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Blue Velvet


I like to believe that I’m decent cook, maybe even a little above average. But I’ve come to a tough realization: I’m a really bad baker. Maybe it’s all the weights, measures, precision, kitchen science. I don’t know, but everything I attempt (which isn’t that often) ends up flat and hard rather than light and fluffy.

When we were teens, my sister would occasionally make chocolate chip cookies, and they’d always come out crispy and thin. (Then she got into vegan baking and I would’ve killed for one of those hard as  rock, but at least dairy laden cookies.) That was displeasing because I want a chocolate chip cookie to be fat and chewy. I never said anything at the time, so I don’t know why it’s popping into my head now.

My country ham accompanying biscuits from January fell victim to the hard and flat curse. The last birthday cake I made, which was at least three years ago, also turned out hard and flat. With that disaster, I recall whipping egg whites in a not completely clean bowl and the peaks never properly formed. It was my own mistake.

BluebatterThis year I decided to tackle the birthday cake again. I looked at a zillion recipes, and kept getting swayed by complicated, multi-step, exquisite ingredient confections. This seemed like an accident waiting to happen, so I switched to the good and simple camp. Red velvet cake is tasty, pretty, easy and economical, and everyone seems to like it. Me, I’m just drawn to the artificial scarlet hue. I found a recipe for Cakeman Raven’s version, which I’ve had before so I knew I’d like it. It had to have a cream cheese frosting, not buttercream.

But I didn’t want to do red. Of course, green immediately consumed my thoughts, but it’s too close to St. Patrick’s Day to not be corny (ha, like there'd ever be a time of year where it would be classy). It had to be a blue velvet cake (having nothing to do with the recent 20th anniversary of said film) and it’d have to be the most intense crazy blue ever or why bother.

Fullcake I wanted gel dye because it’s more intense than the watery grocery store pigments, and I just happened to be near Sur la Table (I don’t get the big deal with that place—it made me very anxious) while picking up lots of Spanish goodies at the new-ish Despaña Foods on Broome Street. I think you’re only supposed to use a few drops of the gel because it’s insanely intense (the dishwasher, sink and counter looked like a raspberry Slurpee had melted all over them by the time I was done). But the recipe called for one ounce, not specifying what kind of dye. The tiny gel bottle was ¾ ounce, so I figured using it all would be good. Would that have fucked up the ingredients somehow?

Anyway, the cake turned out acceptably. And I was beyond pleased with the shade of blue. Can you believe it? But when I put the batter into the three pans, it seemed that there wasn’t enough. Does cake rise? This one didn’t, and the layers ended up maybe one inch each. I guess times three that’s substantial, but I wanted big blue puffy strata. The crumb was a little coarse, it tasted perfectly good, but was the texture of cornbread. And the frosting wasn’t proportional. I swear, layer cakes always end up with not enough at the end, so I was sparing with the in between stripes only to be left with an excess. Plus, I couldn’t get into the bottom crevices because I was retarded and set the cake into a recessed carrier before not after icing the damn thing.

But it was really really blue and really sweet and rich, and that’s what's important.

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  1. Meredith #

    Were you using old baking powder or soda? Is your stove electric? Either of those things can make cakes get crazy. Electric heat is often uneven, causing part of the cake to cook before the rest. This makes rising impossible. The most delicious red velvet cake (which is more purple really) uses beet juice (no lie) instead of artificial colors. It’s tasty.

    March 27, 2006

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