When my brother and I were children, we lived in a one television household. As horrifying as this may seem nowadays, it actually worked out quite well as the family enjoyed the viewing pleasure of Italian news programs, the Muppets, hockey and Sesame Street.
Television life, in general, was good.
Of course every now and then, the television gods would throw us a curve ball. For my brother and I, that came in the form of the "old movie". Being children, this meant anything that was in black and white, involved cowboys or – the horror of all horrors – had subtitles.
For the children in my family, Gone With the Wind was considered to be by far the worst old movie. This was due entirely to the fact that it was soooooooo loooooooong. Being allowed to watch television for only an hour a day at most meant that having the television monopolized by a movie that was over four hours in length seemed grossly unfair. Yet despite our most heart-rending pleas to forsake the movie in favour of Kermit and Miss Piggy, the answer was always the same. Gone With the Wind is on. We’re watching. Deal with it.
So, right around my eleventh year, I finally decided that if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em. I sat my glum self down resigned to a night of hoop skirts and Southern accents. But as often happens in life, all it takes is a single moment to change your outlook forever. After one brief glimpse of Scarlett O’Hara flouncing around in yards and yards of beautiful material, with that floppy hat on her head and all those Southern boys clamouring for her attention, I felt transformed. In that brief moment I knew that my destiny was to be a Southern belle.
Try explaining that one to your Italian family. It became clear, very quickly, that a corset and big hat with a bow weren’t in my near future.
I fell in line comforting myself with the fact that my mother’s side of the family being from Southern Italy meant that I was already a Southern belle … of sorts. Of course my "Southern belleness" came with garlic, tomato sauce and kerchiefs wrapped around the head.
As time went by, I became resigned to the fact that the Old South just wasn’t in the cards for me. That is until I read an article about New York’s Magnolia Bakery and the famous Red Velvet Cake. I’d never heard of this dessert before and so knew little about its origins. But as I read more about it, it became apparent that the ubiquitous Red Velvet Cake may have been born in the Southern states. I’m not sure why, but I attached myself to this speculation like Scarlett grabbing on to a new dress.
Red Velvet Cake gets its name (as you may have already guessed) from the deep red colour of the cake’s crumb. While there is much arguing over how the cake gets its colour (some think it has to do with the reaction between the cocoa and the buttermilk that some recipes call for), the fact is that most of these cakes are red thanks to the use of red food colouring. Some sources indicate that when Red Velvet Cake was first made, cooks would have used beets to colour the batter.
In pursuit of this cake, my first idea was to go to New York and visit the famed Magnolia Bakery and of course try some Red Velvet Cake. Well the trip to New York hasn’t quite happened yet. So I finally decided that it was time for me to make it myself and take one step closer to claiming my rightful place as a Southern belle.
Happily, Red Velvet Cake was accepted as the challenge for the month of March by the Daring Bakers. For those of you that are familiar with our baking group, the Daring Bakers was started by Lisa and myself back in November 2006 when we decided we’d try our hand at pretzels. Since then, we’ve been joined by more and more bakers each month. In addition to Brilynn, Helene, Peabody, Jenny, Veronica, Hester, Mary and Tanna, we are joined this month by Freya of Writing at the Kitchen Table, Jen of The Canadian Baker, Morven of Food Art and Random Thoughts, Pat of Feeding My Enthusiasms, Mary of The Sour Dough and Valentina of Trembom in English.
And for this month’s challenge, the cherry on the sundae has been the beautiful logo designed for us by none other than Ximena of Lobstersquad. If you haven’t already been enjoying Ximena’s delightful illustrations, then you should be ashamed of yourselves! Especially since her blog is one of the most well-written and witty sites out there. Ximena, the Daring Bakers thank you. (I wonder how well Red Velvet Cake would hold up if mailed to Spain???)
Unlike previous challenges, we had a difficult time deciding on which recipe to use so we all tried the recipe that we preferred. I chose (of course) to try the recipe from More from Magnolia. Making the cake couldn’t have been simpler as this is a very standard cake that uses butter, flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt and buttermilk. While I rarely use food colouring in baking, it was fascinating watching as the batter went from a creamy colour to a deep red. I’ll admit, my inner Southern child was quite delighted.
Because I wanted to bring this cake to a function I was attending, I decided to make cupcakes as they are easier to transport (for me) than a three-layer iced cake. The cupcakes baked beautifully and while the colour lightened slightly, they still remained a deep red. To adorn my beautiful red cupcakes I made the Creamy Vanilla Frosting, also from More From Magnolia. But being Southern, I just had to make sure that my cupcakes would be the most beautiful girls at the ball so I reserved some icing and used a few drops of red food colouring to tint it a lovely pinkish colour. I whipped out the piping bag and dolled my little cakes up.
The cupcakes were very good. They had a strong cocoa flavour but they were not at all heavy. The frosting was also just right for these cupcakes as they cake itself is was not overly sweet so it’s a good base for the frosting. And they were just so pretty to look at!
Now if only I could find my bonnet and parasol, I’d take my little cupcakes out for a walk and bask in the glow!
Note: This was the first time that I made this cake so I did not adapt the recipe in any way hence I’m not posting it. However, More From Magnolia is a lovely baking book so I do recommend it. It has a number of delicious recipes (besides Red Velvet Cake) so its worth it if you’re looking for a cookbook on sweets. I followed the standard recipe and then baked it in two muffin tins which yielded 24 cupcakes in total.
Take a look at what the other Daring Bakers did with their Red Velvet Cakes:
Brilynn: Well it Certainly is Red
Helene: Red Velvet Cakes …
Peabody: Don’t Wear White When Eating This…
Jenny: Exploring the Red Velvet
Veronica: A Daring Cake for Daring Bakers
Hester: March Challenge: Red Velvet Cake
Mary: Red Velvet Cake
Tanna: Yes, It’s Really RED
Morven: Daring Bakers Do Dallas
Pat: Post not up yet.