just a smidgen

Naked Red Velvet Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugared Cranberries

Red Velvet Cake 7

Tuesday evening started out like any other night, I had a beautiful recipe I couldn’t wait to try. I even bought three of those straight edged cake pans so I could layer them and make my first “Naked Cake”. For the uninitiated, this doesn’t require baking a cake in the buff, but is a cake with frosting smushed between the layers and on top, but not on the sides. Unadorned, you just pull the offset spatula around and it easily smooths the icing between the layers.

I thought the perfect cake for our Christmas party had to be a gingerbread cake and proceeded to find one that I thought looked lovely. It involved grinding cardamom pods and fresh cloves with a mortar and pestle, the spices would be sensational! One must crack each tiny pod with the side of a knife, just like one would crack a garlic clove before peeling.. then the little seeds are shaken apart from the husk. The recipe required three teaspoons of these and each little seed is about the size of a snowflake, 5-6 of these little gems are in each pod. Perspiration started beading on my forehead and my vision began to blur after a few minutes, but I determined that I would not give up. And so, the special ginger spices were ground together.. along with those precious, fresh cardamom seeds. I’m not going to lie, it smelled fantastic and I couldn’t wait to try them in a layer cake.

Red Velvet Cake 2

I followed the instructions to the “tee”.. I thought. But I somehow managed to switch out 8″ pans for 6″ pans, that was my first mistake. I kept wondering why the batter barely covered the bottom of the pan and how could it rise to the heights shown in the photo. Then I swapped out corn syrup for cane syrup, don’t ask.. I’m not sure what I was thinking. Cane syrup, for the uninitiated and unannointed (like myself) has an acidity that reacts with the baking soda, thus making the cake rise. I ended up with three sweet, flat disks.. unsalvageable for a tall layer cake. Fail #1

Undeterred I greased, lined and floured the three cake pans once more { one of my most hated tasks }. The second time I used molasses, but with the same too large cake pans, of course, the resulting cake was darker in color.. and still… flat. I’ve decided that Cane Syrup cannot be substituted with molasses. Fail #2.

Red Velvet Cake 4

That’s when I lost it and started googling baking soda and baking powder to learn how these work in cakes.  I chose a new recipe and proceeded to desperately chuck in baking powder. My son encouragingly said,” Mom, this is just like those baking shows where the challenge is to improvise on the spot.  I’m sure these cakes will turn out.” Rise they did.. they rose to such glorious heights, you should have seen them.. but you can’t because.. well, you know where I’m going with this one.. they collapsed. The crumb was so fluffy and delicate, the layers fell apart in my hands when I tried to take them out of the pan. Fail #3.

Red Velvet Cake 5

My husband sauntered into the kitchen and asked longingly, what I planned to do with the discarded flat cakes. With permission, they were quickly broken into large chunks and he and my son devoured them on the spot. The flavour got two thumbs up and they wondered why I just couldn’t use those ones. I guess I’m a perfectionist.. or OCD.. or a sucker for a really tall cake?

Red Velvet Cake 6

Onto Plan B where I had to decide what other flavour of cake would work with cream cheese and cranberries and would still be suitable for Christmas and a naked cake form. I thought I’d better just sleep on it.

The next morning, after some much needed shut-eye and time spent scouring for recipes then a trip to the grocery store, I landed on the fourth and final cake idea. What could be prettier than a deep Red Velvet Cake with Sugared “Glitter” Cranberries, with layers of thick cream cheese frosting? I thought it would be perfect.. better still, this combination is new to the internet.. I think! Guess whose recipe it was? Why Martha’s of course! I wasn’t going to mess up a fourth time!

An hour and a bit later, with seemingly little effort on my part, I had three miraculously risen, perfectly dense layers of deep burgundy Red Velvet Cake. The popped effortlessly out of the pan and could be handled with ease. I made sure to lay them upside down to flatten out any rounded tops. This makes cake assembly easier.

Red Velvet Cake 5My family thought I was crazy to keep trying.. but it seems the fourth time’s the charm. I don’t have a slice photo for you since this was taken to our Christmas party, but I can tell you the crumb had a beautiful, deep Christmasy red that looked so pretty against the creamy white frosting and sugared cranberries.

The take-away lesson for my family? I hope it’s to never give up, to learn from your mistakes, to sleep on your problems, things seem brighter in the morning, there’s nothing like pride in a job well done.. And.. some mistakes are meant to be eaten. With a glass of cold milk and a drizzle of maple syrup, I’m told those cakes tasted like amazing with whipped cream too!

This is a very { simple } but impressive special occasion cake to make. It’s so much easier than it looks.. I think!

Important Note #1: The 8″ cake pans with straight edges are from Williams-Sonoma. I made one cake recipe, then repeated, making another half recipe to fill the third pan. The recipe below is only one full recipe, you’ll have to do the math { pretty simple } to make the next half a recipe for the third cake layer. I just mixed the batter while the first two were baking. In all probability, you could mix a full 1 1/2 recipes at once, but I wasn’t taking any chances. This cake looked especially pretty on a silver serving platter.

