Today, we focus on red velvet cakes. Since it’s my mother’s birthday tomorrow (and I’m not sure when exactly we’re celebrating it because she wants to be with her family as well), my plan is to bake it today and refrigerate it until we actually do celebrate. I think we will be driving a couple hours to go to them, so I definitely shouldn’t make an ice cream cake. Good. It seems too advanced for me anyway.
A part of me wants to completely bake from scratch, but another part wants to just bake the instant ones instead. You know, the ones you see in packets at the grocery store? I want to see what they have, so I can compare it to the easy recipes I get online.
I’ve finally finished about 90% of the cake. All I need to do is refrigerate overnight to let the frosting set and then write words on them. As it turns out, we will be driving to my sister’s apartment and we’ll just be celebrating, the four of us. Her place is still a couple hours away, so again: good call not making an ice cream cake.
I ended up going with a recipe that a blog called “DivasCanCook.com”. The recipe got fantastic reviews–although it sounds like it was written by a sorority sister (I suppose that’s for the “diva” persona)–so I was excited to make it. The thing is I still had to find a separate recipe for the cream cheese frosting, because while she says to use it, she doesn’t post a way to make it. So for that, I turned to The Food Network.
So this is what the cake is supposed to look like…
And this is what sort of came out. (I took this picture because I wanted to show how the top pancake–I know, it’s not supposed to look like a pancake, but it didn’t rise as far as the other one did–broke apart a bit, so I used the frosting to try to stick them back together. Worked for the most part.)
During the course of this production, I’ve had to take multiple trips to the grocery store because I ran out of certain ingredients at different times. First, the vanilla extract. Then, it turned out the cream cheese I used–oh, my God, I forgot to add the vanilla extract to the second batch of frosting… Oh well, I sort of blended them together anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter. Another lesson learned, which is pretty much the same thing I’ve been telling you this whole time: make sure you have everything you need before you start the process.
Anyways, first was the vanilla extract; then I realized the cream cheese we already had expired by a few months. I confess that I did use the old cream cheese before getting an answer from my mom on whether or not I could use it. She said no, so I had to throw it all away and go out and buy fresher cream cheese. She’s proud of the new cream cheese though. It said “1/3 less fat…” Then, once I got home, I read it again and realized there was more: “…than cream cheese”…I mean…does that not mean this is cream cheese?
I don’t know what “buttermilk” is exactly, but when I went to the store the first time, looking for ingredients I didn’t have at home, they came in regular-sized milk containers. I had a feeling it would’ve just been a waste because when else am I really gonna need it? Then, while looking for photos of buttermilk, I saw one result that said on the actual photo: “Make your own buttermilk.” So I went to the website and saw there were only two ingredients required: milk and lemon juice or white vinegar. I knew I had all three, so money saved!
Looking for unsweetened cocoa powder though…there was none. I checked the spice aisle, but couldn’t find them. Then, I looked them up in the shopping tab of Google and saw that it just looked like typical cocoa powder (I didn’t make that connection to hot cocoa though, hence I checked the spice aisle first). All I found was cocoa that was still sweetened in some way, so I probably stood there in front of the cocoa stand for a good five minutes, taking packages off of shelves and looking for the word “sugar” on the list of ingredients. So instead, I went for the regular Swiss Miss cocoa powder, because I knew we had lots of that at home.
The recipe for the cake said I needed two around 9-inch cake pans. I only had one, so I had to reuse it. I tried to divide the red batter by half, but it’s so syrupy that I probably lost a lot just by transferring it from one bowl to another, which I had to do because I didn’t have enough room in the bowl that I was already using as “the big bowl to mix the liquids in”. Another life lesson: always make slightly more than you need. I’d forgotten to grease the pan. Twice. I fixed it the first time (which is why I lost so much of the syrupy texture), but I knew that the second time was going to be scarce, so I figured, Hey, we’ll see what happens–whatever it is, it’ll be good for the blog.
So here’s what happened, Blog: it didn’t rise as much, if at all. Not only that, but it hardened at the bottom a bit, so I lost even more of that batch. Also, it fell apart (hence trying to use the frosting as glue). I suppose those side effects were expected. After all, it wasn’t my first time actually baking.
(Side note: does anyone else hear Jessica Chastain’s voice when they hear the word “frosting”? All I can see is her playing with Crisco (which I actually saw at the store, so that’s still a kitchen necessity, apparently) in the film “The Help”. Her line was specifically, “It looks like frostin’.” In the Southern accent and everything. Sorry. Just had to ask that because I couldn’t get that out of my head today. (In her voice, with the accent) “So much frostin’.”
