Red Velvet Cake

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Let’s talk about cake. I mean, there’s a lot of pie on this site but there hasn’t been much cake yet. Sure, in a pie v. cake battle, pie would win but I would never kick a slice of cake out of bed. Not even if it was the store-bought kind with overly sweet and stiff icing formed into rosettes. Especially not then; I love that frosting.

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Red velvet is one of my favorite kinds of cake but I don’t often love how it’s made. I’m not super into the whole add-red-food-dye thing since it doesn’t add much to the cake flavor-wise and in some cases it actually takes away. Don’t even get me started on the vanilla cakes with red dye that miss the whole point about red velvet being a chocolate cake.

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And really, this cake has been popular since before food dye was a popular thing. There must be a better way to get a delicious, tangy chocolate cake that looks red on the inside.

Oh, there is.

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The original red velvet cake is a plain chocolate cake but it was made with non-Dutch processed cocoa, or what we today call naturally processed. When it was mixed with buttermilk the chemical reaction made a cake that looks a fairly recognizable reddish-brown. I’d rather use buttermilk in my cake anyway so why not give it a try. I upped the acid quotient with vinegar and added more cocoa powder to make sure there was a reaction.

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This cake is red inside! It is decidedly reddish-brown, a fact with which I annoyed the poor friends I doled this out to all evening. Although you can’t really feel too bad for them; it was free cake after all.

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The flavor is pretty sensational as well. Tight-crumbed with a decidedly buttermilk flavor. It goes perfectly with cream cheese frosting which is really the only acceptable topping for red velvet. I have a few opinions about this cake in case you hadn’t noticed.

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Ok, enough talk, just make this already. And then ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the amazingly red-without-food-dye center. It’s worth it.

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Red Velvet Cake
Makes two 9-inch rounds OR one 9-inch round and a dozen cupcakes OR about 4 dozen mini-cupcakes OR 3 dozen mini-cupcakes and one 5-inch cake round. There are lots of options.

12 tbs (1.5 sticks) butter, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar*
2 1/3 cups cake flour**
5 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch process if you want the magic red tint)
½ tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease whatever pans you choose to use in whatever combination of 9-inch, cupcake, and mini-cupcake that you wish to make.

In a medium size bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda until well incorporated.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed. Beat them together for at least 3 minutes until the color is very pale yellow and the mixture is slightly aerated.

Still on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time. Then add the vanilla. Mix until combined.

Add the vinegar to the buttermilk and add about 1/3 to the mixture. Then mix in 1/3 of the dry goods. Continue alternating until everything is added and the mixture just comes together. Do not over-mix the batter not only because the cake might be tough but because the time spent out of the oven is time that may alter the red-making chemical process.

If the cake isn’t baked while the buttermilk is reacting with the cocoa, the red won’t be as pronounced.

Pour the mixed batter into the prepared pans and bake for 15-20 minutes for mini-cupcakes, 20-25 minutes for regular cupcakes, and 40-45 minutes for full cakes. They’re done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for about 5 minutes on a rack. Then invert them over the rack to remove them from the pans and let them cool completely before frosting or enjoying them plain.

* Jeff swears that distilled white vinegar makes everything taste mildly unpleasant which I don’t notice. But for peace of mind we generally use apple cider vinegar in things.
** Look for cakes it makes a difference if you use cake flour since it’s much lower in gluten so you’re less likely to get a tough cake. But if you don’t have cake flour you’re going to want to use only 2 cups of all-purpose flour. If you use the extra ¼ cup your cake might be too dry.

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