Saturday, 8 November 2008

Celebrating the Stars & Stripes

What a week. I know this is a blog about baking, but news from across the Atlantic has captured the imagination. You'd have to be a curmudgeonly old cynic not to have felt at least a tinge of excitement by the result of this week's U.S.presidential election - suddenly America's beacon is shining bright again, and not a moment too soon. It astonished me on Wednesday morning how, in spite of so much worrying economic news, everyone on the tube sat and read about the election result with a smile on their faces. OK, this is London, so the smile was more like a bemused, understated look bordering on a smile. But there's a real sense of optimism in the air, a renewed faith even...

Of course it wouldn't be the weekend if there wasn't a spot of baking on the agenda, and one can't blather on indefinitely about world events on a baking blog! As the daughter of an American mother (with an Americaphile Norwegian father) I have a particular penchant for American cakes, muffins and cookies. This recipe, for red velvet cake, originated in the deep South. Perhaps a mischievous choice for celebrating the week's news but I reckon this cake has symbolic value, not to mention some seriously schmaltziness. Indeed, this was the election when comediennes reigned, so in the spirit of SNL's Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman (of "The Great Schlep") I decorated this cake to look like the American flag. Needless to say, it looks hilarious, however let me reassure you this is actually a delicious cake for tea-time or with a steaming cup of Java Joe (that's coffee to tea-drinkers) and as you can see, a great excuse to play with food colouring - as if one ever needed an excuse.

  • 200g plain flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150g melted butter
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml milk, with a teaspoon of lemon juice in it 
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a lot of red food colouring - I used an obscene amount, 50ml!
  • pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 180 celsius. Lightly grease a 20cm square cake tin

In a medium bowl, sift all the dry ingredients. In a second medium bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Curdle the milk by adding the lemon juice (this helps activate the bicarb: acid + alkali = well-risen cake). Add the dry ingredients to the eggs, give the mixture a few folds with a large spoon, then add the milk, the butter and food colouring and stir through until the mixture is evenly blended.

Pour this into a square cake tin and bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 35-40 minutes.

The icing:
  • 150g softened butter
  • 150g cream cheese
  • 6 tablespoons icing sugar
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • food colouring...ahem! tubes of already coloured icing also work well...
Cream the butter and then add the icing sugar, followed by the cream cheese and vanilla. Separate into three bowls and add the appropriate food colour
ing - needn't be red, white and blue obviously ;-)

p.s. this 'hope-inspiring' cake is dedicated to my favourite American chica, Kaitlin, who was my partner in crime constructing a similarly goofy cake many moons ago - only we decorated with blueberries and strawberries for the full stars & stripes effect. Slightly more organic than my abovementioned food colouring bonanza...

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