Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Red Velvet Cake 

2 ¼ cups sifted cake flour (sifted first, then measured—not self rising)

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup buttermilk, well shaken

1 tablespoon red food coloring

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened preferably by leaving on counter overnight

2 large eggs

Frosting

2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened preferably by leaving on counter overnight

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened preferably by leaving on counter overnight

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ cup melted and cooled white chocolate

Garnish

2 cups pecans, toasted and ground (see note below)

1 teaspoon nutmeg

Preparation:

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter (or spray with non stick cooking spray) two nine-inch cake pans.  Cut parchment paper to fit into bottoms of both. Position parchment on bottoms of pans.  Either butter the parchment or spray with non stick cooking spray.  Dust each pan with one tablespoon of cocoa powder and set aside.

Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cayenne and salt into a bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla.

In stand mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar until well blended.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternatively with the wet ingredients in 3 additions.  End with the dry ingredients. 

Divide batter between pans.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes. Turn cakes onto greased wire racks.  Remove parchment. Cool completely.

For Frosting:

Beat butter and cream cheese well using electric mixer.  Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until smooth.  Stir in melted white chocolate.

Place one cake layer on serving platter, flat side up.  Spread one cut of frosting on cake and top with second layer.  Frost top and sides of cake.  Refrigerate. 

For Garnish:

Toast pecans in a 350 degree oven until fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Let cool and crush in the bowl of a food processor until finely chopped. Toss with nutmeg.  Garnish top and sides of cake with nuts. 

Tips:

Softening butter and cream cheese: Preferably, this should be done overnight on your counter.  If you simply do not have the time, I would suggest softening in the microwave on the lowest power setting 30 seconds at a time until a soft consistency is achieved. The butter and cheese MUST be softened for the frosting because of the propensity of the butter and cheese to form unattractive, little lumps. 

Toasting pecans: Preheat the oven to 350F.  Place the pecans on a sheet pan and place in the oven and do not walk away for 10 minutes.  The pecans have the propensity to burn in an unattended oven.  As soon as you begin to smell them, they are done. 

White chocolate:  By adding the melted and cooled white chocolate to the frosting, you pump up the butterfat content (cocoa butter) without actually adding butter.  In addition to the subtle flavor of the white chocolate, the frosting will firm up in the refrigerator.  Melt the white chocolate on low power in the microwave.  Cool until warm to the touch.

Cake flour: Do not purchase a self rising cake flour.  The cake flour that is referenced is in a box and is labeled cake flour (Swan’s, for instance is a brand name).

Red Velvet

I’m such a tease.  For my February column (phillyburbs.com) I will be writing a piece on Red Velvet Cake and its effect on me. When I say effect I mean the near obsession I had with this cake last summer. From what I considered a rather bland cake vis a vis flavor, with just a few additions, it was truly transformed.  Read on:

The color red has long been associated with the holiday celebrated on the 14th of this month–Valentine’s Day.  Red abounds everywhere….red roses, red candy boxes and this month’s recipe, a mouth watering Red Velvet Cake.

 

“This is like the best thing I have ever tasted,” said my friend Lisa Capruso at a casual gathering this fall.  She was referring to the Red Velvet Cake which thinking back, never appealed to me as a having that kind of potential. “What could be this cake’s draw?”, I thought.  Basically a buttermilk cake with a small addition of cocoa powder, I was certain that the subtle flavorings would render this Southern favorite, well basically, flavorless. Boy was I wrong. 

 

The irony is that in this butter based red cake, it’s the subtle flavor of every ingredient, including the icing which, when tasted, tantalize the taste buds for more! I enhance the flavor of the cocoa powder by adding a hint of cinnamon and cayenne. After icing and garnishing with crushed pecans and if you like, chocolate curls, the cake is ready. 

 

History? Well, legend has it that prior to the introduction of the more alkaline Dutch processed cocoa, the interaction between earlier cocoa powders and the sometimes addition of vinegar would turn the brown cocoa powder into a red tinged color (read: Red Velvet).  Mashed beets also served to enhance the color of this cake when foods were being rationed in the WWII era. 

 

The blueprint for this recipe came from Bon Appetit years ago.  I of course made a few modifications because no recipe gets past me that can’t be made even better!

 

For Valentine’s Day or any day beyond that, it’s sure to have anyone who tastes it come back for more!  But to get the recipe…come back on Feb 1st!

The Big Easy

January is for Jambalaya

 

Several years ago, we spent New Year’s Eve in The Big Easy…New Orleans. To say it was fun would be an understatement. In that it was New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, not only were we ringing in the New Year with the expected New Year’s revelers, but being that the Sugar Bowl was being played, tens of thousands of additional fans lined Bourbon Street for a raucous night of partying and debauchery. As they say about so many cities, “What happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans.”

