National (Red) Velvet: a tragedy in five parts

I should have known.

After the trials and tribulations I went through to make that stupid Red Velvet Cake….

I should have known it was a bad omen.

I will never, ever, EVER attempt to bake on the day of the last regular season Duke-Carolina matchup.

I blame myself. Well, and Duke’s crappy (32.9%!!!) shooting. And Carolina’s ever-improving defense (15 blocked shots and 7 steals, compared to 7 and 3 for Duke.) And Duke’s 13 turnovers.

Whatever. I’m getting off topic

So. I finally made the red velvet cake. And I will never, ever, EVER bake at my grandparent’s again. Making Christmas dinner by myself was far easier that making a cake with my grandmother constantly hovering, offering “advice.”

Baking makes me neurotic. Seriously neurotic. I’m not very good at it, so it requires a lot of concentration on my part. When I cook, I wander away from things on the stove, I talk on the phone, I swill wine…none of that happens when I bake. I usually do it by myself, so no one has to deal with my crazy neuroses.

On to the show…

I used this recipe, figuring that since it was from the Magnolia Bakery, it couldn’t be too bad. I also immediately violated rule #1 of belmontmedina baking: FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS EXACTLY. As I mentioned earlier, Whole Foods didn’t have cake flour, so after a phone call to my mother (who is a wonderful baker) I substituted organic pastry flour. This would later come back to haunt me.

The recipe itself is pretty simple, if rather labor intensive. Everything needs to be at room temperature. In one bowl, you’ve got butter and sugar. Eggs in another. Baking soda and vinegar in another. Red food coloring, vanilla, and cocoa in another. Sifted cake flour in another. And buttermilk and salt in another. See what I mean?

First, cream the butter and sugar.
Add the eggs in one at a time.

Then, add the cocoa, vanilla, and food coloring.
I will stop here to detail tragedy number 1. I ran out of food coloring. I mistakenly, stupidly assumed that one of the little bottles of food coloring would suffice (you know, the ones that come in the four pack that you use to dye Easter Eggs) I mean, hell, a drop of it stained the dishtowel. And my hands. And my jeans. And possibly the floor. I didn’t really need that much did I?

Turns out I did. So with my grandmother “suggesting” away,

Grandmother: That’s too much butter!
Me: I’m following the recipe.
Grandmother: That’s TOO much butter. (beat) The vanilla’s over there.
Me: I’m not looking for the vanilla
Grandmother: It’s in the cabinet on the side. Right there on the side. RIGHT THERE. Don’t you see it?
Me: (testily) I’m not looking for the vanilla
Grandmother: What are you looking for?
Me: Food coloring
Grandmother: It’s on the top shelf
Me: No it isn’t. I used it all
Grandmother: Yes it is
Me: No, it isn’t, because I USED IT ALL
Grandmother: Oh. (two minutes pass) That’s too much butter.

I ran out the door and to the store to get more red food coloring. For future reference, Red Velvet Cake requires one and a half LARGE bottles of red food coloring.

After that, alternate adding the flour and buttermilk in three parts.

Then stir in the baking soda and vinegar mixture.

Here comes tragedy number 2. The recipe calls for a three layer cake, or cupcakes. I decided to use a bundt cake pan, reasoning that I might actually lose all my hair and turn into a babbling idiot if I tried to negotiate a layer cake. And my grandfather is not exactly a cupcake kind of man, at least not since I passed age seven. So, I went to grease and flour the pan. Only…there’s no Pam or cooking spray. No lard. No Crisco. Nothing but vegetable oil. **Sigh** I oiled and floured the pan, dumped the batter in, and stuck it in the oven.

Whew! Finished….

Except for the frosting. I had no idea frosting was equally labor intensive. I think I lost a small part of my soul making this cake. For the frosting, you mix milk and flour, and cook it for about 10 minutes over medium heat until it thickens.
Cover it with wax paper, let it cool to room temperature,
and mix it with sugar, a pound of butter (calling Paula Deen) and vanilla.
Then it must be placed in the fridge for EXACTLY 15 minutes (the recipe states, “set a timer”) and then taken out and used IMMEDIATELY.

So, after taking the cake from hell out of the oven,
I let it cool for an hour (my grandmother spent the entire time telling me it was going to fall because I hadn’t cooked it long enough,) while I made the frosting from hell. My timing (I thought) was great- I could unmold the cake while the icing was cooling or setting or whatever the crap it was doing in the fridge (hibernating? I have no idea) and then take it out, and frost immediately.

Only the cake from hell did not want to come out of the pan. Go figure. Time for tragedy number 3! I called my mother(who was at work,) which is what I do when anything goes wrong.

Me: It won’t come out of the pan.
Mum: Run a knife around it.
(10 min later)
Me: It still won’t come out.
Mum: Tap the pan.
(15 min later)
Me: It STILL won’t come out.
Mum: You tapped the pan.
Me: Yes.
Mum: And ran a knife around the sides.
Me: Yes.
Mum: And the inside.
Me: Yes.
Mum: And you greased it and floured it well?
Me: Yes
Mum: I don’t know what to tell you.
Me: (long, shuddering sigh)

After some pleading, cursing, and dumb luck, the cake from hell emerged from its home. About 30 minutes after I pulled the icing out of the fridge. Oh well.
So I frosted it,
and carried it into the den to show my grandparents. Whereupon it slid on the platter into my already-stained-with-red-food-coloring shirt, covering my left boob with frosting.

Great. Fan-fucking-tastic. Good thing I had almost an entire bowl of frosting left after I finished the damn cake.
I fixed it, wiped myself off, and dished out a slice for my grandmother. (My grandfather, asleep on the couch, took a mild interest before he rolled back over.) Enter tragedy number 4. I was betrayed by the flour.
Whatever sort of organic, made-by-virgin-Tibetan nuns-with-the-pure-snow-of-Mt. Everest kind of expensive-ass flour I bought at Whole Foods left my cake slightly dry and chewy. The flour was made with whole wheat I think, and still contained a bit more wheat than I would have preferred. It was only a little dry, but the light, yet chewy texture threw me off completely. Next time (Ha! like there will be a next time) I’m going with the bleached blonde version of cake flour.

At this point, I decided it was time to leave and find a bar and a lot of beer to watch Duke-Carolina.

Stupid cake even ruined my basketball game.

In short, here is what I’ve learned:
1) Never bake at grandparent’s house, or at least, never bake in presence of grandmother. EVER.
2) Whole Foods can suck it when it comes to baking supplies.
3) Follow your own rules- in my case, DO NOT SUBSTITUTE ANYTHING.
4) Buy red velvet cake from a reputable bakery. Screw making it on your own.
5) I miss Shelden Williams.

I know that’s only four parts, but if you can’t guess the fifth, here’s a hint. See the photo at beginning of this post.


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