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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008 10:23 pm

Be my velvet Valentine

HereÂ’s a sexy dessert thatÂ’s like hotpants and white go-go boots

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Untitled Document Tea for two needs cake. So do Grandma, your pals from work, and all of the other lonely hearts sticking out their tongues at this lovers-only holiday. With or without an admirer, one needs an antidote for the irrepressibly goopy love stuff taking center stage at the local CVS or Walgreens. Walk on by those bags of cupid-themed M&Ms and pick up a few bottles of red food coloring instead. No, we’re not paintballing lovebirds; we’re making red velvet cake. On the basis of color contrast alone, the velvet cake is like no other. Beef tartare-shaded layers get a coat of stark-white cream cheese frosting that is so bright you may need sunglasses. The combination is shocking, strangely beautiful, and kind of sexy — like hotpants and white go-go boots. Allow yourself two hours for both cake and frosting, but please don’t doll up this beauty until the cake is completely cooled. A flat-edged pastry spreader is useful, but I’ve used a wide serrated knife with decent success. We all deserve a sex-kitten moment every once in a while. Preheat those ovens, pronto.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
REDVELVETVALENTINE’SCAKE Adapted from James McNair’s Cakes by James McNair

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 3/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup (one-and-a-half sticks) unsalted butter, at      room temperature 1 1/2 cups sugar Two eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten 2 teaspoons vanilla extract Two bottles (1 ounce each) red liquid food coloring 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
Grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans and line them with circles of parchment paper. (Plan B: Grease and flour pans.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Over a medium bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to mix well and set the bowl aside. In a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about one minute. With the mixer still running, slowly add the sugar. Occasionally stop the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly drizzle in the eggs and beat until they’re mixed well, remembering to scrape the sides of bowl. Add the vanilla and food coloring. Using the mixer on low speed or a rubber spatula, begin to incorporate about one-third of the dry ingredients, alternating with half of the buttermilk. Continue to alternate dry with wet, ending with the remaining flour mixture, until ingredients are incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between pans and with a spatula make sure that it is evenly distributed. Place each pan on a baking sheet and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove the pans and cool them for about 20 minutes, then invert them onto wire racks to cool completely. While the cake layers cool, make frosting.
CREAMCHEESEFROSTING Also from James McNair’s Cakes
3/4 cup (one-and-a-half sticks) unsalted butter,    room temperature Two 8-ounce bricks (1 pound) cream cheese, chilled 2 teaspoons vanilla extract Pinch of salt 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted Optional: light cream or milk, if needed
In a mixing bowl, beat the butter with a mixer until it’s fluffy. Add the cream cheese, vanilla, and salt, beating at low speed, just until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Don’t overbeat; the cream cheese will get thin and runny. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides of the bowl. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat on low. Add the remaining cup and beat until just smooth and spreadable; taste for sweetness and consistency. If the icing is too thick, add a little light cream or milk. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate. When you’re ready to use the frosting, allow it to warm up to room temperature. Makes a generous amount for a two-layer cake.
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