Some Like it Red Hot
For those that know her, it goes without saying that my sister, Lexi, is an inspired baker. Not only does she wield myriad tricks of the trade with prowess and might (think “Gastronomical She-Ra, Princess of Baking”), her time as a vegetarian and vegan have given her a unique perspective on the science and nutrition of baking. She knows her stuff.
Alas, I didn’t get that gene – I absolutely adore cooking, but baking – not ma’ thang. I’m pretty sure that I’ve set a cake on fire before. And yet, this recipe is the one that has proven to be my solitary ace in the hole. I have a crush on this one. A big time crush.
Lexi makes a fierce Red Velvet, both vegan and non-vegan, and she really should grace you guys with her recipes. She does it the right way – with beet juice and not sugar alternatives that harken back to the original creation of the cake. If you ever wanted to know the one time that I take a shortcut in the kitchen, this would be it. And I’m not ashamed, because when I came up with this one, I was floored by the results. The ingredients produce the moistest, airiest cake you could imagine – make this once and most other Red Velvets will pale in comparison for your enlightened taste buds. No hype there. It’s just that good. The only tricks that I employ are using an entire bottle of red food coloring in a box of instant german chocolate cake mix, and beating air like the dickens into the batter with my standing mixer. Only two tricks, and yet, the cake is like majesty.
Also, you’ll be making your own cream cheese icing, which is critically important. DO NOT buy cream cheese icing in the store – your cake will be wasted on it and it’ll only be regrettable. And please don’t even consider using vanilla or buttercream icing for this cake. That’s just some malarkey. The recipe for the icing is a little more than you need, but given that I am a poor icer, I like to have plenty to work with. And the extra works well if you don’t level your cake properly and it splits down the middle like the Grand Canyon. Fill the split with icing and call it a day.
SOOO, with no further ado, until Lexi graces us with her divine recipe, here’s the shortcut for us mere mortals.
Red Velvet Cake
3 8oz. pkgs of Neufchatel (or plain cream cheese if you can’t find any)
2 sticks of butter
1 lb. of confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp of cinnamon
2 tsp of vanilla extract
Begin by adding the eggs, oil and water as prescribed on the back of your cake mix box to your standing mixer and turn on low. If you are using a hand mixer, put the ingredients into a bowl and beat lightly. Sift the cake mix onto a piece of wax paper and use the paper to make a funnel. Gently pour the cake mix into the mixer along with the red food coloring. Let the goodness mix for a minute on low, and then crank up the speed to medium and beat for 3 minutes.
Spray three 8 in. cake pans with Pam for Baking (or butter and flour the pans) and get on the ready. Dole out your batter evenly amongst the three pans and bake in the oven at the prescribed temp on the cake box for 24 minutes. Make sure to check for doneness with a toothpick and then let the cakes rest on a rack until completely cool. Do not rush your cakes – if they are warm, they will make your cream cheese icing into a sticky mess. Regrettable.
While the cakes are cooling, fire up your mixer again with the butter and neufchatel (both at room temperature). Start on low and build to medium speed. Add the vanilla and cinnamon. Once they are incorporated, add the powdered sugar slowly (so as not to stir up a dust cloud of cloyingly sweet proportions). Blend until smooth and then turn off mixer. Lick the beater or give to a loved one.
When your cakes are cool, level them with a good knife and give the cake cuts to any loved ones that were neglected in the previous icing handout. Sometimes I roll up a cake cut with a little icing like a jelly roll and give to my hubby. But only if he plays his cards right.
Put a dab of icing on the cake plate and then put the first layer on top – this will keep the entire thing from wiggling on you. Ice the layer and pop another one on top. Repeat. Ice the top and sides and then let the cake hang a bit. If you didn’t have a steady hand for the leveling portion and your cake splits in two on top, ice the fault line and your guests will be none the wiser.
Serve to friends, and share the recipe with closer friends.