Experimental Food – My Red Velvet Cake Quest III

Back from the journey and back with a new trial on the red velvet quest!!! My journey away from the blog took me to my home country on short notice, allowing me to indulge in all the goodies (and avoid looking at the scales for a little while). ALL the trial cupcakes have been eaten previously. All the whole cake has been eaten prior to my trip. I have trusted friends, housemates and all the lovely people eating my foods!

Red Velvet Cake Testing

Red Velvet Cake Testing

Sometimes I catch them red-handed, approaching the food before the time, getting caught by my camera (see the sneaky hand in the picture!!). But beware, I want to test those ones I made this time with 3 (or so) types of frosting, so I need them still 😉 This is part III of the quest and again, the ‘final’ recipe will come, once I am happy with texture, colour, taste and all that. The base recipe experimental stage is again posted at the end of this post, with some tweaks mentioned in this post just below.


Red Velvet Cake Trial III As I mentioned in the previous posts My Red Velvet Cake Quest I and My Red Velvet Cake Quest II, I got uncertain if I had mixed things up, since I expected the cupcakes/muffins with beetroot to be redder than the ones without, but found it the other way around. The ones which I thought had the beetroot in it smelled a slight bit funny for a cake, so that assured me, but as things go, wishful thinking makes you believe the exact same wine poured out of the exact same bottle into different, same shaped glasses tastes different, if you put price labels on the glasses, add a nice or ugly label or simply make it look as if one came out of a wine blend box. Human psychology! Our brains ARE like that, so I gotta take that into account. That does not make one cake objectively more red or more funny smelling. Also, the recipe has been improved in the second run, so I started another trial (this is laborious ingredient separating and besides having a couple of cakes to distribute, I just wasn’t able to get around to it with all the things going on around me!). In this new trial, I used 3 types of sugar combination to see the effect on colour of the brown sugar. For these, I mixed up a plain ‘white’ velvet mix with white sugar for ‘background’ comparison, ‘semi caramel’ velvet with 1/3 dark brown sugar and rest white sugar and ‘caramel velvet’ with 100 % dark brown cane sugar. I split the dry ingredient mixes of the sugar types in half, keeping one half as it was and adding beetroot or different amounts of cacao to the other half of each type. For the remaining 6 cupcakes/muffins, I again made 3 mixes this time with white sugar only and different amounts of raw cacao.

Dry mixes for Red Velvet Cake

Dry mixes for Red Velvet Cake

Overview (per muffin/cupcake equivalent of 50 g dry ingredients besides sugar and cacao): In the picture, you see the sugar and sugar with beetroot/cacao in the top two rows, the different cacao concentrations with only white sugar in the bottom line. The mixes: 3 sugar variations (no cacao) White Sugar / Dark Brown Cane sugar / 20 g Dark Brown Cane sugar with 40 g White Sugar 3 sugar variations (as above) with additional beetroot or cacao 2 tsp beetroot / 1 tsp cacao / 2 tsp cacao were added Raw Cacao variations (60 g White Sugar each) 1 tsp / 2 tsp / 4 tsp In only noticed later that since the cacao for the sugar variations of 1 tsp and 2 tsp was added to half the amount of other dry ingredients compared to the raw cacao variations, it actually corresponds nicely to the 2 tsp / 4 tsp amounts in the line below. See the filled ramekins, ready to bake!

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Pre-Bake

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Pre-Bake

For the taste, I also again increased the vanilla amount to a whole bean. Now who’s eager to know the result? I AM – HAH! And I know it. Here we go: The beetroot mix stands out with a nice raspberry magenta colour, the white ‘control’ velvet does the same. The two shades of caramel come out nicely as well. The bottom line with the different cacao concentrations appears just to be different shades of brown here, even though when mixing, they appeared to red-flash. This may have just been wishful thinking though. Then I baked them. The beetroot one stuck out totally, with a raspberry tinge which could not be overlooked. I made perfectly sure not to mix things up, but as a backup, I had TWO of the most important ones, so I could double-check, if something would be questionable.

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked

Well, coming out of the oven, nothing looked too promising. Beetroot red, the rest brown to dark-brown apart from the ‘white’ and caramel controls. But, the ever-surprising chemistry in baking tricked me. Now look closely – can you see it – I mean REALLY see it?

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked Cut

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked Cut

The beetroot is actually greenish-tinged (what the holy apron?) on the inside, while the lowest raw-cacao concentration (on a full batch of the entire recipe, this is 6 tsp!) is REDDISH! YAY – DOUBLE YAY! I got it RED(ish)!!! Admittedly, this is slightly less strong than I personally expected, but the right type of colour, considering it is said to be anthocyanins (the same colour tinting fresh rose buds/shoots red and making the awesome autumn leaves red, also coming in shades of purple and blue, depending on the pH). It appears, increasing the amount of cocoa decreases the visibility of it, since the dark brown covers it up.

