don't mind the weapon.

It's been a good while since I made a birthday cake, and even longer since I made a birthday cake that actually got eaten. I don't mean to imply that the cakes weren't delicious enough, but it's a matter of size. You see, a triple layer cake for a family of six takes days or even weeks to plow through, and by the time the wrapping paper has been recycled and the gifts have lost their initial sparkle the cake has gone dry and we end up chucking half of it into the garbage. So when a little birdie told me it was Nick's birthday this past Saturday and it just so happened to coincide with a happy church get together, I knew there must be cake. What's even better, the cake would actually be eaten thanks to the large crowd. Game on.

Now I had a leg up in baking this cake, I already knew that red velvet was his favorite and I thought for a birthday - knowing you've made it another year and to celebrate the coming of a new one - a person certainly deserves a homemade cake. There can be no cheating with a box mix or canned frosting - if you're going to do it, do it right. It's been a while since I made red velvet cake, and it's always traditionally been a neon red cake with a heavy cream cheese frosting. It was always a bit too much, a little too decadent, a touch too sweet. Somewhere along the lines, someone got the wicked idea that red velvet cake is nothing more than a Devil's Food recipe with a bottle of red dye poured in. A real red velvet cake, as far as I'm concerned, is a vanilla cake batter with a kiss of chocolate on the cheek. So when I found a recipe for a brick-red cake with a cream based frosting, I grabbed my car keys and bolted to the market.

Emily brought red and black candles because they're artsy and Nick is artsy and we struck up the Happy Birthday band as soon as he walked in the door. It was like being in a movie, I even got to stroll out of a secret backroom, balancing the cake in hand, trying to ignore the fireball of twenty-three candles threatening to ignite my hair. Really, it was far less glamorous than I'd hoped. I hadn't eaten dinner but I still managed to lick the frosting bowl so my hands were shaking from the rush of nerves and sugar. But no matter, we sliced that cake open and revealed the sultry red insides -I felt a bit embarrassed, really. It was like a little peep show having a cake that red. I'm blushing. Or as my friend Maria says, red velvet cake makes her all hot and bothered. I know how she feels.

So the cake recipe is fairly standard as far as cake recipes go, but the frosting had me clapping my hands and bouncing around on my toes in delight. Which sort of works out because I was still in my ballet tights but no matter, I'm sure my reaction would've been the same. Most recipes ask that you beat the hell out of butter and powdered sugar and pray it doesn't end up too grainy or overly sweet. I have nightmares over it, really. But this frosting - this frosting started on the stove top, a method I've only tackled once before to make a cooked frosting (which, incidentally, topped my red velvet birthday cake last year and wasn't all that yummy).

It starts with a bit of flour to thicken, sugar and lots of whole milk and heavy cream, whisked together until it coats the back of a spoon. Then you whip it up in the stand mixer until it's just cool to the touch and drop in diced cubes of softened butter until it's light and fluffy and swirly and you sort of want to slather it across your tongue and forget about the cake.( I desperately wanted to drop in a line about "beating it like a red headed step child," but that would be tacky. Even though it makes me giggle.) But hold fast, my little ones, because you'll be grateful for the fresh cream taste against the sweetness of the cake soon enough.

The original recipe called for a cinnamon cream frosting, but I slit open a vanilla bean and used that instead. I'm not quite sure I'm ready to throw all caution to the wind just yet.

Red Hot Velvet Cake
Adapted from Baked

One 8-inch cake

Red Hot Velvet Cake Layers:

1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red gel food coloring (see note below)
1/4 cup boiling water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda


1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Red Hot Velvet Cake Layers:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder, food coloring, and boiling water. Set aside to cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and shortening until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir the buttermilk and vanilla into the cooled cocoa mixture. Sift the flour and salt together into another medium bowl. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture, alternating with the cocoa mixture, to the egg mixture in three separate additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until incorporated. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and baking soda and stir until the baking soda dissolves; the mixture will fizz. Add to the batter and stir until just combined.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes onto the rack, remove the pans, and let cool completely. Remove the parchment.


In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the sugar and flour together. Add the milk and cream and cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter; beat until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and cinnamon and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, transfer the bowl to the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is the proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

Assemble the cake: Place one cooled cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups of the frosting on top. Top with the next layer, trim and frost the top, then add the third layer. Put the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting. Frost the sides and top with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with the Red Hots and refrigerate again for 15 minutes.

Note: Resist the urge to add extra food coloring to this recipe to achieve a redder cake. Subtlety is a virtue here. The purpose is not to turn the cake or the tongues of the cake eaters a radioactive color. The red in this recipe should be sly, smoky, bricklike, and restrained.

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