I'm going to start off this post by saying: please don't make this. And I don't mean that in a "omg this is so good don't you be stealing my recipe." I mean, seriously, do yourself a favor and don't make this. You may think you're being "natural" or whatever for trying to make a red velvet cake without red food coloring (I did), but do yourself a favor and... don't. Just don't.
And if it makes you feel any better, red food coloring is natural. If you use the average, everyday McCormick, or even the fancy Sur La Table-provide Americolor, you're basically using Red #40, which is derived from coal. A little bit of coal won't kill you (it hasn't killed ThreadBanger!). And even if you do happen to have a red food coloring that is labeled "naturally derived" and is not Red #40, all you're eating is crushed bugs, and bugs are high in protein. So basically you're baking a protein shake into a cake. Got it? Don't make this recipe.
But, in case you're wondering how I came to the conclusion to not make this recipe, here's the story. And the story starts with beets. Raw beets. And if you have the option to buy them with the greens, do it. Not because it's more natural or "from the earth" or "farm to table" or any of that BS, but they're cheaper and you can sauté the greens as a dinner side, or for breakfast with some eggs.
Beets are gorgeous. Despite what you think of the taste, they are beautiful. I mean, just look at them. In terms of taste, people tend to have a "love them or hate them" relationship to beets. I love them. I think they taste like dirt, but more like what dirt should taste like. And don't think that eau de terre is what made the cake itself un-delicious--you honestly couldn't taste the beets. Unless you're my husband, and just the simple knowledge that there was a vegetable somewhere in the cake marred the experience.
Red velvet is so interesting to me--and not because eating a red cake is a "Sex and the City" kitschy novelty. Red velvet exemplifies what dessert is all about: butter, sugar, eggs, and flour are king, and everything else are just cherries on the top.
For instance, red velvet has cocoa in it. Is it a chocolate cake? No. Chocolate (as well as cornstarch and almond flour in other recipes) works to soften the protein activation in flour and makes a finer texture. It also has buttermilk, lemon juice, cream of tartar, and yogurt in it. Is it sour? Absolutely not. Chemically, all these acids work to tenderize the dough and (somehow) keep it moist. This red velvet recipe has both beets and raspberries in it--but does it taste like beets and/or raspberries? Definitely not (well, unless you're my husband).
It's this weird combination of ingredients that gives a classic cake of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour a certain je ne sais quoi that has made red velvet, or rather, any velvet cake, so enduring throughout time.
That said, let's talk about the "red" in this red velvet for a second. The whole point of going after this recipe was to have a bright red color that appeared naturally. And when I measured out my liquid ingredients, it sure looked as if I was going to have, at the very least, a pink velvet cake on my hands. I mean, it's hard to get more pigmented than puréed beets and raspberry juice. However, as it turns out, the Maillard Reaction is a real thing, and without the hyper-concentrated pure red coloring garnered from coal or insects (still trying to push that whole "natural" angle), the red cum pink in the batter turns into a muddy warm brown when pulled out of the oven.
But first, the cake. Cake making is so nice because it's so simple. Cake decorating? Another story. But otherwise, so simple: cream some butter and sugar, add some eggs, alternate dry and liquid until things come together into a batter. Every recipe is the same, more or less, and stays true to those steps.
And then things curdle. In this recipe.. things curdle. If I have learned anything in my years of baking though, it's that curdling is not a bad thing. Got curdled milk? Make cheese! Got curdled cheese? Just call it aged -- you've got aged cheese! Your white Russian curdled when you added the cream? Drink it anyway, there are sober kids in Africa!
Much like the freak-out moment I have every time I make Italian Meringue Buttercream, I had a freak out moment with this batter as well. But, not one to waste ingredients, I said to myself, "Everything's measured and mixed anyway; let's try it out."
After the mixing, I was still holding out hope I would have red velvet, and had realistic ambitions that I would have mud velvet. Because I was making petit fours (or, as we'll see later, attempting to make petit fours), I spread everything out into a thin layer on two half-sheets, and threw them in the oven. Having never actually made a cake in a pan like this (I'm a fan of towering layer cakes), I wasn't sure what to expect, but thought I'd figure it out as I went on.
whEmerging from the oven, my realistic ambitions were met, and I had a muddy sort-of reddish earthy velvet. But, much to my delight, it was soft, springy, and moist. Being the idiot I am, I sprinkled it with simple syrup anyway to, I thought, keep it moist, but instead what that did was make it too moist and hard to handle. Lesson? Too much of a good thing is always a bad thing (or is it?).
