When you have a friend who will put up with incessantly being called “Pattycake” without complaint they deserve a birthday treat fitting of such a name. When Pat’s 25th birthday rolled around I decided not one but two “pattycakes” were in order (red velvet, and an apple-ginger concoction). Two somewhat sloppily frosted (I could use a LOT of practice) layer cakes and a lot of booze and cake-fueled smiles later, there was a clear winner in my cake runoff. The people had voted with their forks, and simplicity and nostalgia won out, with only scraps of red velvet cake leftover.
Previous to trying this recipe my flirtation with red velvet cake was but a brief encounter on my 21st birthday, by way of Sprinkles, and while the intention was fittingly sweet (a surprise cupcake, clearly a friend who knows me well) I was left wanting a bit more. I just didn’t get the hype, and largely still don’t, but will argue that a good slice of red velvet cake does in fact exist.
Traditionally, red velvet cake has but a token amount of chocolate flavor, which can get a bit lost when paired with the more overt flavor of cream-cheese frosting. I aimed to remedy this, creating a cake that was as pleasing to eat as to gaze upon. Despite my initial ambivalence, my stained-red tongue said it all. Punched up with a hearty amount of cocoa powder I found myself sneaking far more hefty spoonfuls of batter than were necessary for quality control.
I think we all got our annual dose of red food coloring!
To sum it up: red velvet cake FTW
A bit macabre, no?
I wouldn’t describe this as an all-out chocolate cake, but the flavor is much more apparent than traditional red velvet cake. The large quantity of cocoa powder necessitates a rather insane amount of food coloring to punch up the color; I cut the quantity in half and found it sufficient, but it still will seem like much more than you need. I also doubled the frosting recipe – I found out the hard way that I needed more and was whipping up a second batch of frosting shortly before guests arrived.
Adapted, just barely, from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook by way of Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 3 9″ cake layers
3 ½ cups cake flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch-process)
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 cups canola oil
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 tbsp red food coloring (1.5 ounces)
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ¼ cup buttermilk
2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp lemon juice or 2 ½ tsps white vinegar (whichever you have on hand)
16 oz cream cheese, at room temp
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350°.
Prepare 3 9″ round cake pans by greasing the base and sides, lining with parchment paper* and then flouring, taking care to tap out excess flour.
Sift together the cake flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a mixer or large bowl combine the oil and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, and blend until smooth. *Carefully* (as it will stain) add the red food coloring. Add vanilla extract. In two additions add the dry ingredients and buttermilk. Mix until just combined. In a small bowl combine the baking soda and acid of choice (lemon juice or vinegar), add to cake batter, and mix until just combined.
Divide cake batter between pans; you can eyeball this, or use your trusty kitchen scale to split evenly. Bake in oven until the centers are springy and a toothpick tester comes out clean – roughly 25-35 minutes (check after 25 minutes and adjust accordingly).
Allow layers to cool in pans for 20 minutes to set up, then invert cakes and remove parchment paper; allow to cool completely before frosting.
While cake layers cool, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (you could do this by hand, but I wouldn’t recommend it) beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla salt and one-third of the powdered sugar; beat until fully incorporated. Add the remaining powdered sugar in two batches, beat until no lumps of powdered sugar appear.
To frost: place the bottom cake layer on whatever you will be serving it from (cake pedestal, cake board, plate, etc). Put a small dollop of frosting in the center, and spread out using an off-set spatula. You need less frosting here than you will initially think, too much and it will ooze out of the layers (as seen below). Place the second layer on top of the now frosted base layer, repeat frosting procedure, and then add the top layer of cake. Apply a “crumb-coating”** of frosting, chill cake for 30 minutes and then add the remaining frosting. Decorate as you wish (I melted chocolate and piped it through a plastic bag with the tip cut off).
*For detailed instructions on how to make your own parchment circles and prep a cake pan
**For a more detailed explanation of frosting technique, and other cake tips check out this excellent primer on layer cakes by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. I wish I had read this first, my cake frosting technique leaves a lot to be desired, and is largely the reason that there are no pictures of the finished cake (that and I forgot to take the pictures as I was having too much fun).
Perhaps a bit too heavy-handed with the frosting between layers…