Red Velvet Cake has a single, albeit significant purpose in my world, to celebrate my stepmother’s birthday. It is a cake her late mother used to bake for her when she was growing up in Alabama. This is why I love baking cakes, they can bring back memories of a sweet moment and the feeling of love. The modern, bright red cake is often thought of as a Southern cake but it was actually made famous in New York City at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Originally dating back to the Victorian era, it was made with natural (reddish-hued) cocoa powder or even beets, but eventually, the color was enhanced with food color.
This year my stepmother, Patricia, turned 70 and I wanted a cake that reflected such a wonderful milestone. I went with two tiers of cake and then filled it with an Italian wild cherry-studded cream cheese frosting. Oftentimes you will see cream cheese frosting on red velvet cakes, but it can be a little tricky to decorate with, so I used it as the filling and covered the cake in a Basil Ermine Buttercream that I saw on my friend Sarah Kieffer’s website, The Vanilla Bean Blog. Sarah’s Ermine buttercream is made by steeping fresh basil into milk and then cooking the flavored milk with flour to create a roux-like mixture that becomes the base of the buttercream. It’s actually another traditional frosting served with a red velvet cake. The addition of the basil is a fantastic flavor combination with the Italian wild cherries and cake layers.
Sometimes an occasion calls for a show-stopping, multi-tiered cake, so I included a small wedding cake in my book, Zoë Bakes Cakes. I wanted to show how simple it is to stack a cake and create a dessert worthy of a table centerpiece. With just a few supports, you can put one tier on top of another and be sure it will stay put. If you want a single-layer red velvet, I’ve got you covered.
The final touch is the decorations. In the past, I have made my stepmother’s red velvet cake with piped flowers and basket weave, but this time I went with real, edible roses and sugared cherries to reflect the cherries in the filling. They are a simple and elegant garnish.
Red Velvet Cake
- 12 Tbsp (168g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (180g) mild-flavored oil such as vegetable oil
- 3 1/3 cups (675g) granulated sugar
- 1.5 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1.5 Tbsp red food coloring plus more as needed
- 6 eggs at room temperature
- 7 egg yolks at room temperature
- 3.5 cups (420g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
sifted if lumpy
- 3 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cup (360ml) buttermilk at room temperature
- 1 recipe basil buttercream
- Dark Red and Renier Cherries with stems
- 1 pasteurized egg white
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C. Generously grease two half sheet pans, then line them with greased parchment paper.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium-high speed until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute.
- Turn the mixer speed to medium; add the oil, sugar, and vanilla; and beat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is light in color and about double in volume. Add the food coloring and continue beating, until the batter is a uniform color.
- Turn the speed to medium-low and add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, mixing each until incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the bowl after each addition.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt until well combined.
- Add one-third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed until combined. Add half of the buttermilk, mixing until incorporated. Repeat with another one-third flour, the remaining butter- milk, and then finish with the final one-third flour, scraping the bowl and paddle after each addition.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and spread evenly using a small offset spatula. Gently tap the pans on the counter several times to release excess air bubbles.
- Bake for about 20 minutes or until set in the middle when tested. Carefully rotate after 15 minutes, top to bottom and front to back if they don’t appear to be baking evenly. Allow to cool to room temperature. The cakes are easier to handle if chilled before assembly. Wrap cooled cakes and refrigerate them for an hour or overnight, can also be frozen for a week.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on low speed until it’s smooth and there are no lumps. Scrape down the bowl and paddle often.
- Add the butter to the cream cheese and continue mixing until smooth, scraping often. You want to make sure none of the cream cheese or butter is sticking to the paddle, or it may end up creating lumps. Mix in the vanilla, lemon extract.
- Slowly add the confectioners’ sugar and continue mixing until smooth.
- If the frosting is thin and soft, you may want to chill it to give it more body and allow you to fill and decorate with more ease. Just cover the bowl and refrigerate until the frosting is firm, up to 24 hours, then return to the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until smooth. Fold in chopped cherries. Use immediately or place in the refrigerator until ready to use. This can be made a day ahead.
- Using a 7-inch cardboard cake round, trace two circles of cake in each pan, for a total of 4 layers. Repeat with a 5-inch cardboard round. (To make sure you have enough for all of the rounds, lay out a map of where you will cut.)
- To assemble, using a metal spatula, carefully lift one 7-inch round from the pan and place it on the cardboard round. Cover evenly with about a 1/4-inch-thick layer of the filling. top with another layer of cake. Repeat with more filling, cake, filling and end by topping with the last layer of cake. Wrap the filled cake with plastic and put it in the refrigerator to set up while you do the same filling process with the 5-inch layers. Leave the two stacked cakes in the refrigerator to set up while you make the buttercream. The longer they have to sit, up to a day, the firmer and more stable they will be.
- Using a metal decorating spatula add the buttercream to the cakes, smoothing the sides, but keeping the top with a crown of the buttercream for drama. Refrigerate until the buttercream is set firm, at least an hour, but a few hours is better. You can do this step a day ahead.
- Use straws or thick skewers to add supports in the 7-inch layer that will act to hold the weight of the 5-inch layer when they are stacked together. Poke five straws into the cake (making sure they will be under the 5-inch cake round) and use scissors to cut the straw so they are flush with the top of the buttercream and will evenly support the weight of the 5-inch cake above. This is a process I go into more detail in the wedding cake section of Zoë Bakes Cakes.
- Sugared Cherries: Lightly coat the cherries with the egg white, wipe off excess, and dip in sugar. Allow to dry at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Place on the cake along with edible roses or other edible flowers.
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