I soldiered on and cut, iced, and stacked my layers. At this point, I still had hope. I thought maybe I could cover it all in white poured fondant, then make some bright red stripes (yes, using red food coloring) on top to make them cute little boxes that look like wrapped Christmas presents. They would be adorable, and you would bite in and you wouldn't even notice they were mud colored and maybe tasted a little bit like raspberries (but not of beets, again, unless you're my husband).
When I started slicing into them, I knew something was amiss. They fell apart in moist crumbles. The cake stuck to my knife. Everything was just... imperfect. They weren't pretty. Picking them up, the layers separated and fell apart, or they stuck together and became a messy glob of grossness.
I thought icing them would hide all of this, so I made a poured fondant from corn syrup, white chocolate, and powdered sugar, but do you know what it ended up tasting like? I'm not going to mince words: glue. The coating tasted like glue. And it acted like glue, too. I left a bowl out on the counter because who wants to clean after a failure like this? and it hardened into what could easily be mistaken for a bowl of Elmer's glue.
The only thing that could save them would be the taste. I mean, the texture was a lost cause, the coating made me want to shudder, and the color was less than appetizing. I knew the cream cheese frosting was good (how could it not be?), so I thought if the cake was good, at least I could close my eyes and concentrate on taste bud pleasure.
Alas, the taste wasn't even anything special. It was tender and moist, sure. It had the basics of a red velvet cake. But it had a strange aftertaste, which I can only think to attribute to the beets or the vinegar (I didn't have lemon juice, so I doubled up on the vinegar). It was a weird raw taste, kind of like a spinach mouth sensation. I mean, like I said before, enough butter, sugar, eggs, and flour and anything is going to be tasty, but in the words of George Orwell, and I believe this is the direct quote, "Some cakes are more tastier than others."
Red Velvet Petit Fours
makes 2 half-sheet pans
260 grams (2 1/2 cups) FLOUR
3 tablespoons NATURAL UNSWEETENED COCOA (not Dutch-processed or dark)
1 teaspoon SALT
2 teaspoons BAKING POWDER
1 teaspoon CREAM OF TARTAR
2 tablespoons BUTTERMILK POWDER
1 cup UNSALTED BUTTER
1 tablespoon VANILLA EXTRACT
500 grams (2 1/2 cups) GRANULATED SUGAR
4 large EGGS
1/2 cup WATER
1/2 cup PLAIN YOGURT
1/2 cup BEET PURÉE
1/2 cup RASPBERRY JUICE
2 tablespoons WHITE VINEGAR
2 tablespoons LEMON JUICE
cream cheese frosting ingredients:
8 ounces CREAM CHEESE (full fat or Neufchatel)
1/2 cup UNSALTED BUTTER
1 cup POWDERED SUGAR
1 teaspoon VANILLA EXTRACT
1. Prepare the BEET PURÉE: peel and grate raw beets, and place in a food processor or blender with a few tablespoons of water, liquifying the beets; then, run the beet puree through a fine-meshed sieve to extract only pure liquid, discarding the leftover
2. Prepare the RASPBERRY JUICE: microwave ~1 cup of raspberries and press them firmly through a fine-meshed sieve to extract the juice, discarding the leftover
3. Preheat oven to 350F and line two half-sheets with parchment paper, then grease with butter or non-stick cooking spray
4. In a medium bowl, measure out the FLOUR, COCOA, SALT, BAKING POWDER, CREAM OF TARTAR, and BUTTERMILK POWDER and whisk to combine
5. In a large mixer bowl, cream together the BUTTER, VANILLA, and SUGAR until light and fluffy
6. Add the EGGS one at a time to the butter mixture and beat until combined
7. In a pourable jug (I use a Pyrex measuring cup), lightly whisk together the WATER, YOGURT, beet puree, raspberry juice, VINEGAR, and LEMON JUICE
8. To the egg mixture, add the dry ingredients in four parts, alternating with the wet ingredients in three parts, beginning and ending with dry -- the mixture will look like it has become broken and curdled after each wet addition
9. Pour the batter into the prepared pans, and bake until solid and springy to the touch (about 20 minutes)
10. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then flip out onto metal racks to cool completely
1. Place CREAM CHEESE and BUTTER in a mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy
2. Add in POWDERED SUGAR, and mix lightly until sugar is moistened, then beat more vigorously to combine ingredients
3. Add VANILLA and beat until combined
petit fours assembly:
1. Take your two half sheets, and cut to make four pieces in total, 2 pieces 10" in length and 12" in width, and 2 pieces 5" in length and 12" inches in width. The two 10" long pieces will form the top and bottom, then two shorter pieces we'll place next to each other to form one middle layer.
