Friday, August 20, 2004

Red Velvet Hearts

Several years ago I met a guy from Miami on the internet via a dating website. He seemed like a really decent guy, and according to his profile, was planning to visit Australia the following month. With the intention of meeting him on his trip, I struck up an email correspondence with him, in which I asked him what his favourite kind of cake was. He told me he preferred Red Velvet Cake above all others.

I'd never heard such a thing! So I set about digging up a recipe for this mythical beast on the internet (oh, great library of cyberspace!). I came across several different instructionals but struck one that seemed quite reasonable. I discovered that red velvet cake was a chocolaty-butter cake which was coloured a deep red by no less than seven fluid ounces of red food dye.

Red food colouring, in my opinion (and the opinion of many scientists) can set off an episode of hyperactivity in normally sedate kids. That's why people with ADD kids should keep them away from raspberry cordial, red lollies or red iceblocks at all costs! The food dye sends them off their tree. I downloaded the recipe and put it in my file, afraid of what the consequences of creating such a scientifically incorrect cake would be. With so much red food dye in it, I'd have to ask everyone to sign a waiver before putting a single crumb to their lips, basically indemnifying me against untypical fits of mania or lapses into extreme states of hyperactivity which could ensue as a result.

Never the less, I went in search of the red food dye. In my heart, I knew Pillar Box Red was the one I was after. But in the city where I live, no supermarket was so insane as to stock such an item. They sold rose pink and cochineal, but no Pillar Box Red could be found. It wasn't until I paid a visit to my family in the Western Suburbs of Sydney that I struck gold. Red gold, that is. There on the shelves of Coles was an unending supply of red food colouring. Were they stupid, I asked myself? Then a thought occurred to me: city kids have a low incidence of ADD. Yet there is a high concentration of kids that suffer from the disorder and its more manic sibling, ADHD in the outer lying suburbs of the greater Sydney area. Why then was a food product like red food dye so easy to get in the very place where it could be deemed as having the most detrimental effect?

I bought the red food dye, I took it back to my home in the Eastern Suburbs, and put it in the cupboard. I let the Red Velvet Cake recipe languish.

But when a friend asked for a special Christmas cake, the image of a blood red cake covered in crispy snow white icing, decorated with green sugar leaves immediately sprang to mind. I asked my friend was anyone in her family allergic to red food colouring? She said no. And with that, I embarked on my first Red Velvet Cake.

Like all recipes, I found it flawed - for no reason other than it took four bowls to create the darned cake, which when you don't have a dishwasher, is annoying to say the least. I've modified that recipe substantially. And I now make the cake in miniatures, which does a lot to ease my conscience.

By the way - that guy from Miami never came to Australia. Turned out his profile was out of date by more than a year. He'd already BEEN here when we met - sheesh!

125g butter
1 cup castor sugar
2 eggs - as fresh as possible
2 cups self raising flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa
1 bottle red food colouring (7 fluid ounces)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Prepare 15 individual sized heart shaped cake tins (available from any good department store) by greasing and arranging on two cookie trays.

2. Place butter, sugar, eggs, flour and milk in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until all ingredients are roughly combined. Then increase speed to seven (three quarters of the way to high if you don't have a Sunbeam Mixmaster) and beat for five to seven minutes. Mixture should become creamy, glossy and thick.

3. Pour red food colouring into a 1 cup Pyrex jug. Add cocoa and mix together until cocoa and liquid form a thick red paste. Be patient - you need to do this slowly, mainly because it takes a while to wet the cocoa, but also because if you flick the food dye onto anything it honestly WILL look like someone was murdered in your kitchen. And be careful - it stains!

4. Scoop red cocoa paste out of jug and add to cake mix. Beat on slow to combine, then increase speed to ensure colour is evenly distributed throughout. Use a scraper to ensure no white mixture is left on the sides or bottom of the bowl. Then add bicarbonate soda and mix thoroughly for another minute.

5. Drop one tablespoon of mixture into each of the heart shaped cake tins. Tin should be no more than half full, otherwise you'll end up with an over risen and possibly misshapen cake.

6. Bake in moderate oven for 30 minutes. When done, run a knife around the edge of each tin, then loosen each cake by hand and turn out of tin onto wire rack. Allow to cool completely.

7. To make filling, combine 65gs butter with 1 and 1/2 cups of icing sugar mixture and 1-2 tblsp of milk in a small bowl. Beat with an electric mixture until ingredients are completely combined and mixture is pale and creamy. Filling should be thick and have the spreading consistency of butter.

8. Cut each cake in half crossways. Spread top half of cake with 1-2 tsp of filling. Sandwich onto bottom half of cake. Continue until all are filled. Dust tops with extra icing sugar to create a snowy white effect. Makes 15 cakes which keep for five days.

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