Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kitsch Cake 101: Black Velvet Cake!

I went grocery shopping several days ago and I bought what I thought was everything I needed for Red Velvet Cake. I knew I had a 4 color box of food coloring in my pantry. What I didn't know until I was too far into making the cake today was that the red was EMPTY.
Actually, it wasn't so much empty as it was dehydrated. It was unusable. I tried to think of what to do next. My creative juices flowing, I mentally blended the remaining colors in my head, trying every conceivable combination of green, yellow and blue. It wasn't pretty. Blue Velvet Cake? Hmmm...maybe good for Elvis Presley's birthday next year, but not so much what I wanted to make. Yellow? Well, that just looks like really bright basic yellow cake! Green? Let's NOT go there. First thought: Moldy Cake. Green beer on March 17th is as far as I'll go with that color. There was only one other color I happened to have, and is was Black.
I kind of smiled when I thought "Black Velvet Cake". It reminded me of all things kitschy, but mainly it was my cake tribute to the ubiquitous black velvet painting. I love black velvet paintings. They're so awful, you have to love them out of feeling sorry for how horrid they are.
So black it would be. I started to wish I did have red food coloring. The next time I do, I want to make a three layer cake with alternating layers of black and red cake. Very race car...very euro...very "Top Gear", which incidentally was the show I've been listening to in the background all day. By the way that's a show about fast cars, not something you'd associate with cake, but somehow my weird thought process connected the two in what I imagined was a very exciting way.
Now anytime you work with food coloring, you have to be careful. I wasn't as careful as I should've been and I ended up with black fingertips, a black tongue (I admit it, I'm a bowl-licker! I think I've admitted that in previous blogs...) and if you aren't cautious, black drops on your counter or floor. (I had both). So before you even think about it, either put down a drop cloth or really plan to take your time and do not get distracted! Also, don't have plans to go out anytime before your tongue has time to return to its normal color.

Here we go with the recipe then. It's from "Cakeman Raven" from the Cakeman Raven Confectionery, NYC and was on an episode of "Sara's Secrets".

Southern Red Velvet Cake

(my version: Kitschy Black Velvet Cake)

Shortening for the pans

(dry ingredients)
2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1 1/2 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp fine salt
1 tsp cocoa powder

(wet ingredients)
1 1/2 C vegetable oil
1 C buttermilk at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 Tbsp. red food coloring (1 oz) Of course, I used black...
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows
Crushed Pecans (optional, for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly grease and flour three 9 by 1 and 1/2 inch round cake pans

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

Using a stand mixer (Kitchen Aid) mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Personal note: Do NOT rely on any old "cook til' golden" advice. If you use black food coloring, you won't see a change in color, but you'll notice the consistency is different once it's baked- it will look spongey. Same goes for if you make your cake the traditional red the toothpick test to be safe. Mine took just over 30 minutes, closer to 37.

Notice my cake layers aren't super black, but a nice rich dark color. It reminds me of dark chocolate brownies. All in all, I was pleased! But note how you can't tell if it's cooked through by the color at all, you have to do the poke test.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Another note: Don't skimp on the cooling time or frosting will be a nightmare. It will melt as you put it on, so trust me, be patient and let the cakes cool...a lot!

Here's what to do to keep you from messing with the cakes while they cool: make your cream cheese frosting.
Another thing about this cake, it's NOT for dieters! I watch what I eat and my weight constantly, but sometimes you just gotta' say: I DON'T CARE!
You could use fat-free cream cheese, but you still have to put 2 sticks of butter and 4 cups of confectioner's sugar in this frosting, so you know...why bother? Make it fattening, make it rich, then have a TINY slice (everything good in moderation is my mantra) then share it with friends & coworkers! They'll love you, you'll be every one's favorite and you won't feel guilty for eating a whole cake by yourself alone in your kitchen at 2am. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything...

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 pound (16 oz. or 2 packages) of cream cheese, softened
2 sticks of butter (1 C.) softened (unsalted, of course)
4 C. sifted confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, (or use a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer) mix the cream cheese, butter and sugar on low until incorporated. Increase speed to high, mixing until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (stop occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula)

Personal Notes: Do NOT turn your mixer to high until ALL the sugar is incorporated or your kitchen will be covered in fine white confectioners sugar dust. Not fun to clean. Also, let it go on high for the full five minutes. You'll be amazed how the consistency changes and develops. It goes from heavy to light, fluffy and gorgeous. If you only do three Put it on high and walk away -come back only to scrape down the sides after a minute or two but be sure to give it the whole five. I went as high as "8" on my Kitchen Aid. The highest setting, 10, seemed excessive. I didn't want to liquefy it.

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low, add vanilla, raise speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scape sides again occasionally). Store in refrigerator until somewhat stiff before using. May be stored for up to 3 days in fridge.

Now I'm assuming you've been patient and let your frosting chill and cake layers cool, so lets move on to the fun part.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer rounded-side down in the middle of a rotating cake stand.
My personal thought: Yes, because we ALL own one! Hey, here's my story- I don't own one. I just used a pretty platter/plate and spun the plate on the kitchen counter. No need to feel you have to be all fancy about it. I managed just find without the rotating cake stand, you will too.

One layer down, two to go.
Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. Spread enough to make a 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer. Carefully set the next layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish with chopped pecans if desired.

Last note: Since I didn't do a traditional Southern Red Velvet Cake, I didn't think my garnish should be traditional pecans. Again, I got creative and used what I had, which were some Valentine's-type little thingies.
My significant other asked (while he watched me sprinkle them on) "is it a Valentine's Day cake now?" I thought, well, it could be. I could call it the "My Black Heart" cake. Perfect for the non-romantic types! Romantic on the surface, black as night on the inside. I kinda' like it. It may become a Valentine's Day tradition!

So whether you want to call it a "Black Hearted" Cake, a Black Velvet Cake, or something you make up yourself, this whole experience today proves that even if you're out of a very important ingredient -for example red food coloring for a Red Velvet Cake, you can use a little ingenuity and imagination and come up with something equally fabulous! Have fun and enjoy the utterly devilish yumminess.


  1. OK, I have to admit I like your twist on it. Great idea! Might have to do this for hubby's b'day!

    Holly @ 504 Mai and hipweddings

  2. For my guy's birthday, I'm going to attempt to do a 3 layer version of this with one layer black, one yellow, one red...and the German Eagle on top so it looks like their flag! LOL! He was born there, so it's only fitting. : )