Baking projects with Lilli are a weekly thing in our kitchen. Sometimes I’ll ask if she wants to bake, but most of the time I’ll watch her go into the kitchen, grab her apron and push her Kitchen Helper to the counter while shouting “Cook! Cook!” (This is also her word for cookie, so you really have to watch for context clues to see if she wants a cookie or to bake one.) Last weekend, during the latest blizzard, she got out her apron and started pushing her way to the counter while calling out “Cake! Cake!” so I knew what she had in mind.
Although Lilli loves spending time in the kitchen, she still has the attention span of a two year old, so it’s better if the recipes are easy to manage and can be done quickly. So I was pretty excited when I found this red velvet cake recipe in the Lemonade cookbook a few weeks ago. It looked really easy, and I already had buttermilk for the batter in the fridge as well as two blocks of cream cheese for the frosting. (There had been a sale and I figured there would be a frosting recipe soon enough that called for them.)
It turns out the recipe was ridiculously easy and took only a couple of minutes to pull together. You sift the dry ingredients in one bowl, and whisk the wet ingredients in another, then you add the dry to the other and continue to whisk. Or, as Lilli said as she stirred the batter: “Mix! Mix!” I should add here that whenever I read “sift flour” in a recipe, I ignore that and grab a whisk. Couldn’t be easier.
You’ll notice in the photo (go me for actually managing to snap one this time) that this is more of a tan velvet cake. Rich even suggested calling it a “suede cake.” We made the executive decision to eliminate the food coloring from the recipe and keep it out of our bellies. As it happens, there was a study released late last week about artificial colors and hyperactivity in children. Of course, I can’t find it right now, but I’m sure you can find it if you’re really curious.
But about this cake: It’s terrific. Deceptively delicious given how simple it is to throw together. We baked a pineapple upside down cake this morning, and you could see how disappointed Lilli was when she was served a slice of that rather than this cake. I know you’re probably thinking the ingredients are a little strange, but to quote the cookbook, “While the ingredients may sound odd, vinegar and cocoa powder are crucial to the batter, lending its distinctive tang and subtle chocolate taste!”
My only other suggestion aside from eliminating the food coloring is to take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge when you start this project. It will be room temperature by the time the cake is ready to be frosted.
Man, this is a great cake. Trust me.
Suede Cake from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joan Cianciulli
Nonstick cooking spray, for coating the pans
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
(2 tablespoons red food coloring)
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.
To prepare the batter: In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs (food coloring), vinegar, and vanilla extract until well combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be one-half full. Tap the pans a few times firmly on the counter top to level and knock out any air bubbles. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans until completely cool. In the meantime, prepare the frosting.
To prepare the frosting, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a hand-held electric beater. Beat on medium speed until very smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the machine periodically to scrape off the paddle and the sides of the bowl. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue to mix until combined.
Once the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pans and remove the paper. Trim off any uneven edges. Save these crumbs for decorating the top of the cake. Using a metal spatula, spread half the frosting on top of two of the cake rounds. Carefully place the cakes on top of each other. Set the last layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Crumble the reserved scraps with your hands and sprinkle on the top of the cake, letting the (red) crumbs fall on the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 45 minutes before cutting.