 

On a morning when most of The Big Easy was sleeping it off, our travels took us to The New Orleans School of Cooking where we enrolled in a one-day cooking class covering all things Cajun. The star attraction that afternoon was Jambalaya, a Cajun creation which, as legend has it, mimics the Spanish Paella. I can see the similarities.  In a one pot preparation, chicken, sausage, trinity, roux and rice are combined to make a stomach sticking, soul warming concoction whose taste is well, so uniquely southern. You all remember Trinity and Roux from my first column right? If not see my notes below for a refresher course!

 

The word Jambalaya is actually a combination of three roots.  “Jambon” is the French word for ham.  “A la” is of course the French phrase for “in the style of”. Finally, there’s ya, which is the African word for rice.  All together now—Jambalaya. 

 

In a basic preparation that could not be easier, Jambalaya is very forgiving.  Of the hundreds of recipes for it, this recipe is but a blueprint. It’s a great starting point for additions like seafood or vegetables and in that the dish is so organic in nature (add in, take out) it begs for experimentation. 

 

What follows is a brown Cajun Jambalaya rather than a red Creole Jambalaya, which includes tomatoes.  Personally I love the taste of the brown roux without the addition of tomatoes, but if your instinct calls for tomatoes to be added, feel free to do so by adding a small can of chopped tomatoes into the mix.

 

This recipe serves 12, so if you are feeding a small army, it’s perfect.  If you have  smaller group, feel free to halve it.  Enjoy!

 

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

4 chicken breasts with bone attached

1 ½ pounds smoked Cajun sausage or Andouille sausage, cut into ½ inch pieces

 

Trinity:

4 cups finely chopped onion

2 cups finely chopped celery

2 cups finely chopped green bell pepper

 

1 tablespoon garlic

1 heaping teaspoon Cajun seasoning (available in all spice sections of the Supermarket)

5 cups low sodium chicken stock

4 cups long grain rice

2 cups chopped green onions

 

1 stick of unsalted butter (optional and see note below)

 

Preheat the oven to 400F. In a large Dutch oven that is oven proof place the oil and add the chicken pieces, turning to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and roast the chicken pieces for about 30 minutes until cooked through. The juices should run clear at the end of cooking. Remove the pot from the oven and let cool. Do not remove the drippings. Take the chicken off the bone, shred the chicken into small pieces and set aside.

 

Place the same Dutch oven over medium heat and sauté the sausage in the chicken drippings until lightly brown. Remove and set aside with the chicken. Into the chicken drippings, oil and sausage drippings that remain in the pot, add the flour and cook until the flour takes on a light brown color, about 4-5 minutes. This is of course the roux that will flavor the Jambalaya. 

 

Immediately add the Trinity (onions, celery and bell pepper). Season with salt and pepper and sauté to your desired tenderness.  This is where your instinct comes in.  If you like crunchy vegetables, cook for just a minute or two. If you prefer the vegetables to melt into the Jambalaya, sauté them for 4 to 5 minutes. The vegetables will sweat out their liquid and release any brown bits on the bottoms of your Dutch oven. 

 

Add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so to release the garlic flavor without burning it. Add the Cajun seasoning and 5 cups of stock and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Add the rice, chicken and sausage.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as you wish. If you are using a spicy sausage remember that the cayenne pepper in the sausage may add spice to the Jambalaya so season accordingly.

 

Cover and cook for a total of about 25 minutes. Taste the rice grains for doneness (see below) and then scatter the green onions on top and stir gently.  Cover again and let the residual heat steam the green onions.  If adding butter (see note below), do so now. Serve.  

 

Serves 12

 

NOTE: Towards the end of cooking, taste the rice grains to see if tender. If they are not, add up to one additional cup of stock to continue to steam the rice until tender.  Rice has qualities that sometimes require you to taste and adjust through the cooking process, and this is one of those times.  Since we have added so many additional ingredients, and since rice itself has qualities that require more water or less water, this is just one of those times when you have to taste and adjust as you go along. 

 

NOTE ON SEASONING: In this preparation, seasoning is so important because the liquid that is the basis for the Jambalaya will ultimately flavor the rice.  So that being said, it is so important to season and taste as you go along with a nod to the completed dish which will take on the flavor of the liquid.  My point is that if you over season the liquid, the rice will absorb that seasoned broth and over seasoning in this preparation is not a bad thing because the rice goes in without any seasoning whatsoever.

 

NOTE ON SAUSAGE:  This is one of those occasions when I think smoked Cajun or Andouille sausage works perfectly.  Find it in the smoked meats section of your grocery store. 

 

NOTE ON TRINITY AND ROUX:  Trinity is the traditional combination of onions, bell peppers and celery and is a variation on the French “Mirepoix” of onions, celery and carrot.  Roux is the result of caramelizing flour in bacon drippings or lard or vegetable oil in order to flavor the later addition of stock or water.

 NOTE ON ADDING BUTTER:  I like to add one stick of unsalted butter at the end of the cooking process.  After I scatter the green onions on top of the Jambalaya and stir it, I add one stick of butter and let the residual heat melt the butter.  The creaminess of the butter in the Jambalaya adds another dimension of flavor that I just love.  Although not traditional, the creamy texture that results reminds me of an Italian risotto.