Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake.

closeup slice

Slice...of heaven.

Remember the 2.5 Rules in the Palace Kitchen?

DELICIOUS, and SIMPLE.*

* Or, to whatever extent not simple, well worth any extra trouble.

Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake falls squarely within sub-caveat 2.5: it is not simple, but well worth the extra trouble.  If you can follow this recipe, what you will end up with is the best goddamn Red Velvet cake, ever.

I can say this with a pretty high degree of certainty.  There was a period several years ago when my friend Marcos Luis and I were on a mission to taste every slice of Red Velvet cake that we could get our hands on – and we got our hands on a lot of Red Velvet cake.  After our months-long, painstaking, torturous investigation, we arrived at one inescapable conclusion:  Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet cake is far and away the best goddamn Red Velvet Cake, ever.  It was so good, in fact, that its limited availability provided almost enough motivation to uproot the entire Palace operation and relocate it to Brooklyn, just to be within walking distance of his shop.  But happily for all the Palace minions, it turns out that one can find the good Mr. Raven’s recipe online.

Upon perusing this recipe, readers with any baking experience whatsoever will probably disagree with the assessment that it is not simple.  (Or, more likely, laugh their freaking asses off that anyone, anywhere, could find it the least bit challenging.)  But please keep in mind that some of us (ahem) are so far behind with respect to anything that can remotely be called “experience,” that the word “inexperienced” does not come close to describing our plight: what we need here is an English word for “anti-experience.” To wit, when I first read this recipe I made a shopping list – but not for any cake ingredients:

…Lightly oil and flour three 9 by 1½-inch round cake pans (buy three 9 by 1½-inch round cake pans)…  In a large bowl (purchase one large bowl) sift together (acquire one “sifter,” whatever that is…) the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder (you know, maybe I should also pick up some measuring cups & measuring spoons?) … In another large bowl (procure YET ANOTHER large bowl.) whisk together (wait, can’t I just use a couple forks or something instead of a “whisk”?) the oil, buttermilk, eggs… Using a standing mixer (“standing mixer”?!!! WTF?!), mix … bake … invert onto a cooling rack (think I can just use that plastic screen thingy on the front of my air conditioner instead of a cooling rack?) … Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand (Rotating cake stand? ROTATING? are you fucking kidding me?) …

Perhaps now you get the picture.

Nevertheless, we battled valiantly through all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles – albeit with some improvisation that you will be happy to hear did not employ the use of any air conditioner parts.  And it was well worth it. So, without further ado (there has already been plenty of ado):

Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake
(with Iris’s notes in italics )

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (I’ve accidentally used baking powder to no ill effect. You may recall that this is, after all, an idiot’s kitchen…)
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder (use 4 teaspoons for a deeper red color.)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, + oil for the pans (I use canola.)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Crushed pecans, for garnish (or walnuts, pressed around sides of cake after icing.)

CAKE:

Red Velvet Cake

YUM.

(Note: the night before/several hours before making the cake, set out the buttermilk, eggs, cream cheese and butter so that they are room temperature. Also note: for bright red cake, follow the recipe as is.  For a deeper crimson color, increase the cocoa powder to 4 teaspoons. )

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly oil and flour three (9 by 1½ -inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. (Sift these ingredients twice – Mr. Cakeman himself recommended doing so on this cooking show. After sifting, whisk the mixture in the bowl so the dry ingredients are well blended. )

In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. (Mixer with whisk attachment, on medium for 1½ mins. - your mixing and baking times may vary.)

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed. (Put splash guard on mixing bowl, speed on low, and add dry mixture gradually. When the mixture is no longer powdery, stop the mixer and scrape the sides, then mix on medium 1½ – 2 mins.)

Cooling Cakes - layers do not rise very much

Cooling Cakes: layers do not rise much

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the three pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. (This is not possible in normal-sized ovens: the Cakeman says put 2 pans on one rack all the way toward the back of the oven, and the third pan on another rack all the way toward the front – or vice versa.)  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking (turn each one 180 degrees in its place, without changing the front-to-back-of-oven position), 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. (My oven = done in 23 mins.  I set a timer for half the time and rotate the pans 180 degrees. Also note: this cake does not rise very much; it is very moist and dense. If you want a higher cake, make a double batch and add more layers.)

frosting multiple layers

Make multiple layers for higher cake.

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. (Instead of using a plate to transfer the cakes to racks, I use a large, flat metal lid covered with a sheet of waxed paper.)

FROSTING:

Frosting. Prepare to DIE of happiness.

Giant bowl of frosting. Prepare to DIE of happiness.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. (approx. 1½ mins.) Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (additional 3 mins.) (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). (additional 1 min.) Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake. (And then some. For a double batch of cake, i.e. 6 layers, make 1½ times the frosting recipe. You will still have a freaking ton of frosting.)

Frosted cake with candlesFrost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans. (Cakeman vehemently disagrees, but walnuts work deliciously well. I press the crushed nuts around the sides of the iced cake, and leave the top white. Also note: the cake tastes best at room temperature; although I store it in the refrigerator, I let it sit out for a while before serving it.)

frosted cake

Voila.

