A Red Velvet Birthday Cake (basket weave 101)

About 30 years ago my father introduced me to Patricia, the most glamorous woman I’d ever seen. She wore a light blue polyester pant suit with eye shadow to match and had a pile of perfectly coiffed blond hair. She was lovely and clearly not from Connecticut, where we lived at the time. Just one word from her mouth and you could hear the south, Alabama in fact. Patricia is my stepmother and in honor of her Southern roots I made her a Red Velvet Birthday cake. Her mom used to make them for her when she was a kid. I wish I had her mother’s recipe, but I found one that was fascinating and dated back to WW2. The Milk Chocolate cream cheese frosting done in an elegant basket weave adds to the romance of the cake.

When I read the ingredients for the cake I immediately assumed that it had omitted a key ingredient; eggs. In fact, this cake is completely vegan; no eggs, butter or milk. Eggs act as a binder, a kind of glue that holds things together. When they are baked, the proteins set and hold everything else in place.  So when I saw that this cake didn’t have any at all I wondered what the texture would be like, paste came to mind. In fact, I was so doubtful I had a back up recipe all ready to go. But, what do you know, it was fantastic. Moist, rich, despite the lack of any butter or eggs and absolutely delicious. Why?

Created during a time when things like eggs and butter were hard to come by, this cake relies strictly on the gluten (protein) in the all-purpose flour to create the structure. The water in the recipe interacts with the proteins in the flour, with a little help from acid (lemon juice, cocoa powder) and some salt to work its magic. Both the acid and salt give the protein a little boost of strength and it all comes together in a truly remarkable cake. It gets its rise and lightness from just a touch of baking soda, no baking powder at all. The soda interacts with the acid and produces carbon dioxide bubbles. Essentially, you are making your own baking powder; baking soda + acid. Ok, maybe that is more food science than you wanted, but it is absolutely fascinating, at least to me!

Red Velvet Cake: from Something Warm from the Oven: Baking Memories, Making Memories by Eileen Goudge (vegan)

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (NOT Dutch-process, because you want the acid in the natural cocoa)

2 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2-3 tablespoons Super Red Gel Paste Food Color

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Milk Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting: enough to fill, ice and basket weave the cake. (not vegan)

12 ounces Milk Chocolate, finely chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

16 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 1/4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

To make the cake:

preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and then line the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment.

Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a food processor, and let it whir to combine for about 30 seconds.

In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups of cold water, the oil, vanilla, food coloring and lemon juice.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and whir in food processor until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and firmly tap the pans against the counter several times to release any air bubbles.

bake for 25-35 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Cool the cakes on a rack before inverting them.

To make the Milk Chocolate icing:

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Beat the butter until soft and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese and beat for another 2-3 minutes, scraping down the side of the bowl several times, to make sure there are no lumps. Blend in the lemon juice. Add the cooled chocolate and the confectioner’s sugar. Beat on medium low speed until spreading consistency.

To decorate the cake:

Start by setting the cake on a cardboard round, centering it on a Cake Stand and trimming off the top of the cake layers.  You trim them if they are domed or just to remove the outer layer, which is often a different texture. It makes a great snack while your working.

Put a large amount of icing on the top of the cake. It should be about 1/4-inch thick when spread over the entire surface of the top.

Spread the icing out with a Spatula so that it is completely covers the top and is level, it should overhang the edge by about 1/4-inch. Flat, not smooth, is the goal.

Now you want to cover the sides with icing. Again, you are just trying to get it covered, don’t worry about smoothing it out until all the cake is completely covered.

Now you want to smooth out the sides. Hold the spatula straight up and down, but at a 20 degree angle away from the cake. If the spatula is flat against the cake you will end up scraping all of the icing off. At this point you never move the spatula, just turn the cake stand and the spatula will run over the surface of the cake. You are not applying any pressure, just hold it steady and it will gradually smooth out the surface.

Once the sides are as smooth as you want, then you do the same thing on the top. Start on one side of the cake and gently smooth out the surface, stopping midway. rotate the cake and continue until the cake top is smooth.

To create the basket weave you will need two pastry bags. One fitted with a Ateco round tip (#7) and the other with a basket Ateco basket weave tip (#47).

Start with the round tip and create a straight line up and down. With the basket tip pipe 1-inch lines across the original straight line. Separate them with the width of the basket weave tip.

Using the round tip draw another up and down line directly over the ends of the 1-inch basket weave. Using the basket weave tip, start by tucking the tip under the straight line, so that the piping looks as if it is coming out from under that line. Then pipe 1-inch basket weave in the spaces that were left open.

Repeat this over and over until you have gone all the way around the cake.

I finished the top off with a very simple star tip pattern on top and some pansies from my garden!

Happy Birthday Nana (Patricia)! xo Z