Red Velvet Cake with Basket Weave

Red Velvet Cake is a decidedly Southern treat. According to the NYTimes it originated in Texas in the 1940s, but red velvet cake spread to the rest of the south and then found it’s way north. I first heard about it from my stepmother, who is from Alabama. Her mom made it for her when she was young and now I make red velvet cake for her at her birthday. I think this recipe, which is adapted from Sarah Kieffer’s white cake recipe from her book The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, is the best one yet. It is not a traditional take, but the results are tender and tasty, with a beautiful color. I just added cocoa for flavor and color, red food coloring (otherwise the cake is not red velvet) and a bit of vinegar to keep the color as cheeky as possible. I always pair red velvet with cream cheese icing (which is one of the classics), but if you are going to attempt this basket weave finish (see my video on instagram to watch how I did it) I would suggest going with a buttercream icing, which is much easier to pipe and less temperamental in a warm kitchen.

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Cassata – Sicilian Ricotta Cake with Pistachio Marzipan

This cake makes me think of sitting on the porch swing in my Italian grandmother’s lanai. It was about 1973 and I would have been 6 years old and eating something sweet and spring-like. She had hanging baskets of flowers dangling from the ceiling from elaborately woven macramé; in shades of orange, chartreuse and  gold. I’m sure I was eating Jell-o, but it should have been this cake, with its basket weave icing and magical candied fruit flower. Ok, truth be told, my grandmother isn’t Italian, she didn’t have a lanai, I just like the word, and there probably was macramé, but I don’t actually remember any. But, this cake makes me wish all these things were true. Not only is it visually stunning, but the cake is so delicious I licked the plate clean.

I really made the cake with my friend Bret, who I’ve known since I taught my very first baking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill about 13 years ago. He is a dynamite chef and baker, and I love playing in the kitchen with him. We decided to make this classic Italian ricotta cake after seeing it on the pages of Saveur magazine, just in time for Easter. (more…)

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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? (more…)

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