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Red velvet dessert is piece of cake

 The crimson filling and airy, butter-cream frosting make a Red velvet cake a huge hit.
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Date published: 6/6/2007



Despite the recent backlash against parents who turn their children into hipsters, my wife, Izabela, and I decided to go all-out trendy for our son's second birthday.

We're not talking $35 T-shirts with "The Clash" emblazoned on the front. This was a much more serious decision.

There would be no Elmo cake in our house--the boy has more Elmo than we can handle. Instead, Izabela said, "Throw caution to the wind, honey, we're making a super-hot dessert: red velvet cake."

"What will people say?" I replied, worried that we'd be thought of as bad parents.

OK, I didn't say that. What I really said was, "Sounds great. I love the movie 'Blue Velvet.' Let's do it."

The inappropriateness (and flimsiness) of the connection between the sadistic "Blue Velvet" and my son's birthday aside, the red velvet cake was a hit.

And it's easy to see why a supposedly regional dessert--many say it started as a favorite in the South--has been transformed into a national phenomenon.

It really is an impressive sight with its shocking, rich red layers separated by billowy white icing.

At least that's what it's supposed to look like. The cake we made for the birthday party looked more toxic red--let's call it Elmo red--than "lush." So Izabela insisted we try again.

There would be no messing around with recipes the second time: I went straight to one of the places responsible for making the cake universally popular, The Magnolia Bakery in New York.

A red velvet cake is neither a chocolate cake or a yellow cake with red dye. It's made with cocoa, which should be noticeable but not the dominant flavor. Magnolia gets the color right in their cakes and cupcakes, a deep chocolatey red.

Karen Hirsch, director of operations at the bakery, says it's the reaction between the cocoa, cider vinegar and the red dye that gives it its unique complexion. It's extremely inviting.

I felt in good hands: Magnolia makes about 16,000 cupcakes a week in the homey corner store in the West Village, and red velvet is the No. 1 choice, Hirsch says.

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RED VELVET CAKE WITH CREAMY VANILLA FROSTING Makes one three-layer 9-inch cake.

For the cake:

3 cups cake flour (not self-rising) cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 2 cups sugar 3 large eggs, at room temperature 6 tablespoons red food coloring 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 1 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoons salt 1 cups buttermilk 1 teaspoons cider vinegar 1 teaspoons baking soda For the frosting:

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 cups milk 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened 2 cups sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Procedure: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

To make the cake: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not over beat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

When the cake has cooled, spread the frosting between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake with creamy vanilla frosting.

To make the frosting: In a medium-size saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, 10-15 minutes. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. In a large bowl, on the medium high speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well. Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on the medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes (no less and no longer. Set a timer!). Use immediately.

Recipe from: "More From Magnolia" by Allysa Torey, Simon & Schuster, 2004, $27