Fresh, black coffee was also an ingredient, which I found odd (as an amateur cook who obviously knows soooo much about the culinary arts). I read some of the reviews about this recipe though, and while the coffee can be tasted, it was apparently a good touch. I tried some of the bits that came off of the flawed batch–just the ones that couldn’t be salvaged–and couldn’t taste the coffee. In fact, I didn’t even think about it.
At this point, in the ingredients, because I had to use two separate recipes, I had to combine them and said that while the batter was cooking, make the frosting. Instead of butter, I looked online to see how much oil was needed. Based on those conversions, I went ahead and used oil instead because I was more comfortable and I didn’t want to find out that we were also running low on butter.
Big. Mistake. The “frostin'” was too moist. It kept sliding off of the cake so it took longer than expected to put it altogether. That step was still fun though. I used the flat rubber scraper to spread it out, like normal people do and I sort of traced the edge of the cake and the inside of the plate to gather up excess frosting and place it where it was more dire. While doing this though, I ended up getting some of the crumbs too, which gave the cake tiny, red spots everywhere. I thought that was actually nice though. Gave the outside some color even though a lot of red is already peeking through the slippery frosting.
So, was butter the better option? Probably.
Here’s the almost-finished product. As I said before: all I have left to do tomorrow is write the words on it with red icing and we should be good to go. Last time I had to write with icing on the cake, my dad told me to practice with the icing on a plate first. I don’t think I’ll have the time to practice, but I know I’ll probably be the only one who cares the most about the writing. I’ll practice it once or twice though, just to get a sense of how to use the tube of icing.
I’m not entirely sure how we’re going to cover the cake for the ride since that specific plate (which is actually plastic) came with a plastic cover which is nowhere to be found, but I trust my mom will find something that’ll work. She always does. Hello? She’s a mother. They always seem to find a way to save the day.
Oh, and this is what the icing was supposed to look like: That does look easier to put on a cake.
Speaking of trusting my mom though, that reminds me of yet another life lesson, which I’m going to make for today’s Purpose for my other blog. It’s called “Dear Sarah W.“, which started out as an advice column, but nobody ever really asks me anything. That’s why, in order to keep it alive, I decided to provide “Daily Purposes”, which is basically daily life lessons or sometimes specific tips for writing and sometimes, even cooking. In just three days though, this cooking blog is already as popular as “Dear Sarah W.” took in more than half a year, if not more (so if you’re interested, please feel free check out that site as well!)
Life Lesson: It’s okay to ask for help even from the worst person to ask, because your mission should be to get it right, which often doesn’t involve going it alone. I spent the entire day working on this cake and my parents were out all day until 9PM because they were driving back from LA and it’s an eight-hour drive home from there. When they got home though, my mom assisted me in putting the entire cake together. Normally, I’d be like, “No, I want to do this by myself, because this is my gift to you. For once, I don’t need your help. It’s your birthday, so let me do the work.” But I knew I needed her help because she actually had the experience to literally lend me a hand. I suppose this was like working on a school project with a teacher: they’re there to help you, but you’re still the one in control, no matter how much more experienced they are. You’re the director and it’s your show.
So what did we learn today that we can use next time?
- Make sure you basically keep a head-count of everything you need. If something goes AWOL, you might not be lucky enough to have the time to drive to the store and get the ingredient you need. Like I said yesterday, cooking is often a time-sensitive activity.
- If it says “1/3 less fat than cream cheese”, is it still cream cheese? I mean, Philadelphia is still a cream cheese company, so it’s gotta be, right? They’re just saying that to mess with us.
- Sometimes, you can make an ingredient yourself, like myself and the buttermilk. The recipe I found literally consisted of a scant cup of regular milk (apparently, “scant” means “just barely”) with 1 tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar. Then, mix it and wait ten minutes. Done. Easy. Saved myself a few bucks by taking less than five minutes out of my day to make it. Plus, buttermilk is still milk, so it only has so much time before expiry, and what else could I possibly make with it by then?
- Unsweetened cocoa powder exists and is harder to come by. I was in the store which was smaller than the grocery store that was farthest away from home. I mean, the larger store was just a few blocks farther, and probably actually had it in stock. I just chose to go for sweetened cocoa instead. (Sarcastically) Oh, what a horrible decision that was! How will I live?
- Always make slightly more than you actually need. That way, maybe you’ll end up with the perfect amount before you officially have to cook/bake it.
- Baking rules always apply, even to recipes you’ve never tried before.
- Liquid black coffee is an actual ingredient.
- If possible, stick to the recipe. Oil may work as a substitution for butter in a few recipes. Not this one, apparently.
- It’s okay to ask for help–even if you desperately don’t want their help and especially if they’re the only ones who can give you a hand.