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Lessons in Red Velvet


I know that we learn from our mistakes, but over the years I have decided that I am not a fan of this approach, which is why I read trustworthy cookbooks and put into practice what I pick up. This also happens to be a big reason why I study the Bible. I’d rather take wisdom where I can find it and not have to learn the hard way that God had a good reason for what He said to do.

Of course, in spite of the best guidance, I occasionally think I have better ideas, like with red velvet.


The foundation for this lesson started on Good Friday when I procrastinated about buying a cake mix (my usual approach to cake baking) and couldn’t find a red velvet mix in Pullman. A bunch of students were coming over after the Good Friday service to watch The Passion – and have dessert. I had racked my brain for what kind of desert might go with such a gut-wrenching movie and come up with a plan to make a cake that illustrated Isaiah 1:18. There was no time at the local IGA to think of a plan B. Thankfully, I had been ogling the Pioneer Woman blog and happened to remember that she had recently posted a red velvet cake. (See it here.) It was beautiful and I had looked pretty closely at the ingredients so I grabbed buttermilk and red food coloring and trotted home.

The cake turned out nicely – until I hurriedly tried covering over red crumbs with cream cheese frosting that was too thick for the job. It turns out that hiding crimson with white is harder than it looks in cakes, not to mention the cosmos. Anyway, there were crumbs of red embedded in the frosting, but the point was made, maybe even accentuated. Here are a few shots of that cake.




The real trouble with red velvet began when I watched a re-run episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown a couple of days before I needed to make red velvet cupcakes AGAIN for our graduation open house. (Note: If you missed my prior plug for that show, please check out the post on pulled pork (here). I’m still looking for someone who can explain the Zans!) In the episode we watched, a woman who owns a bakery made red velvet cupcakes, and she talked about how you shouldn’t use butter in cupcakes because it makes them dry. She believes in using oil. That got me thinking about the Pioneer Woman cake I had recently made, which called for shortening. I wondered if perhaps that perfectly delicious cake might have been too firm to be parlayed into scrumptious cupcakes. Meanwhile, Bobby Flay, used butter in his cupcakes and won, but I was already well down the destructive path of second guessing sound wisdom. Oil, butter, shortening – conflicting expertise – what a dilemma!

My solution – when the experts can’t agree appoint yourself as one. In my visions of blogging grandeur, I even took a picture of myself writing my own hybrid recipe from the two mentioned above. Stupid! I have studied cookies to the point that I can alter recipes with predictable results, but I have no business trying it with cake recipes, when my usual method involves pictures of eggs and oven dials on the back of a box.


This photo is now quite embarrassing!

But, we will never know exactly how this recipe might have turned out, because I failed to even follow my own plan correctly. Here’s how it happened.

Holly and Megan came over to bake with me, which was great fun.


I guess I was distracted with the novelty of a sifter being operated in my kitchen as Holly was measuring the flour and I told her the wrong amount. (It matters how much flour you put in cake, by the way.)



The batter tasted great, but I kept looking through the oven glass at cupcakes that weren’t rising and wondering why it was taking so long. Finally I pulled them out in a fit of aggravation and found that the bottoms were burned. WHAT!?

Worse yet, they tasted burned.


What you cannot see in this trash can is the chunk of my ego buried under the pile.

I called Ric who was already leaving the grocery store after shopping for other graduation party supplies and asked him (in a very miserable voice) to go back in and shake the place down for a red velvet cake mix. He felt so sorry for me that he bought me these flowers to make me feel better.


Maybe I should have baking mishaps more often!

He may have also been feeling bad about breaking the news that he did not find a mix. Instead, he found more red food coloring. Oh, yippee – a chance to redeem myself.

For the next batch I humbly followed the Bobby Flay Throw Down recipe exactly – almost. You can find it online here. The only exception was that I mixed the cocoa and the red food coloring like The Pioneer Woman recipe because it’s much prettier to dump red coloring into white batter. You get a picture like this….


Instead of like this…


…which is how it looks if the cocoa is added in with the dry ingredients. If I wasn’t blogging, I wouldn’t care, but now you’ve gotten to see some pretty red swirls. If you really want to see pretty red batter photography, check out the Red Velvet Sheet Cake on Ree’s Blog.

Both recipes made delicious cake – much better than I’ve ever gotten from a mix. So, the wheels are turning in my brain on this whole cake thing. I will conquer this process!

In the end, the lessons learned were profound. Follow directions when you’re not an expert and be careful about measurements.

Next Post: the graduation cap cupcakes that all of this trouble went into producing. Here’s a sneak peek.


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