CUPCAKES:

To make cupcakes, I follow the basic recipe exactly, except that I do not garnish with nuts.  Yield = 24 cupcakes. I filled the batter to this level:

cupcake batter

And they came out like this:

36 Red Velvet Cupcakes (1.5x the recipe)

36 Red Velvet Cupcakes (1½ times the recipe)

For my niece’s Halloween/Sweet Sixteen birthday party, I promised to make her a tower of Red Velvet cupcakes. We told her friends they were Blood Cupcakes (Hope you guys like Type O Positive!). I found liquid candy blood bags at a Halloween shop to hang off of the tower.  It seemed to do the trick: we had a contest for scariest costume, which yielded this write-in nominee: “the cake.” (Picture below.)

Tower of Blood Cupcakes

Blood Cupcakes

And there you have it.  Enjoy.

22 thoughts on “Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Cakeman Raven’s Red Velvet Cake.

  1. Hi Iris…I saw your post in today’s Glenn Greenwald’s letters section and followed the link here.

    Based on what you wrote there and what I’ve read here, I think I’m in love.

  2. Welcome, willb. I’m flattered. But maybe you should put that drink down, and take a big step back, away from the bar. ;)

    Speaking of Greenwald, how annoying that I posted the vastleft cartoon before he did in his update? His updates don’t have time stamps, so I just look like a copycatting schmuck. *sigh*

    I listened to your internet radio station this morning for a few minutes – sounds great! I’ll tune in again this evening.

  3. That’s actually not the original recipe. In his original recipe that I printed from his website years ago, Cake Man Raven used cake flour.

    • Hi Jade. I use the same settings I do for the layer cake: 23 minutes at 350F. BUT the Palace’s oven tends to run a bit hot, so I would recommend doing the clean toothpick test the first time you make them. I’ve also taken to garnishing them with a single giant pecan half. Hope you enjoy!

      • Thanks for the tip! I have to bake 132 cupcakes … dividing red velvet and chocolate. Appreciate the reply back!

  4. Thank you for posting, one of my most favorite cakes and your delivery is priceless. ….a good laugh & good cake recipe : )

  5. I can’t believe that there are others out there who were on a quest for the best Red Velvet Cake also! Iris…my co-worker, Frank (MY Marco Luis) and I have been on this journey for at least 8 years! lol We have tasted every slice of red velvet on this side of the world! Hands down we have come to the same conclusion, that Cake Man’s is #1. Every other slice gets compared to his and NONE of them have matched up. (Although Frank ranks the version from “Baked” in Brooklyn as pretty high.) Some are too chocolately, some are too sweet, some too blah… But Cake Man’s ratio of cake to frosting is perfection. You’re right, the unavailability of it lends to the mystique and also the rationing of it when you’re at the bakery buying it is hilarious (there was a 2 slice limit!) and there was a $5 penalty to pay if you wanted to buy a whole cake in store (without calling two days ahead of time…gasp!) Sadly, they have moved the bakery…to many different rumored locations, none confirmed yet. Please let us know if you and Marcos come across any cake that rivals “OUR” favorite!

  6. Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are
    just too wonderful. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really
    like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it.
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  7. Hi if you are ever in Atlanta area there is “Piece of Cake” bakery My daughter froze a red velvet and I defrosted it a few days late and it was heaven. for NY it’s All Cake Man!!

  8. Given so much about a recipe’s success depends on how the flour is measured, can you please share your technique of measuring flour – dip and sweep, sprinkle and sweep, weigh, etc.? Thanks so much!

    • so much about a recipe’s success depends on how the flour is measured

      WHAT?!!!! It does? Why was I never informed of this?

      can you please share your technique of measuring flour – dip and sweep, sprinkle and sweep, weigh, etc.

      Um. *ahem*

      I hold up one a them there measurin’ cup things with mah left hand, and holding the bag of flour with mah right hand I pour flour into it—boldly at first, almost as if I don’t even give a shit, but then I gradually transition to a gentle sprinkle as it fills up. When it looks to be about one cup-ish, I dump it into the sifter. Repeat. Repeat again.

      I hope this is helpful.
      -Iris the Idiot.

      • Thank you. If you really did not know this, test it and find out! Your method of gently sprinkling flour vs. dipping the measuring cup inside a flour bag can have as much as 2 oz variation when weighed – and can impact how dense your cake/ bread can become. I learned this the hard way when my yeast bread was a beautiful piece of brick! Here’s information on measuring flour: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/measuring-flour.html
        Thank you again – and happy baking!

  9. Thank you, bbiswas!

    My “technique”—if one can even call it that—has at least been consistent over the years, which is probably why I’ve been getting consistent results. Also, I always use the same brand of organic unbleached flour, which probably helps too.

    [*adds kitchen scale to shopping list*]

  10. I’m a bake from the box kinda guy (and even then I can really screw things up), but if anyone wants to prepare this for me, I’d happily eat it. Not sure what benefit you’d get from that, other than my eternal gratitude…
    On a related note, a coworker at a previous job baked red velvet cake *cookies* that were absolutely delicious, and I wish I could have more of them.

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