2. Stack your cakes! Take a bottom 10"x12" layer, and spread frosting over it; then place the two 5"x12" layers next to one another to form the second layer and spread frosting over them; lastly, take your second 10"x12" layer and place it on top
3. Put the cake in the fridge until chilled and frosting has hardened -- this will make it easier to cut
4. Trim the sides and discard scraps of cake edges that have any frosting that has oozed out the sides--you want it to be clean and straight
5. Measure the height of the cake, and cut the cake into square in length and width to the height to make tiny little square--for instance, if the cake is 1" tall, cut the cake into 1" squares to make the petit fours
Like I said, I took a week off from my Bake Off Challenge because I got married! But don't worry, I was indeed baking, because, like a crazy person, I decided to make my own cake. First, I couldn't bear paying $14/slice for a cake that I could make myself for one-tenth of the cost. And second, I'm really picky, and I don't think anybody's chocolate cake could beat the recipe I use. So, I spent two very (very) long days baking and decorating the cake. A whole microsite of this page will come with more details but suffice to say, I survived, and came back for more baking. Upwards and onwards to the great Cornish pasty.
Or, I guess I should say "San Francisco" pasty. According to the Powers That Be in the British culinary world, you can only call your pasty "Cornish" if it is made in Cornwall. So, despite using classic ingredients of potato, rutabaga, beef, and onion, and following the recipe to the T, these do not get the designation of being Cornish--instead, I'm giving them my own geographical title, and dipping the pasty in sriracha sauce as I eat it in protest.
I say any recipe that starts by asking me to spoon out a quarter pound of lard and then immediately asks me to add another knob of butter on top of it is a good recipe. I mean, I've been looking for an excuse to use lard and not feel bad about it. If Mary Berry is telling me to do it, I can't in good conscience say no. So... lard it is.
The crust is fairly straightforward. Slap it all in a bowl and mix it all together. I crumbled the fats into the flour by hand before adding the water, but the main impetus behind that is that I just love the feeling of fat and flour in my hands, not that it was actually part of the recipe. This dough is very dry, and it really will just come together, so don't add any more water than the recipe calls for. I noticed it most when I was mixing with my hands and the dough didn't stick to my fingers like pie dough sometimes does. It very easy to rub the dough off my hands and leave them clean--which, for a clean freak like me, was actually quite nice.
Now here's the fun with the dough. While a normal pie dough, which has the same ingredients, needs to be touched as little as possible so as to retain the tender flakiness of the crust, this dough actually needs to be worked. Paul Hollywood recommends a stretching, rolling, and turning triad of motions to build up the gluten or somesuch and make a sturdier pastry before resting the dough in the fridge to let it relax (after all that stretching and rolling, I could use a rest to relax as well TBH)
The history behind this rough behavior with a generally delicate dough is that the Cornish pasty came to popularity among the tin miners of Cornwall, as a portable lunch they would bring to the mines with them. A delicate pastry shell would not have survived the commute and the mine, and a yeast dough would become too easily soggy to hold the ingredients.
The filling of a Cornish pasty is deceptively simple, and wholly British. Root vegetables, meat, and a touch of salt and pepper. British food--God love 'em--is not known to be the most interesting of cuisine. I mean, mushy peas... do I need to say more?
And once you've gathered these (bland) vegetables, you chop. And chop. And chop. It's a lot of chopping. I had a ruler, because I'm a freak, but honestly you don't need to be that exact with the filling. As one of my favorite chefs, Chef John of Food Wishes says, all you need to do is "pick a size and stick to it." The only way you could mess up the inside is by having wildly varied sizes of the filling ingredients. If you have a pebble-sized potato slice here and a golf ball-sized one there, they will not cook at the same time and one will be soggily overcooked while the other is inedibly undercooked. So, pick a size and stick to it.
Now here is where it all comes together. The prep work is done, the dough is hanging out, and you get to assemble. Get your dough out and divide it into four, along with your filling. And whip out your rolling pin (or an empty bottle of wine--hey now, we've all been there).
This dough is fantastic to roll out. It may be the chilled rest in the fridge, or the massive amount of fat--let's get real, it's the fat--but this dough easily rolls out thin without snapping back or sticking, and without a fear of ripping, even with the hefty amount of heavy filling we're asking it to hold.
The last step is the crimping, which, I'm told, is an integral part of the pasty process. I do not know how to crimp, and despite watching Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, despite expert YouTube videos and walkthroughs, I still cannot crimp. Thankfully, and it seems I say this at least once in each of these Bake Off weeks, I am not being judged by Paul Hollywood, and he doesn't get a say on if my crimping is exactly proper. I'm only judged by my own taste buds, and the taste buds of my family.
