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A Red Velvet Valentine






I grew up hating Valentine’s Day. If you were born on or around a major holiday, then you also know the pain of sharing the spotlight during a time that’s supposed to be for you. Reservations are impossible to get, friends and family can be busy with their own plans, and any last-minute gifts tend to have a very…distinct theme around them. Case in point, somewhere around my tenth birthday. I peeled back the lid of a box, hoping to find a doll I’d wanted, or maybe a new dress from the local WalMart. But I found myself caught in the glassy dead-eyed stare of a small white teddy bear. In its hands was a plushy heart, and across that heart, the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” were stitched in white. I was, in a word, devastated


It wasn’t entirely about the gift. We never had much growing up, so it was important to be grateful for what you had. But imagine being a kid, born on St. Patrick’s Day, and getting a wind-up leprechaun for a birthday present. Or maybe a bright shiny egg for Easter. It felt like being told, “I don’t know you at all, but I know that this holiday is coming up and you must like it a lot because you were born right next to it, so here ya go!” Despite my best attempts not to let it show, moments like those always made my heart sink a little because they made me feel like I wasn’t worth celebrating (although, I was a middle child, so there’s probably some extra pathology baked into that feeling as well)


But no matter how bad I felt on my birthday, I know that Christmas babies have it waaaay worse. My heart goes out to anyone who has to make room for a day that’s supposed to be all about them into a time where selflessness and frantic family get-togethers are practically built into the schedule of the season. But there was something about that time of year that I had absolutely no problem sharing the spotlight with…a great big Red Velvet Cake. In my family, it was one of those extra special (and extra occasional) treats that you found yourself counting the days for. Perfectly soft crumb, luscious chocolate flavor, and extra gooey cream cheese icing. Quintessentially Southern. Momma hit it out of the park every time she made it, and like Christmas itself, it was always a shame to see it disappear again.


I suppose that’s why, as I got older, I started merging the two ideas together. After all, my birthday was only two months after Christmas, and it always felt like a good time for Red Velvet Cake. Plus, I was a grownup now; who was gonna stop me?! So I started working on my own recipe, and it soon became a new tradition to spend my birthday whipping up a fresh Red Velvet Cake…with incrementally more cream cheese frosting over the years, somehow. And before long, I started to realize that I was letting go of my old grudge with Valentine’s Day. It became a time to look forward to, and an opportunity to relive a small piece of my childhood.


That’s another reason why I love baking so much. The right treat can do so much more than just taste good or remind you about a good time in your life. It can also change your outlook on a part of your life that you’ve come to remember as not-so-good. By marking a holiday that I hated with a cake that I loved, I turned a time that I’d come to dread into a time that I sort of, kind of, liked! That’s a powerful kind of magic to me…one that I never take for granted, and I look for every chance I can to share it with others.


Now, if only I could magic away all those packed reservation lists too…





Red Velvet Cake

Makes 2 8” cakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 cup buttermilk, shaken 

1 tablespoon Red Velvet Baking Emulsion (see notes for substitution)

1 teaspoon white vinegar 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 1/2 cups sugar 

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature



  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 

  • Prepare 2 8” Cake tins with a mixture of butter and shortening. Add parchment rounds and flour well.

Mixture 1:

  • In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Mixture 2: 

  • In a large measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Set aside.

Mixture 3: 

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1 minute, until light. 

  • Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. 

Putting it all together:

  • Keep Mixture 3 in the bowl of the stand mixer on low speed, add half of Mixture 1, stir to combine. Add all of Mixture 2, stirring to combine. And finally add the remainder of Mixture 1 and mix until combined. Stir with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is mixed. 

  • Divide batter in half between the two pans. 

  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean



Notes:

  • If you are unable to find Red Velvet Baking Emulsion, you can substitute Red Food Coloring.




Cream Cheese Icing

Makes enough to ice 1 8” cake

½ cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature

2 blocks (16oz) of cream cheese, room temperature (see notes)

1 bag (16oz, 1 pound, or 3 ½ cups) of powdered sugar, sifted

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract


  • Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter together until completely combined. 

  • Add powdered sugar in two parts, stirring to combine in between. Add vanilla. Stir until combined. Slowly bring up to medium speed and whip until combined and creamy.


Notes:

  • The cream cheese has to be absolutely room temperature in order to combine with the butter. If it’s not too hot in your area, or you have air conditioning, leave it out overnight.

  • If the mixture is too soft, add powdered sugar to it, 1 tablespoon at a time. If too stiff, add room temperature milk, 1 teaspoon at a time.

  • This icing is great for icing a cake but can be too soft to pipe. See below for an easy to use, pipeable cream cheese icing.




Pipeable Cream Cheese Icing

Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups

½ cup (2 sticks) of butter, room temperature

½  block (4oz) of cream cheese, room temperature (see notes)

2 ½ cups of powdered sugar, sifted

2 Tablespoons of Heavy Cream

½ teaspoon of vanilla extract

⅛ teaspoon of salt


  • Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, mix the cream cheese and butter together until completely combined. 

  • Add powdered sugar in two parts, stirring to combine in between. Add vanilla. Stir until combined. Slowly bring up to medium speed and whip until combined and creamy.

Notes: 

  • If you want to color the icing, use gel food color so it does not dilute the icing.

  • The cream cheese has to be absolutely room temperature in order to combine with the butter. If it’s not too hot in your area, or you have air conditioning, leave it out overnight.

  • If the mixture is too soft, add powdered sugar to it, 1 tablespoon at a time. If too stiff, add room temperature milk, 1 teaspoon at a time. 





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