One of the best things about growing up in Michigan, for me, was being brought up as a passionate fan of the Detroit sports teams. Similar to the economy in Detroit, it seems that lately the Pistons and the Lions have seen better days. And don’t even get me started on the tragedy that was the dismissal of the 3-time WNBA championship winning team, the Detroit Shock, now the “Tulsa Shock.” But, there is one sports organization that we can always count on for consistently impressive wins, guaranteed trips to the playoffs year after year, and more Stanley Cups than you can count on two hands, the Detroit Red Wings.
The start of the NHL Playoffs has brought about mixed emotions for me. Excitement, of course. A little nervousness at times. But most of all, a longing to be near the excitement in Detroit and the team that I love. A small group of us hockey fans from Michigan get together to watch Red Wings’ games from time to time here in DC, and it seemed only appropriate that we be together to watch the Wings tear Phoenix apart in Game 1 last Wednesday night and celebrate what is sure to be a great playoff season for our team. I wanted to bring something that was somewhat Red Wing-themed for my friends to munch on while we watched the game, but couldn’t decide which direction I wanted to take. While considering a few options, another friend of mine came to me in search of a good red velvet cake recipe. Red velvet! While I was without a ‘go-to’ recipe of the red velvet persuasion, I jumped on the opportunity to do a little recipe testing. And red velvet cake seemed like a very appropriate treat to serve to those fans of the best team in the whole wide world.
Although I’ve made a few red velvet cakes in my day, I was having a hard time recalling any really great red velvet recipes that I’d tried. And as I didn’t want to pass along a mediocre recipe to my good friend, I decided to try three different cake recipes (baked into cupcakes) paired with three different frostings and have everyone vote on their favorite of each. In the red velvet playoffs, the frostings included a traditional cream cheese buttercream, a non-traditional, white chocolate-cream cheese ganache and my favorite marshmallow frosting. I chose three very different cake recipes that called for three different types of vinegar, amounts of cocoa, amounts of sugar, and different food color mixing/pasting techniques. The tested recipes were the Magnolia Bakery’s recipe, an adapted version of Martha Stewart’s recipe and, as a wild card, Bobby Flay’s red velvet recipe. For those of you who don’t tune into the Food Network and don’t know who Bobby is or why his recipe is a wild card, I’ll explain. Bobby Flay, although a world renowned chef, specializes in Southwest flavors and cooks most famously with different varieties of spicy peppers. He is, in no way, famous for his pastry skills. A while back, however, he challenged a New York City pastry chef and baker of an award-winning red velvet cake to a “Red Velvet Throwdown,” during which, a panel of judges deemed Bobby Flay’s red velvet cake the winner. I was curious as to how his simple recipe beat out that of the famous “Cake Man Raven,” and decided to try it out for myself. And, to my surprise, Bobby’s Throwdown-winning cake was also winner of my little red velvet recipe battle, overwhelmingly receiving the most votes by far! I will include two frosting recipes, as votes for the best were split between the buttercream and the ganache, with my yummy marshmallow frosting receiving only one vote… mine. I think the hockey fans must have just been reluctant to vote for anything resembling “icing.” (Sorry, I had to.)
The delicious, luxurious texture and flavor of Bobby’s cake is outstanding. Red velvet, indeed. And, while the other two recipes had me sifting cake flour, splitting vanilla beans and concocting red-coloring pastes to be mixed into intricate batters, Bobby’s recipe was refreshingly straightforward and simple. I think you’ll be surprised as to how easy it is. Almost as easy as sweeping the Coyotes in Round 1 will be for the Red Wings.
The Ultimate Red Velvet Cake
Inspired by: Red Velvet Cake & the Detroit Red Wings
Adapted, just barely, from Bobby Flay’s “Red Velvet Cake,” Throwdown With Bobby Flay
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons red food coloring
1 ½ cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
recipe yield: 1 three-layer 9-inch cake, or 36 cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with papers or prepare three 9-inch cake pans by lining them with parchment paper and buttering and flouring the bottom and sides of each pan. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamed, about three minutes. Add in the oil and continue to cream for another couple minutes until the sugar has dissolved into the mixture. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and the food coloring and continue to beat until the mixture is homogeneous and the color is evenly incorporated.
Slowly add in 1/3 of the flour mixture to the batter, mix well, and then add half of the buttermilk, again, mixing well afterward. Continue to add the other two batches of the flour mixture alternating with the remaining buttermilk, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition. In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and the red wine vinegar, and add the mixture to the batter. Mix well until the vinegar mixture has been incorporated and the batter is smooth.
Spoon the batter into the cupcake papers or divide it evenly between the three prepared pans. Bake cupcakes for about 18-20 minutes or until the cakes are just set and are slightly springy to the touch. Bake 9-inch round cakes for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool cakes in the pans on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pans and allowing to cool completely.
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Ganache
This rich, smooth, slightly whipped ganache is absolutely delicious and was actually slightly favored over the buttercream during the taste tests. As a ganache, its’ thinner texture is probably better suited for covering cupcakes than for spreading in between layers of a full 9-inch cake.
12 ounces white chocolate chips
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar
Prepare a double boiler fitted with a medium glass bowl containing the white chocolate chips. As the chocolate is melting, in a seperate, small, heavy-bottomed saucepan place the softened cream cheese (broken up with a wooden spoon) and the ¼ cup heavy cream. Put the saucepan over medium-low heat and, constantly whisking, allow the cream cheese to break apart and melt into the heavy cream, being careful to keep it moving and not allow the milk or cheese to curdle.
Once the cream is smooth and hot, add a small amount into the melted chocolate and stir. If the chocolate beings to seize, the cream is not hot enough. Return the cream back to the hot stove top, turn the burner on low and don’t panic! Use an electric mixer to try and smooth out the seized chocolate mixture. Once the chocolate is as smooth as you can get it and the temperature of the cream mixture is brought up, slowly add small amounts of cream to the chocolate and continue to beat until it has all been added and is beaten into a homogeneous mixture. Allow the smooth mixture to cool slightly before covering it and refrigerating it overnight.
Once the chocolate-cream cheese mixture has chilled, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out and soften at room temperature. Once it has become manageable, start to whip the mixture until desired consistency is achieved, adding extra heavy cream if necessary. Slowly add in the confectioners’ sugar and beat until combined. Depending on the consistency the ganache is whipped to, it can either be piped, spread, or poured onto the cakes or cupcakes, or, the top of the cupcakes can be dunked directly into the bowl of ganache.
The stiffer texture of this frosting makes it an ideal choice for spreading in between layers of 9-inch layer cakes, or for piping decorative patterns using a pastry bag and tip.
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature 2 tablespoons heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ¼ -4 cups confectioners’ sugar
In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy and soft (about 3 minutes). While mixing on a low speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary and continuing to add in the sugar until desired consistency and flavor is achieved. Drizzle in the heavy cream and vanilla extract and increase the mixer speed to medium-high. Beat buttercream for another minute or so, or until fluffy.
Transfer to a pastry or plastic zip-lock bag to pipe onto cakes, or, use an angled spatula to spread on cupcakes or on and in between layers of 9-inch cakes.