And my taste buds (and my stomach) approve. I'm giddy for this golden brown. The crust, which is the true "baked" part of this challenge, was fabulous. While serving the utilitarian purpose of holding the nutrition of the filling, it also added a crisp and tough but tender texture that would have been missing if you ate the filling alone.
Speaking of the filling, I alluded earlier that British food is not the most interesting in terms of taste, and this is no different. I get that some people love potatoes, but in my opinion, this recipe has way too much potato, especially considering you have an entire crust to deal with. Not that I'm one to knock carbohydrates, but it's a bit overkill, I would knock the potatoes down to match the 7 ounces of the other root vegetable, and replace the missing with another 4 ounces of meat. After all, if I'm working in a tin mine, I would much rather get my energy from beef than from potato. Totally get that there are socio-economic matters at play in the history of these ingredients, but GMOs man. GMOs....
Altogether, I approve of the Cornish pasty. It's not hard to make (once you get over all the chopping), and boy, is it filling. I ate one of these at 2PM and wasn't hungry until the next morning. Plus, these things keep amazingly well (they'd better, if I'm having to feed a hungry miner throughout his day), and crisp back up with just a handful of minutes in an oven. Who says baked goods can't be savory, hm?
makes 4 pasties
500 grams (1 pound, 1 ounce) BREAD FLOUR
120 grams (4 ounces) LARD
1 teaspoon (5 grams) SALT
25 grams (1 ounce) BUTTER
3/4 cup (175 milliliters) COLD WATER
1 EGG, beaten with a little water and salt
350 grams (12 ounces) BEEF (rump or skirt steak or any good braising cut)
350 grams (12 ounces) POTATO
200 grams (7 ounces) RUTABAGA
175 grams (6 ounces) ONION
2 tablespoons BUTTER
SALT + PEPPER
1. Combine the FLOUR, LARD, SALT, BUTTER, and WATER and use a spoon to gently combine the ingredients, then switch to your hands and bring the ingredients into a dry dough
2. Work the dough using the heel of your hand to stretch, roll, and turn the dough and repeat for about 5 minutes until it's smooth and glossy
3. Wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes
4. Peel and cut the POTATOES, RUTABAGA, and ONION into 1cm squares, and cut BEEF into similar sized chunks
5. Put all filling ingredients in a bowl and mix and season with SALT + PEPPER
6. Lightly grease and line a baking tray and preheat the oven to 325F
7. Cut the dough into four equal-sized pieces and shape each piece into a ball, then roll out to a 10-inch wide circle
8. Spoon a quarter of the filling onto one half of each disk, and top with one quarter of the knob of BUTTER
9. Fold the pastry over, and join the edges and seal with your fingers, then crimp the edges with a fork, or by making small twists along the sealed edge, and fold the end corners underneath
10. Put the pasties on the baking tray, and brush the top of each pasty with the EGG wash
11. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pasties are golden brown (if they're not browning, increase temperature 50F for the last 10 minutes)
Mary Berry.... Mary freakin' Berry.... Lemon soufflé?? Week four?? That's okay -- I'm up for a challenge.
Honestly soufflés get an unfair bad rep in the baking world. Generally, they are said to strike fear in the hearts of bakers. People are afraid of walking near the oven. They don't breathe as they handle the dishes. They would rather make (gasp!) pie crust. I'm here to tell you there is nothing to worry about when making soufflés!
They key with soufflés is really preparation. If you have all your ducks in a row, then putting together the soufflé isn't that hard. I will say that this recipe is weird. Mary Berry has us moving mixtures from bowl to pot to bowl to pot, whisking and mixing and folding all the while.
Regardless of your preparation, the first step is to create a custard base, and the key is to heat it over a low heat until it thickens enough so you can make a line along your spatula and the custard doesn't flood back. That's when you know your eggs are cooked, your cornstarch is activated, and you're ready for it to do... whatever magic it does when it's in an oven with egg whites. Speaking of egg whites....
Now, I'm not saying you have to beat your egg whites by hand, but what I am saying is you could probably use the upper body workout, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a bunch of sticky, soupy whites turn into a fluffy, soft, thick mixture (except maybe seeing bread dough rise).
I mean, would you really want to miss this kind of magic? That's what baking is all about! You take all these raw ingredients and completely transform them into something that has no visible relation to the parts you've summed up. If you want to get nerdy about it, you're literally changing the cellular makeup of these ingredients and rearranging molecules to get a texture and a flavor. With bread, you're taking short strands of gluten proteins and rearranging them to create long, stretchy chains of gluten protein. With egg whites, you're taking this sticky glob of protein and breaking apart all the bonds, separating them by tiny little pockets of air, and then quickly evaporating those pockets in the bake to create a tender, light and airy soufflé. If that's not real-life magic, I don't know what is (except maybe this).