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked Cut I

Trial III Red Velvet Cake Baked Cut I

Well then – I’m very happy with this result! It appears I might have to go with a low brown-sugar concentration to still be able to make the red visible, but it should be feasible. I like the caramel taste! One question for me remains: If the people posting those other Red Velvet Cake recipes ACTUALLY use 5-7 g of salt per cake, why do they bother to use unsalted butter? More importantly, what has salt in such amounts got to do in a CAKE? Can someone clear me up? Is that just the ‘normal’ way to do in the U.S.? Leaves me to wonder. May have to bake one with such an amount of salt and see if it tastes as unpleasant as I imagine it or whether the recipe works with that. My idea is it becomes a sweet bread rather than a cake?

On a note: I changed from buttermilk with vinegar to milk with lemon juice, since it is somewhat easier to adjust the exact level of acid necessary for the colour turn.

Recipes on the web and Different Red Velvet Cake Philosophies

Red Velvet Cake really has some audience on the web it appears to me. And even bake-off’s with private tastings, rated and repeated, like here at ‘The Bake More‘ which I like much.

The Bake More Red Velvet Cake Taste Test

The Bake More Red Velvet Cake Taste Test

For some reason I could not find the bit where the newest entry was tested, maybe it is not there and I could also not find the earlier tests, which is sad. However, the cake recipes were nicely compared by placing them right beside each other and the results of the preference of a group of testers was given. Beside the fact that this group of testers may or may not have a preference formed by local prevalence (you like what you know is a common thing among humans), it inevitably helps me to gather information on what’s there and what I may like (and have to test out myself). 397d5-dsc_4454_stacked_cutThe two pictures from ‘The Bake More’ are great in that respect, as they give me an idea about (right) colour perception of the Red Velvet Cake from different people! I personally hold it with cacao-deep-dark brownish-red though! ‘Original’ is relative, in particular if the origin is shrouded in mystery! Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen (that’s her own name, I’m not insulting her 😉 ) has a nice page with a few recipes, where she explains the basics. These recipes remind me of my start in bread baking, where I had a crumbly crust, but for sure didn’t know that I had to ‘proof’ the bread right, what that meant and that bread is also HEAVILY influenced by the flour type I use. Hence, I really like Iris’s blog, helping to understand basics. Also, she reminded me of the fact that the tools I have are not necessarily the ones other people have and offering alternatives and things that work is more helpful in many cases, than having absolutely stunning pictures and food, which no-one can re-create. The Red Velvet Cake recipe she uses, ‘Cakeman Raven’s’ one, got recommended by The Bake More taste test, so I had a look. Aside from her using plain instead of cake flour, like most others I found as in Sara’s Secrets (Foodnetwork) Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake, it was similar to most others. So I had a look into cake flour. Apparently, you can ‘fmake’* it yourself! (*fake-make) You can make ‘Kate Flour’, described and ‘developed’ on ‘A Merrier World’ by Kate. It is a heat treatment for flour, which seems to make it very similar to U.S. cake flour, which is not available in many countries due to health concerns I understand. I shall try this at some stage, but since it ‘only’ affects texture, I will postpone this to later! Sometimes, I find there is a bit of a heated debate over recipes and what is ‘original’ and which one is ‘better’. Sure enough I don’t come from the U.S. let alone the South, but I have searched around for a definite ‘original’. It appears elusive. From believers of cacao being a must, to food colouring a must, to cacao ruins the cake to cake with plain or cake flour, from such-size-pan-only to toss-it-in-it’ll do to cream-cheese-howdareyouusebutter to Ermine frosting. While all these recipes have a certain appeal, so far I found the Rose’s recipe a bit blant I thought I’ll just chose my own ‘original’ (*coughcough) recipe and call it ‘The Original Feedwise Red Velvet Cake’ – thus, I get an original without claiming it to be from grandma Annie’s aunt* from the south of the U.S. (*made up name!)


The current state of the experimental recipe I use a Rose’s White Velvet Cake base recipe, with a lot of tweaks, since I want to get the without-added-colour ‘red’ velvet tinge going. Ingredients for the Cake

  • 240 mL milk
  • 4 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 vanilla bean scraping
  • 170 mL oil, sunflower or other low taste
  • 250 g plain flour
  • 50 g potato starch
  • 360 g sugar (white)
  • 6 g baking soda
  • 6 tsp RAW cacao powder, NOT dutch processed, various amounts
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 5 egg whites

I sifted and mixed all dry ingredients VERY well apart from the salt. Then mixed the milk with the lemon juice (to produce ‘sour milk’) and let it set for about 5 min. Next, I mixed all the liquid ingredients well apart from the egg whites. Then I have beaten the egg whites with the salt until very stiff. Mixing the dry with the wet ingredients well was followed by folding the egg whites into the mix. I baked at 170 °C for about 30 min until a skewer came out clean. No icing yet, this will come in my next post as a trial with different ones. Cream frostings in Germany have in my experience been mostly cream or a simple icing-sugar-water(or lemon juice) icing. Other icings become increasingly popular with cupcakes, muffins and other cake recipes splashing across the pond, but traditionally super-sweet icings are either very thin or not liked much. From memory, icings have a reasonably small portion of sugar to give the cream a faint sweetness, so unless you get a sugarcoat frosting, I am used to the cake doing the most of the ‘taste’ job and the cream doing the ‘moisten’ job mostly, or at least complement or contrast the cake taste. Thus, I will try different icings with my new cakes!!!

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