Monday, November 5, 2007

Red velvet scandal.

The first time I had a red velvet cupcake, I wondered where the red color came from. Blood red strawberries? Overripe raspberries? I remember thinking. And then I looked up a recipe.

Oh, it's just food coloring. Lots and lots of red food coloring.

This didn't wig me out, oddly enough. I continued happily indulging in red velvet cupcakes whenever I got the chance. And finally, I decided to try making my own.

Now this recipe, by Elisa Strauss in The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, calls for a whopping 6 tablespoons of red food coloring for a 3-layer, 9-inch cake, equivalent to about 3 1/2 dozen cupcakes.

While I was collecting the ingredients, I pictured myself buying a bunch of those tiny little food coloring bottles that are readily available in any grocery store. Then it came to me -- a cake supply store, duh.

I arrived at Orange Novelty Cake Decorating and asked for a bottle of red food coloring.

"Do you want the airbrush food coloring or the gel paste?"
"Um.. what's best for red velvet cake?"
"Probably the gel paste, since it's more concentrated."
"Okay, I'll take that, then."

I should have also asked, "What is the gel paste to liquid food coloring ratio?"

(.... Yeah, I'm sure any pastry chef or red velvet cake veteran reading this can imagine what happened next.)

So later when I started making the cake batter, and when it came time to add the red, I thought, Okay, since the recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of liquid food coloring, 3 tablespoons of this stuff will probably be good.

I started with a single tablespoon. And then another.

Hmm. This batter doesn't look dark red enough.

I hate it when red velvet cupcakes are pink. They're not called PINK velvet! I like dark red velvet cupcakes. So I start to squirt more food gel in, a little at a time. When I decided to stop, I still wasn't satisfied with the color and felt that it was too light. But by that time, I was becoming disturbed at how much artificiality was going into these cupcakes.

(My pastry chef cousin later told me as I was telling her this story, "Yeah, the baked cake is always much darker than the batter." That would have been nice to know before I had started dumping gobs of red into my batter.)

Anyway, so I baked the cupcakes and was delighted to find that the cakes were moist, sweet, and a deep red color. It was one of the most delicious cakes I had ever made and tasted.

But as time went on, I became increasingly worrisome: What are the health disadvantages to artificial food dye?? My paranoia prevented me from thoroughly enjoying my cupcakes, which is very sad to me.

Later I found out that I used something like 6 times the amount of red food gel that I actually needed. Needless to say, I've had my fill of red velvet for probably the next year, and next time I will be making just "velvet cupcakes." Without the "red." Because the red is only used to dye the cake and not add to the quality of it, the cake will still be luscious and tasty.

But here's the now infamous recipe:

Red Velvet Cake, Elisa Strauss, The Confetti Cakes Cookbook
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (or 3 ounces) LIQUID red food coloring OR start with 1 teaspoon red gel paste at a time
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
2. Place oil and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two patches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
3. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
4. Divide batter among 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans, or fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way full. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes for layer cake or 12-15 minutes for cupcakes. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

After going on and on about the cake, I haven't even mentioned the icing. This delectable marry of whipped cream folded into mascarpone and cream cheese is what saved the day. Thanks to the New York Times (Feb. 14, 2007) for coming up with this killer combo. I recommend using an electric hand mixer to whip the cream, and a food processor to combine the other ingredients.

Red Velvet Cake Icing, John Doherty with John Harrisson, The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook

2 cups heavy cream, cold
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 ounces mascarpone
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. Softly whip cream by hand, in electric mixer or in food processor. Cover in bowl and refrigerate.
2. Blend cream cheese and mascarpone in food processor or electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, pulse briefly, and add confectioner's sugar. Blend well.
3. Transfer cream cheese mixture to bowl; fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate until needed.

And there she is. Naked, violated, and bleeding.

And yes. This baby stained. Everywhere.

* * *
Orange Novelty Cake Decorating
3625 W. Macarthur Blvd. #305
Santa Ana 92704


Heather said...

Thanks for this post. I realize it's almost 5 years old but I am going to be making a few red velvet cakes and there seems to be a shortage of the liquid food color in my area (!!) I have the gel paste and the Americolor stuff but one can never find how much of it equals a tsp. of the liquid. This is most helpful!

Steph said...

Thanks for this post! I was just having the same dilemma and found your blog through a google search. You saved me from using 6 TB of gel food coloring too! They turned out great!

Inez Valentina said...

Heather and Steph:
Thanks for your comments (Heather, I'm sorry for responding so late!). I'm glad this post helped somewhat. :) Steph, those cupcakes turned out GREAT! And what a fabulous shower!