Saturday, July 31, 2010

Give More, Save More (Calories)

Stephanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake™ #5After my last post I was overwhelmed with guilt. Even in the name of National Cheesecake Day, how could I possibly attempt to endorse something I hadn't yet tried myself? So off to The Cheesecake Factory I went for a slice of Stephanie's Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake.

I found it rather annoying that their Any Slice, Half Price offer was only good for those dining in (go figure), but after going through the trouble of getting there and parking after 5pm on a Friday, I figured my dignity was well worth a $9 slice of cheesecake.

So how did it fare? While the layers of red velvet were relatively bland, being sandwiched between cheesecake and cream cheese icing certainly made the cake. Overall it was pretty good. Worth trying, but don't go expecting it will blow your mind.

I do think its great that they donate part of their proceeds to Feeding America, but you too directly through their site. Every dollar you donate helps provide 9 pounds of food and grocery products to men, women and children facing hunger in our country. So in lieu of buying a slice that translates to only 2.25 pounds of food, you can donate your $9 to Feeding America instead, which would provide 81 pounds of food.

Much better for the waistline, and for those in need.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Celebrate Cheesecake, Eat Red Velvet

In case you weren't aware, today is National Cheesecake Day. And what better way to celebrate cheesecake than by eating red velvet!

If you head over to The Cheesecake Factory today you can try their Stephanie’s Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake™ for half-off with their Any Slice, Half Price promotion. While I haven't had an opportunity to sample their red velvet rendition, how could Cheesecake Factory's original cheesecake, layered with red velvet cake and topped with cream cheese frosting not be good?

In case that isn't reason enough, 25¢ from the sale of each red velvet slice will be donated to Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief charity.

National Cheesecake Day is only once a year, so go out and celebrate! You can afford the extra calories.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Study Shows Ad Execs Prefer Younger Cakes

Red Velvet w/ Ermine Icing No. 3
For my latest baking adventure I decided to pit two recipes against each other. Both were featured in the New York Times, but published 30 years apart. I wanted to see if people preferred the younger, more contemporary cake (circa 2007) to the older, more traditional one (circa 1977).

As prefaced in an earlier post, today I brought both cakes into my office to conduct a 'taste' study. As part of the survey, I asked that all participants taste both cakes and rate them on a scale of 1-10. Of the 35 advertising executives included in this study, the vast majority preferred the younger (2007) version.

First Runner Up: Circa 1977 Cake (pictured top left)
The older cake hailed from Alabama and was published on April 25, 1977 in an article entitled Red Velvet Cake Returns, Tomato Paste Lingers On (I assure you the recipe has nothing to do with tomato paste). The icing called for a very unique frosting made of butter, sugar, egg yolks, chopped pecans or walnuts, raisins and bourbon or rum. While I planned to make this frosting all along, I hesitated to remember buying bourbon until Sunday. At that point, no matter how good my intentions, Georgia state law simply wouldn't allow me to make this frosting. So I opted for a more traditional ermine (boiled milk) frosting. Overall feedback was that this cake wasn't as moist as the 2007 cake, but still very tasty. This is not surprising considering the 2007 cake had 2 cups of oil, while this one only called for a 1/2 cup of shortening. Next time I'll probably increase it to a full cup of shortening, or replace it with a cup of vegetable oil. And while I do like the ermine frosting, I would opt for a nice cream cheese frosting (like the one in my first recipe) instead.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Better with Age?

I simply couldn't decide on a single recipe for my next baking challenge, so instead I chose two.

Since many of the contemporary red velvet recipes differ by only a few ingredients, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose it with an older, and hopefully more traditional recipe.

I went to the New York Times archives to do some digging, which by the way, is an amazing resource for baking cakes. Not only are their cake recipes some of the most popular, but you can search their archives back to 1851. You won't have any luck finding red velvet until the 20th century, but a good resource nonetheless.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cupcake Critique: Gigi's Cupcakes

Gigi's: Scarlett's Red Velvet 4Today at lunch I ran over to Gigi's Cupcakes for my first of many cupcake critiques around Atlanta. Gigi's is a chain, so right off the bat I had some preconceived notions. They have a wide variety of cupcakes from Italian Cream Wedding Cake, Peach Cobbler and Cherry Cordial, but I of course was interested in none other than Scarlett's Red Velvet.

The ECD (that's Executive Creative Director for the non-ad folks) at my agency @carlrwarner said to me that Gigi's has the perfect icing-to-cupcake ratio, but I respectfully must disagree. If there is enough icing on one cupcake to wallpaper a 10'x12' bedroom, that is too much. Surely from looking at the pictures it may seem I'm exaggerating, but keep in mind this cupcake suffered quite a bit of shrinkage on the ride home in this Atlanta heat.

In critiquing this cupcake I examined several key factors: appearance, flavor, texture and color.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cake Balls Anyone?

Although I wish people would call them 'cake truffles' it appears that cake balls are all the rage. I found these beautiful red velvet cake balls on Flickr, but after doing some more research, discovered a cult following for various cake balls and pops. I don't know who started the whole cake ball fad (certainly popularized by Bakerella), but they are really starting to catch on.

The image pictured here is from My Flour Garden in Southern California. I also found a place in Austin that specializes in cake balls, appropriately called Austin Cake Ball. I'll have to check it out next time I go visit my friends Mo and Jordan.

If you're interested in making said cake balls, Bakerella has a really easy recipe using a mix. I'll be making them soon with a variation on one of my scratch recipes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Rose Cupcakes

Rose Cupcakes, originally uploaded by J-Lynne (Flutterby Cakes).

How cute are these? I think I may have to try decorating a batch of red velvet with these fabulous little roses.

A Quest for Perfection

This is my first documented attempt along a journey to create the perfect recipe for red velvet cake. I'm starting with what I know, but plan to venture way back to explore the history of this elusive cake including its boiled icing and beetroot ancestors.

My first recipe has been adapted from Paula Dean's, but I've modified the flour, cocoa and icing, as well as tweaked some of the directions. I received a lot of good feedback from my test subjects (ie work colleagues), and especially on the icing. The cake itself had a nice scarlet color and a good velvety texture, but was still light - a perfect complement to the sweetness of the icing. I find that these cupcakes are usually more moist the following day, so I'd bake them ahead of time and then ice them before you are ready to serve. Try it out and let me know what you think.