Entry 27: Cake Expectations

Hello Koala fans!

I’ve just arrived back from Centre Parcs after a very nice week away with the family. Usually, when we visit Elveden, we hire out bicycles as a means of getting around. As they didn’t have any Koala sized bikes for hire, my small furry friend was forced to seek alternative means of transportation:

"Get the hell off me."


However, a few days prior to departure, it was my mum’s birthday and in what seems to be a slowly growing tradition, I made a cake for her. The recipe for this one comes from a book I’ve used before called the Clandestine Cake Club. The pictures for the cake looked very dramatic and I thought it would make a nice showpiece, in addition to a few other bits and pieces I’d arranged. Unfortunately the full details of the recipe aren’t listed on the website but this photo is pretty close to the one in the book:


As the name suggests, a red velvet cake is distinguished by having a vibrant red tint to the sponge. Looking at the picture plus a few others on the internet, I was curious to see how they could create the colour without the colouring affecting the taste. After all, the prettiest cake in the world isn’t much fun if you can’t eat it as well. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been holding fire on the Rainbow cake idea, especially after a lot of feedback from folks about poor taste and texture. Anyways, that’s a possible project for the future. Let’s get started:

The Koala was just dye-ing to find out how well the cake would turn out.

The Koala was just dye-ing to find out how well the cake would turn out.

As always, after assembling the ingredients, the first step is to preheat the oven. This was going to be an experiment of sorts because the oven at my folks place is gas rather than the electric fan oven I had at the flat. So rather than 180*C, I’m now getting used to these weird and arcane “Gas Marks”. Apparently this cake required 6 of them.

Dry ingredients, dry humour.

Dry ingredients, dry humour.

The dry ingredients – the cocoa powder, baking powder and flour were combined first and stirred up. So far, so vanilla. The red velvet cake uses an extra ingredient to make the sponge and it’s not one that’s appeared in any of my previous cakes. I wasn’t sure what role the buttermilk would play – my initial guess is that using the food colouring would dry out the sponge and the buttermilk offset it. Or it might have been a way of ensuring the colour spread out evenly.

Dr Oetker and I clearly disagree about what constitutes "red".

Dr Oetker and I clearly disagree about what constitutes “red”.

Yeah. Bright pink. Radioactive pink; and this was the darker of my two red gel pastes…Still, couldn’t really turn back at this point. I only had a limited amount of time to get the cake finished before mum got back from shopping. By the glowing light of the buttermilk, I beat the sugar and butter together. Then it was a case of combining the three ingredients together – the butter milk, the butter and sugar and the dry ingredients. After adding a little of each, I added an egg as well until everything was together:

The radioactive buttermilk clearly had an extremely short half-life.

The radioactive buttermilk clearly had an extremely short half-life.

Wow. Quite a dramatic change. The cake mixture had gone from glow in the dark to almost normal. This was decidedly worrying – would the red colouring still come through after baking?

Well, it's slightly pinkish. I guess.

Well, it’s slightly pinkish. I guess.

The sponges took quite a long time to fully bake through – I think when I’m baking in future I’ll either need to be a little more generous with the gas marks or give the sponges longer before checking on them. I left them to cool while I set to work on the frosting. This was quite different to cake frosting I’d made in the past because in addition to the standard icing sugar and butter, the recipe also called for cream cheese as well….

"We've gone through at least a cow and half's worth of butter in this!"

“We’ve gone through at least a cow and half’s worth of butter in this!”

When it was all whisked together, the cream was peaking nicely and spread easily using a palette knife. A little silvery decoration on top….

The finished cake.

The finished cake.

It wasn’t actually my mum’s birthday for another day or so, so I had to come up with an ingenious and foolproof way to ensure that the cake would remain a surprise:

Given the gargantuan amounts of frosting he'd eaten, it wouldn't be possible without a crane anyway.

Given the gargantuan amounts of frosting he’d eaten, it wouldn’t be possible without a crane anyway.

Mum kindly let me have a slice of the cake and a quick photo session so that you folks can see how it turned out:

"Yes, but "Slightly Pinkish Cake" doesn't really market well."

“Yes, but “Slightly Pinkish Cake” doesn’t really market well.”

It was quite a long way off the vivid red colour I’d seen in the recipe book and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was the type of gel paste I’d used. Maybe I didn’t use enough. Either way, this cake kind of subverted my expectations. I was expecting a vivid red cake with a nasty aftertaste from the food colouring. Instead, I got a slightly pinkish cake that tasted really, really good. The frosting in particular was rich, creamy and utterly delicious. The buttermilk did make a difference; the sponge was a lot more moist than my previous cakes and I’m tempted to use this recipe as the baseline for future sponges.

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