the appetizer:

All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tested, Tasted, and Approved by the Staff of NPR's All Things Considered by Melissa Gray, includes recipes like Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake; Fried Pies; and Spanish Meringue Cake.


Dark Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

For those for whom plain red velvet cake is too jejune

Dark Chocolate Red Velvet Cake


Think of red velvet cake as devil's food that has been kicked up a notch. Like a lot of fancy-pants cakes, it's thought to be a Southern invention. Red on the inside, fluffy white frosting on the outside, it's "the Dolly Parton of cakes: a little bit tacky, but you love her," according to Atlanta food writer Angie Mosier. It was the signature dessert at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, but fell out of favor after WWII, when red food dye was believed to cause cancer. Thankfully, food chemists have gotten smarter, so red food dye is back in.

So is red velvet cake, thanks in part to that horrible 1989 film Steel Magnolias (starring Dolly Parton, interestingly enough). I HATED it. But there was a scene with an armadillo-shaped red velvet cake, frosted with gray icing. It was very tacky (like the movie) and blindingly red inside.

Jessica Simpson, a Texan, chose red velvet cake for her nonstick 2002 nuptials to Nick Lachey. On one level this is not surprising, because Jessica is a big Dolly Parton fan. Her cake, thankfully, was not shaped like an armadillo.

Red velvet cakes traditionally contain cocoa, though I have tasted some that didn't seem to. They were fine cakes, but not as good. Kind of like drag queens doing Dolly. Cocoa adds flavor and enhances the red color.

Quick question here: do you know why devil's food cake is called that? Some surmise that it's just so delicious that to eat it is a sin, but the late Supreme Master Extraordinaire of All Things Culinary and authoritative cookbook author James Beard thought it was named after its reddish tint. The tint is produced when cocoa is present in a recipe containing baking soda and an acid (such as buttermilk or vinegar), to which the baking soda reacts. According to one theory, prior to the 1920s, home bakers began adding beet juice or red food dye to exaggerate the redness of devil's food cake, and the result was red velvet cake.

I hate beets. I also hate red food dye because frequently red velvet recipes call for a whole bottle and if you're not careful, your kitchen will look like the crime scene from Fargo, with the KitchenAid mixer standing in for the wood chipper. And really, it doesn't take that much red food coloring to make a cake red. So I use half the recommended amount. Because I'm working with dark chocolate, my red velvet cake isn't blindingly red; it's more of a deep, chocolaty red, a shade down from burgundy.

The foundation cake for this recipe is from Southern Living magazine. I substituted sour cream for buttermilk. Originally, this cake called for unsweetened cocoa, but I love Hershey's Dutch process Special Dark Cocoa too much, so baking powder has been added.

After trying this recipe, if you want an easy, tasty, and very moist yellow cake perfect for frosting, simply skip the cocoa, baking powder, and, of course, the food coloring.

You'll Need

For the Cake

For the Frosting

To Make the Cake

1. Position a rack in lower third of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Prepare the cake pans.

2. Cream the butter in a mixer on medium speed, then gradually add the sugars, beating well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat until blended.

3. In a separate bowl, dry whisk the flour, baking soda, cocoa, and baking powder together.

4. Add 1 cup of the floured cocoa mixture and 1/3 cup of the sour cream alternately, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all the flour mixture and sour cream have been blended in.

5. Add the food coloring and beat well. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir up the batter at the bottom, then beat again.

6. Poor the batter into the prepared pans and place pans close to the center of the oven rack, but not touching. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake layers test done.

7. Cool the layers in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold onto cake racks to cool to room temperature.

To Make the Frosting

8. Cream the butter and cream cheese together at medium speed. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just incorporated.

9. Assemble and frost the layers in the usual way, frosting the sides last, after the crown.


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This page created January 2011