How to dress up a cake for a party…and not any party: the festival of people in love, also known as the occasion to buy, like there’s no tomorrow, inflatable hearts, mugs littered with cupids, underpants burdened by uncomfortable and improbable laces. Oh, and apparently it’s also the opportunity to celebrate Love.
During the years in which I had filed away “The NeverEnding Story”, substituted by “The Party” as favourite movie, these types of gifts were abundant in my bedroom shelves. They weren’t necessarily gifts from the “Philippe” of the moment, but rather little somethings carefully sought just for you – only for you and only for today – from the best friend, the sister, the classmate.
And with time, a firm belief settled in, that feeling pulled to celebrate Love by an external force, rather than an inner drive, is the perfect banalization of it all. Because, when you put it like that, what satisfaction can you possibly feel? It’s a bit like bullying your boyfriend into going shopping with you, although you know he’d rather go bungee-jumping, but with no cord. Where’s the fulfilment? Automatically all promises along the line of “your happiness is my happiness” instantly evaporate. Basically, to be forced to do something that should help your feelings, is against any gut feeling. On the other hand, criticising Valentine’s Day is a common activity, even out of fashion, and therefore let everyone be free of buying the underpants they like, let them fill their cars with all the hairy pillows they wish: variety makes the world interesting, and the economy can continue to grow.
But, there’s a but. Set aside the whacky novelty gifts for a minute.
A few days ago, pushed by curiosity, I looked for information on this Valentine guy. I discovered he was a Bishop who lived in the third century A.D. and who died decapitated at the age of 97, guilty of celebrating Christian marriage between a pagan man and a Christian woman in the period in which the Roman Empire was heavily prosecuting Christians. Do you feel sad? Wait, I am not finished.
The ceremony was celebrated in a rush and the couple died while Valentine was blessing them, because the young woman was very sick. Death upon death, in the name of love and to celebrate love.
I turned off the laptop and, in a mood more suited to November 1st, rather than chocolate and red roses, I made a cake. A cake which didn’t convince me in the past, before I learned how to make it less harsh.
Inflated and American in the right measure, with a few tweaks it proved to be as soft and comforting as the velvet it promises to remind of, with a flavour that’s intense and fresh, thanks to the citrusy note of the orange.
I always bake it with a certain involvement, be it because of its red colour, or because of the creative variations I can experiment with. I dedicate it to all people who love each other, yesterday, today and tomorrow, to Valentine and his unlucky newlyweds, to Lisa who, thousands of km away, gives me her time and her pretty head, to Gian who never says no, to my sister, thanks to whom I could stand even without a leg, to mum and dad who ty to follow me on social media even at their age, to my in laws who are the best people one can think of, and to Gabri…keeping all reasons for myself.
I chose to make the cake baking the batter on the oven tray, so that the sides of the Red Velvet would be bright red. However you can avoid this step. If you prefer the traditional method (using the cake molds), certainly faster and more practical, you can use 3 cake tins of 18 cm diameter. Obviously the discs will be thicker.
Grease with butter the bases only, and line them with baking paper. Then grease the three rings and equally divide the batter into the three tins (approximately 450g of batter per tin). Bake in the oven for approximately 35 minutes (or until cooked through and a skewer comes out clean). Once cooked, leave to cool and then, with a serrated knife, cut the dome top off, to obtain 3 discs of the same size. Keep the offcuts to decorate the cake.
Frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting, keeping some for the final decoration. Spread a thin layer of frosting on the top, then use the piping bag (with or without nozzle) to make swirls around the edge. Crumble up the offcuts of the sponge and sprinkle around the central part of the cake.
Grater (I use this, it’s perfect for the zest of citrus fruits)
Baking tray 40*30 (standard oven pan for 60 l ovens)
Baking ring 18cm diameter
Kitchen thermometer (optional)
Piping bag with round nozzle 1 cm approx.
INGREDIENTS & METHOD
For the base
150 g butter at room temperature (you can take it out of the fridge the night before)
375 g superfine sugar
Grated zest of one organic orange
120 g eggs at room temperature (2 large eggs)
5 g salt
1 vanilla pod or ground vanilla
25/30 ml of red colouring gel
50 g cacao powder, sifted
375 g sifted flour
300 g yogurt at room temperature
10 g baking soda
30 ml white vinegar
Grease with butter the oven pan, then line it with parchment paper, covering well all sides. Pre-heat the oven to 175° C.
In the kitchen machine bowl, mix the sugar and grated orange zest. With your fingertips, rub the zest and the sugar together, to bring out all the essential oils. Then add the softened butter and cream it with a flat beater (I always use the creaming beater for a perfect result), until the mixture is really white and fluffy.
Break the eggs into a bowl, lightly beat them and heat them in the microwave for a few seconds bringing their temperature to 28°C. This step is optional, but you should ensure that the eggs are at least at room temperature. Slowly add the warm eggs, a bit at a time, to the butter mixture, while beating. Then add salt, vanilla and colouring. You should obtain a nice intense cyclamen colour.
Once the batter is well combined, add a spoonful of yogurt, alternating it with a spoonful of sifted flour and cocoa.
In a small bowl, add the baking soda and then pour the vinegar; the mixture will fizz; mix quickly and pour immediately onto the batter. Beat at medium speed for approximately 1 minute.
Pour the mixture onto the oven pan, lined with parchment paper; using the spatula, level the batter to form an even layer.
Bake in the oven at 175 °C for approximately 35 minutes or until cooked through: inserting a skewer, it must come out clean. Leave to cool and then with the baking ring cut 4 discs, all of the same size. Keep the offcuts to decorate.
If you have any sponge leftover, you can freeze it and use it to make delicious cake pops.
For the cream cheese frosting
385 g cream cheese (I used Philadelphia) at room temperature
110 g butter at room temperature
220 g icing sugar
Grated zest of one organic lemon
250 g fresh raspberries
With the flat beater, or the creaming beater (see above), beat the softened butter with the sugar until you obtain a pale fluffy mixture similar to fresh cream. Add the cream cheese and the lemon zest, mixing until well combined. Pour into the piping bag with a round nozzle.
Composition of the cake
Place the first layer onto a carton stand or a serving plate. Add the cream cheese frosting and a few raspberries; alternate the sponge discs and the filling. On the top disc, spread a thin layer of frosting using a spatula, then make frosting swirls all around the edge.
Crumble up the offcuts of the sponge and sprinkle in the central part of the cake. Leave the Red Velvet Cake in the fridge to set for at least two hours before serving.