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Red Velvet Cake Comparison

December 18, 2012

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Here we are again- another cake comparison! I was so happy with the results from the first two cake comparisons that I did (vanilla and chocolate), I knew that when December rolled around I just had to do a red velvet one. Who doesn’t love a great red velvet cake??? Especially nowadays. It seems to be all the rage, going right along with the popular cupcake scene. Unfortunately I don’t have as many cupcakes to compare for this test as I did for the others (merely 4 compared to the previous 7…), but honestly I had such great results with the recipes that I used, I really don’t think it’s necessary for me to go any further with the experiment. I researched for a verrrry long time to find a good selection of recipes that each offered something different. Most recipes I came across were just small variations of each other- a little more cocoa powder in this one, a touch less vinegar in that one, etc, etc, etc. You get the picture. I wanted to use recipes that had true differences to them, but were still highly regarded. I think I came up with a great selection (although I would have liked to make a few more) and I KNOW that I found a real winner. Here is the breakdown of the participants:

As seen on Smitten Kitchen by Elisa Strauss adapted from “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” as seen in The NY Times: This recipe uses 100% cake flour, canola oil, white vinegar, and a larger than normal amount of cocoa powder.

As seen on Joy the Baker adapted from “Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook”: This recipe uses 100% all-purpose flour, butter, white vinegar, a good dose of cocoa powder, and employs an unusual mixing method involving a cocoa/food coloring paste.

As seen on Divas Can Cook: This recipe uses 100% all-purpose flour, canola oil, white vinegar, an standard amount of cocoa powder, baking soda as well as baking powder, AND calls for coffee!

Adapted from “Baked: New Frontier in Baking: This recipe uses 100% cake flour, butter and shortening, apple cider vinegar, and dissolves cocoa powder in boiling water (unusual technique for this cake).

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See how each one varies? Each recipe resulted in something truly different on a comparison level. I baked the batter as cupcakes to make things easier for testing, but like most cake recipes, each can be used as a layer cake equally well and in some cases, better. So lets get to those results, shall we?! (Take a look at the comparison photos to get a great idea of the differences that resulted. I just love how you can tell by the shiny tops which recipes used solely oil).

[To create standards amongst the recipes for testing I used Ghiradhelli Natural Cocoa Powder (non-dutch processed so it would have an optimal reaction with the baking soda), oven temperature of 325°F, along with the following weight measurements for flour: 4.5 ounces/cup all-purpose flour and 4 ounces/cup cake flour.]

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Elisa Strauss

I have to say right off the bat that this was my favorite. The recipe was very straightforward and easy to prepare. But the results… phenomenal! Because this recipe uses 100% oil the crumb is super moist and fluffy. And I truly think that it called for the perfect amount of sugar, especially considering the addition of frosting. Personally, I think there is nothing worse than cupcakes that are just straight up sugar with very little flavor. Well, this cake balances both nicely. With the hefty amount of cocoa called for (a whopping 1/2 cup for 3 1/2 cups cakes flour!) and the perfect amount of sugar, you really get a winner. Plus, it worked really well as a cupcake, doming softly rather than spreading or baking up flat. But I think this would make an even better layer cake since oil cakes tend to be more delicate (just like Ina Gartens’ Beatty’s Chocolate Cake– the BEST chocolate cake, but not a great cupcake).

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“Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook”

I had high hopes for this cupcake and was slightly disappointed. I’ve seen it on a couple blogs, being named their choice red velvet cupcake. Really? I don’t know… I’m not sold. The crumb was incredibly tight, surprising since I usually find that more of the case in cake flour recipes not all-purpose flour recipes. I assume that it was caused by the strange mixing technique? The recipe calls for you to make a paste out of the cocoa powder, vanilla, and red food coloring, and then to beat that into the creamed sugar/butter/egg mixture. Although flour had yet to be added so it really shouldn’t have affected the crumb so directly… I don’t know. Anybody else that has tried these feel the same way about the texture? I mean, it wasn’t dry or anything, just tight. And the flavor was fine. No complaints there. And they baked up well as cupcakes, considering their dome and all. They just didn’t stop the press for me that’s all. I must admit however though, I could have under-creamed the butter and sugar. The small 4 Tb of butter called for wasn’t doing it for my HUGE mixer bowl. Things didn’t get as fluffy as I would normally have taken them. There may have been a bit of baker error with this one because of that.

