She’s back, and she’s claiming her cupcakes. So said the message I received not too long ago from Tanima, and I was excited and anxious. Excited to see her, and anxious that the cupcakes I owed her better turn out well after the wait. I met Tanima two years ago at my first Christmas on the west coast, and found out quickly that she is glamorous, funny, and a wicked good cook. She was visiting Monisha from back East, and her visit and my new arrival made it a great opportunity to have fun around the area – including a weekend ski trip to Tahoe. Now, mind you, I can not ski. So, after a day of butt-hurting falls down the bunny slope I wanted to commune with nature’s cold wet blanket no more. So one afternoon I stayed in our cozy cabin, pumped up the jams way too loud (“Humpty Dance” NEEDS to blasted to be appreciated properly) and relaxed by baking up a batch of coconut cupcakes. These cupcakes are awesomely scrumptious, and they look like sparkling snowflakes so I always associate them with winter. When they returned, the group nibbled on them and then some more and then we were having a full-fledged cupcake party and were littered by little paper wrappers everywhere. Before she departed, Tanima promised to return for another west coast extravaganza, and that upon her return I was to make special delicious cupcakes to mark the occasion. We decided on red velvet cupcakes, because that seems pretty special and definitely delicious. These are those cupcakes.
I love layer cakes, but rarely have occasion to make them. Transporting and devouring three entire cakes requires a proper setting with a cast of accomplices. Hence, the plethora of cupcake posts on this blog (portable cake! individual servings!) So when B asked me to consider contributing a dessert for a family Christmas dinner with Anna and Pat, I was excited to make a glorious layer cake. A few things, though: it had to be festive so chocolate/vanilla boringness would not do. Also, I had not made a layer cake in years, so I needed a recipe that was fool-proof for a potential spaz like me. I could see a future with a gentle suggestion to bring something store-bought next time. Lastly, it had to be universally appealing, or rather – nothing too weird.
With this in mind, I have learned: in Paula we trust. I don’t know much about Paula Deen. However, I am aware of her position as the premier Southern food belle in popular American cookery. So, when I had decided that the perfect festive, straightforward, not-too-weird Christmas cake would be red velvet, I researched and researched recipes, and came up with Paula Paula Paula. I have made red velvet cupcakes before, and this recipe was closest to what I knew from them: red velvet is a cocoa-based cake but not chocolatey, the buttermilk tang is distinctive in its flavor, and although cream-cheese frosting is not traditional, I personally think it tastes best paired with the cake.
The recipe wasn’t difficult but I was initially worried with the results. I used no-taste red gel food coloring because the thought of an entire bottle of food coloring to produce the deep red color makes me gag. The gel is more potent, so you use less of it, and it doesn’t taste (as) chemically. I doubled the cocoa to get a deeper, richer flavor, which in turn made the batter more brown and the end result was mauve. Mauve velvet cake. After I baked two 9″ cakes, the layers were disappointingly thin, maybe less than 1.5 inches tall each. I was hoping for a tall towering cake, so I baked an extra layer – which was a completely different color mauve than the first two. Ah, bi-colored cake. That’s festive, right?
I froze the cake layers, then thawed and assembled them at Anna’s. Once unwrapped of plastic wrap and foil, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cakes remained moist, REALLY densely moist. In fact, it was messy to try to even the layers because of the stickiness of the cake tops, so my stacking of the layers was a bit lurchingly lopsided. It’s nothing that copious amounts of icing can’t fix! The icing was easy to whip up if you substitute a jar of marshmallow fluff for the melted ‘mallows. The result was easy to spread and the sweet marshmallow mellows the cream cheese nicely. The final cake was bi-colored, dense, mauve, not too chocolatey, sufficiently rich, moist, and I think, delicious.