With birthday season upon me I prepared for the last easy one before the summer rush. I get to knock out three birthdays at once in April with two colleagues who share the 8th and another whose birthday is the 10th. A few months ago a request for red velvet cake came up so that's what we had this time.
Originally I intended to make it the old-fashioned way...with beets. A friend who had a share in the triplicate birthday expressed her doubts that I would be able to make a cake made out of beets not taste like beets. And since I think that beets both taste and smell like dirt I was not too disappointed to do it the easy way and use red food coloring. A lot of food color as it happened.
I used the red velvet recipe from The Joy of Cooking. Pretty basic, cream butter and sugar and eggs then do the alternate adding of flour mixture (flour, baking soda and powder, salt and unsweetened cocoa) and red dyed buttermilk.
Technically you're supposed to use two 9 inch pans then cut each one in half. I never manage to make a clean cut in half and usually end up with a half and crumbles. So I cheated. I used four 9 inch pans :).
After baking I covered each layer with a cream cheese frosting (two 8 ounce packages of cream cheese, one stick on butter and powdered sugar until I thought it tasted right). Then post frosting and chilling I tried a decorating technique that I had attempted previously and which had turned out to less than my satisfaction. I covered the cake with chocolate decorated by a chocolate transfer sheet. It seems pretty simple when you talk through it: cut the transfer sheet into the size and shape you want, cover with melted chocolate, let it set a little, put on your cake, then when completely set peel off the plastic.
Reality of course, is always slightly different. My round piece was too small and my side pieces too tall. Despite that, it didn't look too terrible when it was finished.
Sure it could have looked better but it also could have looked a lot worse. So I declare a semi victory. Yay. Other than getting your measuring straight, the trick with this is to make sure to let the chocolate set on the transfer enough so that when you're handling it all the chocolate stays put and doesn't slide off. But make sure that it doesn't set up so much that it's no longer pliable. I used these at Christmas too but for a much simpler project. After dipping truffles in ganache I dropped them on the sheets instead of on just plan wax paper. Those turned out pretty well.
After the cake (which did not turn out nearly as red as I'd hoped despite the almost entire bottle of red food coloring) I made brownie balls. What's a brownie ball? you ask. Well...first you bake yourself a pan of brownies according to the mix instructions. When they're cool, dump them in a bowl and mix with the frosting of your choice. I used coconut pecan to make German chocolate brownies.
When you've got it all mixed roll into balls and either let them sit in your fridge for a few hours or in the freezer if you're in a time crunch. For the dipping I followed a recipe I found on All Recipes. Mix a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 teaspoon each of vanilla and butter and 8 ounces of chocolate chips. Then dip the balls, knock of the excess, set on wax paper and put them back in the fridge to set up.
Now for the lessons learned part. Make sure that you completely bake the brownies. I always under bake mine because I like them a little gooey, but when you mix a gooey brownie with frosting, especially one like the coconut pecan, gooey becomes gooshy and it's kind of a mess. Lesson number two...the sweetened condensed milk recipe was a bad idea all around. Don't do that. I went for that instead of a ganache because I happened to have a can of sweetened condensed milk at home and didn't want to buy the heavy whipping cream I would need for the ganache. Go for the ganache. The recipe I followed was thick and gloopy, was very difficult to work with, and never really set up.
That was after sitting in the refrigerator all night. They did not want to be separated from the wax paper. Despite the mistakes, they tasted fabulous and in fact, my coworkers were ready to nominate me for godhood (ok so maybe that was my suggestion).