Red Velvet Cake – serves 12
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
A pinch of salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
2 tablespoons (one 1-ounce bottle) red food coloring (I use ordinary McCormick’s)
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
A pinch of salt
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. For the cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs together in a medium bowl. Mix the cocoa and food coloring together in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms.
2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add one-third of the flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and beat down the sides of the bowl. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cocoa mixture, then mix on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir.
3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake and and smooth with a spatula. For cup cakes, use a 1/4 cup ice-cream disher to portion into liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes, rotating the cake pans halfway through baking. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour.
4. FOR THE FROSTING: With an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in the vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to use.
5. TO ASSEMBLE: Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cardboard round. Spread 2 cups of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second cake layer on the top, then spread the remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Serve.
WHERE THINGS CAN GO WRONG: This recipe must be prepared with natural cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa will not yield the proper color or rise. Also, overcooking makes an acceptable, but much less flavorful cake. The difference between just right and over cooked is about 3 minutes, so careful monitoring during baking is needed.