dear friend and southerner, who recently passed away.  She was just as ballsy and brilliant as the color of the cake itself and I was looking for a way to honor her memory.

Lastly (and perhaps to my cakes detriment) I wanted to incorporate something from British culture into the cake, put my coffee into the lovely teacup instead of the giant coffee mug...  cue the classic 'pound cake'.  

Pound cake can be traced back to the 1700's, originating in England.  The name comes from the fact that the original pound cakes contained one pound each of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.  No leaveners were used other than air whipped into the batter.  In the days where many people didn't know how to read, this made for a simple recipe to remember.

So I set out yesterday to make a 'British American Red Velvet Pound Cake'.  I came close I think- the color was perfect, the flavour composition is there, but sadly my pound cake sat like several pounds in the stomach.  It came out heavy and dense as opposed to the light and fluffy sponge I was anticipating.  

I suppose I will take this too as a metaphor and with the same amount of symbolism I attached to the idea of making the cake itself.  Enculturation is a learning curve.  It takes a great deal of time and practice to find the right balanced combination that sits nicely together and brings out the best side of each element.  And everything is better with cream cheese frosting...

The Recipe
(adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

60g unsalted butter at room temperuature
150g caster sugar
1 egg
10g cocoa
20ml red food colouring
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used more)
120ml buttermilk
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp biocarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 quantity Cream Cheese Frosting


Preheat the oven to 170C/ 325F

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat on a medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed.  Add the egg slowly while beating at high speed until all is incorporated.

In a small separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food coloring, and vanilla to make a thick paste.  Add this to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined with an even color.  Turn the mixer down to low and add 1/2 the buttermilk, followed by 1/2 the flour.  Repeat the process combining all ingredients until smooth.  Beat for 2-3 minutes at a high speed before turning back to low to add your soda and white wine vinegar.  Turn the mixer back up to high and beat to incorporate air, for up to five minutes (batter should be light and fluffy).  Pour into your loaf baking tin or into individual cupcake tins and bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Let it cool completely before adding cream cheese frosting to the top.

*My cream cheese frosting called for 125g cold cream cheese, 50g butter at room temp, and 300g icing sugar- whipped until fluffy.  I don't think you'll need that much sugar, you could probably do with only 200g and bring out the flavour of the cream cheese a bit more.*

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