Thursday, April 22, 2010

To Have and To Hold (a story of Red Cake)

(Pre-Script: This post will fill you with all sorts of beautiful deliciousness when read as the song, "Fall Apart Today," #61 on the playlist," OR as the song, "The Power of Love," #41 on the playlist, plays in the background, as long as you change lyrics in your head to "The Power of Cake." So Go down to the playlist, click on those songs, then come back and resume reading. I'll wait...)(...still waiting...)

We hear alot about the Very Selfish Person who wants to Have his cake and Eat it too, as if this is a bad, greedy thing. But everyone wants to have his or her cake and eat it, too. Why wouldn't he or she? Cake is good. Cake is pretty. Red Velvet Cake is especially pretty, though a mess and a hassle goes into it if you ever make one from scratch.
Three years ago, I embarked on a cake baking journey. I wanted to find and bake the best Red Velvet Cake that I could. I didn't know that Red Velvet Cake existed until I saw the movie Steel Magnolias when I was 16 and really into watching movies that I knew would have me balling like mid life crisis at the end.* Some people like to ride roller coasters. A good weep inducing movie was the same amount of a thrill for me, especially since roller coasters have always had a tendency to terrify me (hello, crazy heights, and you are barely strapped in, rolling over a rickety thin track you can barely see, high, high up in the sky. Is this even sane? Think about it.) Also Roller Coasters make my stomach want to part ways with it's cake. (and in this instance, the word "cake" is a metaphor for "any food I have eaten that day.")
So there I was, niave that such luxuries as Red Velvet Cake existed, and now I knew. This was one of the few hazards of growing up in California (aside from the constant threat that the entire state will break off and fall into the ocean, or get carried away by a huge tsunami, or get all cracked up by an earthquake, but most likely all of those things will happen at once) I did not "KNOW" Red Velvet Cake in an experiential way until years later, when I was visiting someone who lived in the southern state of Georgia. I ordered a piece from right off the counter at a coffeeshop. It was like taking a bite out of the fruit off of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I was suddenly very wise to the fact that I had been missing out, and simultaneously feeling like I had been jipped, but would no longer be missing out or jipped for the rest of my life. At the age of 21, I knew I had 21 years of cake eating to make up for, and roughly 80 more years to do it in, probably. Assuming that the Pacific Ocean's comsumption of the state of California does not take place in that time period. Or if it does, then assuming I am on vacation somewhere else at the time. (And, Most Ironically, Assuming that I don't eat too much cake.)
So I went online and tried several promising sounding recipes. Some recipes have more ingredients or more steps than others. All require generous portions of the very naturally occuring ingredient, "Red Food Coloring." I know this is a natural ingredient, 'cause I picked the bottles of it off of the tree in my backyard.** There is either a cream cheese frosting that goes on the Red Velvet Cake, or there is a white, lighter in flavor frosting. I tried and perfected varieties of both.
It would have been good for you to be my friend at that time in history, particularly if you are one of the "have your cake and eat it too" types. My friend Francesca can vouch for this, because guess who showed up at her doorstep with several home made variations of this mysterious Red Velvet Cake? Me, that's who. Unfortunately, she was not a huge fan. She said something horrendous, like, "I think Red Velvet Cake is pretty to look at, not so good to eat." Clearly, this makes her a "have your cake" type of personality, more than an "...and eat it too..." or maybe she just doesn't like my baking and was putting me down gently. Wow, now I feel mildly insulted, and I did not catch that before. This is why it is best not to go back and reflect on things people have told you in your lifetime. You might suddenly realize that you now know what they meant, when at the time the statement was made, it had flown right over your head, like a bird, back up to it's perch in that very giant Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In the end, I came away with what I decided was the best recipe for Red Velvet Cake. It was the one that involved the most steps, including having to purchase a certain kind of flour, then to sift it onto parchment paper. I mean, really, who does that stuff anymore. Myself, some really prissy people, and the Waldorph Astoria Hotel, that's who. Let that be a clue for you as to my recipe, people. (He who has an eye for the semi obvious clue, let him see.)
Should you decide to embark on a mission of this type for yourself, let me warn you: If you never particularly wanted red splatters on your kitchen walls, don't bake this cake. There are other ways to keep red splatters off of your walls, but I will not mention them here and now, as there may be young, naive children reading. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil does not need to extend it's branches quite that low if I can help it.


*Let the record show that this particular thrill was a phase that lasted roughly just during my dramatic-only-to-myself teenage years, then promptly ended.
**I am assuming this is not the same Red Food Coloring that causes cancer in lab mice.

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