In the pantheon of food-related shark jumps, red velvet cake body mist may well be the greatest leap of all.
Red velvet cake, once a reasonably tender, softly flavored culinary gimmick, has become a national commercial obsession, its cocoa undertones and cream-cheese tang re-created in chemical flavor laboratories and infused into all manner of places cake should not exist.
One can buy a red velvet scented candle, red velvet protein powder, red velvet air fresheners and red velvet vodka.
Even in the world of actual food, red velvet has taken over like so much kudzu.
In San Francisco, where one presumes people know better, the American Cupcake bar and bakery offers chicken that has been soaked in red velvet cake batter, rolled in toasted red velvet cupcake crumbs and fried. The dish comes with garlic- and cream-cheese mashed potatoes and cocoa-infused slaw.
Dunkin’ Donuts sells red velvet lattes. Republic of Tea sells red velvet tea. There are red velvet waffles, Pop-Tarts, whoopie pies and, in a pileup of dessert trends, the red velvet molten cake sundae.
How red velvet cake got its sleeve caught in the American food merchandising machine and ended up as a scent for bath salts is a cautionary tale for any food that starts out with the best of intentions.
“Why this happened to red velvet is at the core of the culture’s spirit of democracy and innovation,” said Canadian author David Sax.
The Adams Extract Co. is pushing back against the twisted permutations of red velvet, too. The company this year began marketing the original scratch-cake recipe in a vintage-style box with cocoa, flour and bottles of extract and dye.
Red Velvet Cake
½ cup (113 grams) butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons to prepare pans
3 tablespoons (22 grams) cocoa powder, divided
1½ cups (300 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 milli- liters) vanilla
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) red food coloring
1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
2½ cups (250 grams) flour, sifted
1 cup (236 milliliters) whole buttermilk
1 tablespoon (15 milli- liters) vinegar
Ermine icing (see recipe), or other fluffy white icing
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by buttering lightly and sprinkling with 1 tablespoon sifted cocoa powder, tapping pans to coat and discarding extra cocoa.
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time and beat vigorously until each is incorporated. Mix in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, make a paste of the remaining 2 tablespoons cocoa and the food coloring. Blend into butter mixture.
Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Alternating in 2 batches each, add dry ingredients and buttermilk to the butter mixture. In the last batch of buttermilk, mix in the vinegar before adding to the batter. Mix until blended.
Divide batter among 3 pans and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a rack completely. (Can also be made in 2 cake pans.)
To assemble, remove 1 cake from its pan and peel away parchment. Place flat side down on a serving platter. Drop about 1 cup of icing onto cake and, using a flat spatula, spread evenly over top. Remove the second cake from its pan and remove parchment. Place flat side down on top of first layer. Use remaining frosting to cover top and sides of cake.
Note: Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.
Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake.
– Adapted from the original Adams Extract Co. recipe
5 tablespoons (40 grams) flour
1 cup (235 milliliters) whole milk
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup (230 grams) (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
Over medium heat, whisk flour and milk in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring frequently until it becomes very thick and almost puddinglike.
Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla and salt. Pour into a bowl to allow it to cool completely. Put plastic wrap on the surface to keep a skin from forming.
Use a mixer to cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add the cooled flour mixture a little bit at a time. Continue to beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy and resembles whipped cream.
Yield: Frosts one cake, with 2 or 3 layers.