Back to the whipping -- whisking your whites by hand also makes it less likely for you to over-whip your whites. You're looking for a mixture that is billowy like clouds, bubbly with air like Pellegrino, and holds a cute little peak when you lift the whisk slowly out of the mixture. You don't want your whites to get dry. And if you think that's a subjective term that will not help you in your actual baking, then you've obviously never over-whipped your whites. Dry whites are quite obvious. And awful.
At this point, you have the custard and the whites, and you're good to go. Mix a bit of the white into the custard to thin it, then fold in the rest of the whites until no streaks remain (the above picture needs a bit more folding), and you have your soufflé. It's at this point that you have to move quickly and the dreaded soufflé time crunch comes in.
Quickly, pour into ramekins, and this is an interesting spot to stop and talk about different techniques. Most soufflé recipes I have come across have you filling the ramekins 3/4 full, and then popping them in the oven. Theory being that it rises, and you don't want it to rise too much, be top-heavy, and tip over like a life-sized Barbie doll would do. As a novice baker, I accepted that theory because -- would a recipe ever be incorrect? My view on this changed when I saw this video by Chef Steps. They filled their ramekins to the brim, leveled it off with a knife, and then cleaned up the sides. I was very pleased when I read Mary Berry's recipe that she was already privy to that secret of soufflé-making. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way you should make the dish. Otherwise, you're cheating your guests out of a taller soufflé. And a soufflé is all about the height.
Which is why most of your time spent while the soufflé is in the oven looks like this. Empty plate, waiting to be served. Soufflés generally keep their height for about 2 minutes, and then fall, and fall fast. Of course, by that time, they are still too hot to eat, so the idea is to wow the guests with a towering soufflé, then quickly distract them by pouring coffee or showing a good Gordon Ramsay meme, so they move on to some other subject while they wait for it to cool and then consume it.
So how did Mary Berry do? Wow, girl likes her lemon. This thing was tart. With juice and zest of two whole lemons, that means you're getting half a lemon per soufflé. You go juice half a lemon and chug it with the zest and tell me that's not a pucker-worthy concoction. Personally, I'd be less heavy-handed with all the lemon and add a bit more sugar (which could actually give it more structure and not be such a falling tower of soufflé), and like it much better. Or, even better, add a crème anglaise to pour into the middle and soothe a bit of the acidity. Maybe next time.
Mary Berry's Hot Lemon Soufflé
makes 4 individual soufflés
2 LEMONS (juice and zest)
2 LARGE EGG YOLKS
4 LARGE EGG WHITES
6 tablespoons GRANULATED SUGAR
3 tablespoons CORNSTARCH
1 tablespoon ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
1/2 cup (90 milliliters) HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM
1/2 cup (110 milliliters) MILK
MELTED BUTTER + GRANULATED SUGAR, for greasing ramekins
1. Brush the insides of the ramekins with MELTED BUTTER and add a small amount of GRANULATED SUGAR to each, turning to coat sides and bottom, set aside in fridge
2. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a sheet inside
3. Prep ingredients into 5 bowls: 1) lemon juice + zest, 2) egg whites (mixing bowl), 3) egg yolks + sugar, 4) milk (saucepan), 5) cream + flour + cornstarch (medium-sized bowl)
3. Whisk HEAVY CREAM, FLOUR, and CORNSTARCH to form a smooth paste
4. Warm the MILK in a large saucepan over medium heat until just boiling and mix a little at a time into the cream mixture until smooth and thick
5. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over a gentle heat, beating vigorously and constantly until thickened
6. Remove mixture from heat and add lemon juice and zest
7. Beat yolk mixture into a thick paste and add into the saucepan, then put back over the heat until it begins to bubble, and remove from heat to cool
8. Whisk egg whites until soft peaks begin to form and whites look like clouds
9. Add one large spoonful of the egg whites to the custard and beat well to relax the custard
10. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 or 3 batches, and combine until it's a pale yellow mixture with no white streaks
11. Fill the ramekins to the brim and level them off to flat tops, then run your thumb around the inner edge of the ramekin to clean it up
12. Place the ramekins on a baking tray in the middle of the oven on a sheet that has been heating for 14-25 minutes until risen and golden -- do not open the oven during cooking
13. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve within 2 minutes of cooking (otherwise...)
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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