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
- 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.)
(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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
Frost 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.)
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:
And they came out like this:
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.)
And there you have it. Enjoy.