I wasn’t happy with Karen Young’s Red Velvet Cake. Having tasted a bit of it at the Bakers’ Fair in Rockwell, I remember thinking that she could do better. I’ve probably tasted (and photographed!) everything in her product line (about 30+ items in all) and I’ve come to know what she’s capable of creating. But this cake sitting before me? No.
For one thing, the cake was dark, rendering null its very name; it was dry; and the icing was some incongruous combination of cream and something else. (I find out later the “something else” is mascarpone, but that still didn’t change my opinion of the cake).
Several months later, when Karen and I meet for lunch, I gently broach to her my opinion of her red velvet cake. I believe that criticism must always be constructive, so after I tell her my thoughts, I suggest a few ways she might want to try to improve it. Our ideas bounce off each other, and soon, we’re flush with the idea of her recharged red velvet cake.
This cake has a riddled past and uncertain origins. The consensus though, is that red velvet, like many layer cakes, is from the Southern states of the United States. A vanilla cake kissed with cocoa powder, it has a soft, yielding crumb from baking soda which also contributes a reddish tint when it reacts to the cocoa. As for the icing, purists decry the use of cream cheese on a red velvet cake, asserting that the “traditional” icing is made by cooking flour and milk into a paste and then mixing it into beaten butter and white sugar. Eh, no thanks. I prefer cream cheese.
What’s clear is that red velvet cake is red: anything from a saccharine Valentine red to a dramatic, burnt sienna. The color, no doubt, depends on the amount of food coloring involved, made even more striking by the contrast of red set against tufts of white frosting.
In her revamped red velvet cake, Karen harnesses fresh butter and quality cocoa powder, sugar, eggs, and other ingredients in their proper proportions. She’s mindful of each ingredient’s contribution to the final result, and of her goal to produce a red velvet cake that’s alluring in appearance and taste.
When Karen shows me the cake, there’s no hint of what lies underneath its white top punctuated by curls of white chocolate. But. A single red rosebud at its center drops a seductive hint and when my knife slices through the cake, there’s no mistaking what this is. Rims of deep brown envelop a heart of red. Painfully moist is its crumb, which possesses a fleeting cocoa flavor rounded out by buttery notes. And the final touch: the cream cheese frosting a perfect cloak to this supernal creation.
I eat this cake late at night after coming home from a dinner out. The house is quiet and only I am up. Grabbing a dessert plate and fork I eat a slice in silence, letting only the cake speak to me. My pulse is pounding, every flavor taking up residence in my taste memory. I chew slowly, and each bite slides down my throat like ”“ dare I say it? ”“ velvet.
Note: This cake will be available for order on Friday, June 6, 2008. P500/8-inch cake.
428 Adalla St. Palm Village
Related (numerous!) posts on Karen Young:
5 of the best choc cakes in Manila
Karen’s Xanadu and Mixed Cheesecake
Karen’s Banana Cream Pie
Manila’s 10 Best Desserts, 2007
How To Be One of Manila’s Best Home Bakers
Karen’s BTS cake