We have some great friends in our neighborhood, and one of them happens to share a birthday month with me. Oftentimes, December birthdays can be a total bummer. Everyone is out of town for the holidays, people are all tied up in a billion other celebrations, and, really, if you are going to line your birthday up against a holiday, having to compete against Christmas is like trying to sink a battleship with a blow dart. As I have gotten older, birthday celebrations have gotten smaller and less important, and I can’t say I have any complaints about that phenomenon. Still, knowing the challenges of having a December birthday, I thought that, if nothing else, I could at least make a cake for my friend to help him celebrate, albeit quietly.
It’s funny how birthday parties look when you have children. Often times, the children will outnumber the adults, and whatever fancy spread of food you dream up for the event, there will always be an incongruous pairing of baby carrots and plain pasta to accompany it. And did I mention something about a quiet birthday? I take that back. Having a birthday party when you’re a parent won’t feature any less noise that your childless birthday parties did, it will just feature a very different type of noise (i.e. loud, screaming children playing in your basement instead of loud, screaming guitars from the band playing in your basement).
But, lucky for everyone, nearly every birthday party features cake, and for this birthday party, the cake in question was a red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. There are two points I need to make about this cake. The first point is that the person who chose this cake as his birthday cake happens to be English. I have to point this out only because I found it utterly delightful that an Englishman would choose for himself a cake whose presence is so deeply rooted in the American south. The second point about this cake is that, much as I tried, I did not end up making it a typical red velvet cake. The cake I knew I wanted to make (because it is one of the best cakes I’ve ever had, and it pairs beautifully with cream cheese frosting) is technically a chocolate cake, but it does contain shredded beets, so, really, it might count as being sort of a red velvet cake, right? It’s more of a devil’s food cake, which is sort of similar because…the devil…is red?
Okay, so none of that makes sense. But the cake was still utterly delicious. Ultra chocolaty, ridiculously moist, and covered with the most indulgent frosting imaginable, it matters not that your birthday is just days away from Christmas when you get to eat cake like this.
Last Year: Hazelnut Orange Pesto, and a confession about how I am consistently 3 issues behind on the New Yorker.
Devil’s Food Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup packed finely shredded raw beets
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Position a rack in the lower middle position.
Butter and flour the sides and bottoms of 3 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch sides. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Stir to combine, then make a well in the center and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs to combine. Whisk in the buttermilk. Add to the dry ingredients all at once, and stir to combine completely. Slowly whisk in the butter. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Stir in the beets. Transfer to the prepared cake pans and spread evenly, using a rubber spatula to pull the batter away from the center of the pans and out along the sides.
Bake until the center of each cake springs back when lightly touched and the sides of each cake just begin to pull away from the pan, 30 to 35 minutes.
Allow cakes to cool on a wire rack, still in their pans, for 10 minutes. Invert each cake onto another rack and remove pans. Carefully peel off the parchment paper and cool the cakes completely, upside down. Make sure your cake layers are completely and totally cooled before frosting, lest your frosted cake end up a dripping, melted mess.
Cream Cheese Frosting
16 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt by beating on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 to 4 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low, slowing add the confectioner’s sugar, and beat until smooth, 4 to 6 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 4 to 6 minutes.