Important Note #2: When cutting a slice, have a knife in your right hand and a metal spatula (pancake flipper) up against the other side of the slice of cake using your left hand. This keeps the layers in place when cutting, then just flip the slice over onto the spatula to move to a plate. Thanks for the great tip, Kat!!

Important Note #3: The cranberries are meant to be eaten. Make sure not to “cook” or simmer them, when you take them out of the simple syrup they may not look “wet” but they will become sticky with time. When you toss them in sugar they will feel almost hollow and light.

Important Note #4: This may look like a lot of icing, but in fact it is less or about the same as a regular cake because there isn’t any frosting around the outside. The layers look thicker than they are because of the scraped icing that overlaps the chocolate layers.

Red Velvet Cake 1

Red Velvet Layer Cake with Sugared Cranberries
 
The 8" cake pans with straight edges are from Williams-Sonoma. I made one cake recipe, then repeated, making another half recipe to fill the third pan. The recipe below is only one full recipe, you'll have to do the math { pretty simple } to make the next half a recipe for the third cake layer. I just mixed the batter while the first two were baking. In all probability, you could mix a full 1 1/2 recipes at once, but I wasn't taking any chances. This recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart and a Bakers Royal recipe. Inspiration came from Call Me Cupcake.
Author:
Recipe type: Desserts - Cake
Ingredients
Red Velvet Cake
  • 3 8" round cake pans
  • wax paper or parchment paper
  • Butter or margarine for cake pans
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, not self-rising (I used Swans Down)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (not dutch processed) + extra for cake pans
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 4 small packages (8 ounces each) or two large (16 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 - 7 cups icing (confectioners') sugar, sifted
Sugared Cranberries
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups cranberries at room temperature
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 8" round white cardboard cake board
Instructions
Red Velvet Cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Grease three 8" round, straight edge cake pans. trace the bottoms gently with a scissor's edge on wax or parchment paper. Cut out and put into the cake pans. Grease the waxed paper bottoms. Add a heaping spoonful of cocoa powder to one pan, shake to coat the bottom and sides. Repeat with the other two pans. Do not use flour, it will leave a white film on the bare sides of the cake.
  3. In a large bowl, sift the flour, salt and cocoa powder together then set aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the sugar and canola oil until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition. Put the mixer on the lowest speed and add the vanilla and red food coloring. Mix to blend, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
  5. Then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/3 of the buttermilk. Repeat, ending with the buttermilk.
  6. In any small measuring cup, add 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda and stir in 2 teaspoons white vinegar. This mixture will fizz up. Add to the cake batter and mix for ONLY 10 SECONDS.
  7. Scrape down the sides and divide this mixture evenly between TWO of the prepared pans.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool. Once cooled for 5-10 minutes, invert the cake and leave it UPSIDE DOWN on the wire rack to finish cooling completely. This helps to ensure you don't have as much of a rounded top to your layers.
  9. REPEAT THIS RECIPE, DIVIDING ALL INGREDIENTS IN HALF TO FILL THE THIRD PAN.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Measure in the vanilla and mix to blend. With the mixer on low, add the icing sugar one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. After 6 cups, test to see if the icing will hold it's shape when the paddle is lifted. If not, add an addition cup of sugar. You need the icing to be thick enough to hold the weight of the three layers of cake. A soft icing means your cake will collapse between layers, pushing the icing out.
  2. !Sugared Cranberries
  3. Set a wire rack over paper towel. Then in a large saucepan, add the water and sugar and set over medium high heat. Once the mixture begins to simmer (not boil), take off the heat and stir in the cranberries. Do not keep them in too long or they will begin to pop and soften, this doesn't work well for sugared cranberries, they will turn to mush if cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on the prepared wire rack. Allow to cool for about an hour or until tacky to the touch. Measure the rest of the sugar onto a plate or wide mouth bowl. Separate then roll the cranberries in the sugar then place on a plate to cool for another hour.
Assembly
  1. Smear a bit of frosting on an 8" round cake board, press one layer top down on the cake board. Dollop and smooth a thick (1 to 1 1/2") layer of frosting on that layer and press the second layer down gently right side up. You want some of the cream cheese to "ooze" out between the layers, just don't press too hard. Add a second thick layer of cream cheese and place the third layer upside down and press down again. Put a thick layer of icing on the very top of the cake, smooth and flatten with a large offset spatula. I should have made mine thicker.
  2. Put the offset spatula vertically against the side of the cake and "scrape" the sides, going around in a smooth motion. Stop now and then to remove the excess icing but don't put it in the "clean" icing as it will have crumbs in it. If you have an area where there isn't enough icing to "scrape", just dollop a little in there to patch it and then scrape round to smooth. Just keep going until you like what you see. At the top you will end up with a little raised edge, just smooth it back onto the top and flatten. Top with sugared cranberries just before serving.
Notes
Note: This cake looked especially pretty on a silver serving platter.

Note #2: When cutting a slice, have a knife in your right hand and a metal spatula (pancake flipper) up against the other side of the slice of cake using your left hand. This keeps the layers in place when cutting, then just flip the slice over onto the spatula to move to a plate.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 12 - 15 slices

 Sharing on the Inspiration Gallery with Craftberry Bush and French Country Cottage and Thistlewood Farms.

Love, Smidge Bluebird

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