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Divas Can Cook

This recipe was my second favorite. I applaud Monique for coming up with this recipe, which according to her blog, sounds like it was her own brainchild. Since it used 100% oil the texture was super moist and fluffy, similar to Elisa’s recipe. These were much sweeter than Elisa’s though. Much. I think it would be a little too much for me personally with the frosting, but that is a personal preference kind of thing. And the addition of coffee?! Just genius! I love adding coffee to anything with chocolate flavor, it truly enhances it. With this recipe you definitely get the biggest bang for your buck with flavor. That is something you don’t usually get with red velvet- lots of cocoa flavor. I have seen some recipes that use as little as 1 tsp cocoa powder. Really??? What is that going to do. It’s silly. This one certainly boosts a good dose of flavor, while not taking it to the level of a chocolate cake. I did have one big qualm with this cake however- it sank. BUT! I truly think the reason is because of the baking powder. It is the only recipe I used with baking soda and baking powder. I just think it is too much leavening for the batter to handle. I have tested this theory with Ina Gartens’ Beatty’s Chocolate Cake, which I had a smiliar problem with, and it was very solvable by reducing the level of baking powder. But honestly, I would just omit it from this recipe totally. It wasn’t necessary in any of the rest of the recipes, what makes this one any different that it needs the extra leavening? I also think this cake would make a much better layer cake than cupcake because of its delicate texture. They did not hold up well when I peeled the paper liner off of them…

baked

Baked: New Frontier in Baking

This recipe was interesting. I really wanted to try it because it employed a few unusual tricks. The first of which I thought was very smart- dissolving the cocoa powder in boiling water, thus enhancing its flavor. GREAT idea. Also, it used a combination of butter and shortening which is not common. Oh, not to mention the apple cider vinegar! This recipe was just a whole new world for red velvet cake… And the result was good. I say good– not great. The crumb was a little tight for my liking (most likely attributable to the cake flour) and lacked the fluffiness I love. But it was a tender cake that had great flavor and domed well, so it really isn’t a cake you could complain about. It was probably the recipe with the best appearance too. Here again though, I just wouldn’t stop the press for it. The tunneling (“holes” in the texture”) is caused by over-mixing batter once the flour is added- whoops, my bad. Since they are pretty apparent, I must have mixed it long enough to effect the delicate nature of the texture too. They probably came out slightly tougher/drier than they should have. I guess I will have to say that this recipe had some “bakers error” for comparisons sake too. I am usually really careful about that kind of stuff. I guess I wasn’t at my best game for this comparison. Either way, that just means that this cake recipe could only be that much better when it already tested very well!

The Results:

#1- Elisa Strauss (LOVE IT!!)

#2- Divas Can Cook (Great minus the baking powder)

#3- “Baked: New Frontier in Baking” (no complaints)

#4- “Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook” 

Ultimately, if you are thinking about making a red velvet cake- please, please, pleassse use Elisa’s recipe! Super awesome I tell you!!

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{ 3 comments }

Lucy December 19, 2012 at 3:09 am

Wow, I love red velvet! Thank you though I don’t think I can bake that many different versions of red velvet cupcake in one or even two sessions!

Dan Kaufman December 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Thanks for the comparisons! I love trying different versions to see which one I prefer. 🙂

The “air pockets” in the Baked cupcake are called “tunnels,” and they result from overmixing the batter. Check out http://bakingbites.com/2011/06/what-is-tunneling for a more in-depth explanation.

Looking forward to checking out more of your blog!

lmachell December 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Interesting! I’ll note that in the post- thanks for the help!

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