08/09/12 - Birthday Baking with Dr Seuss

The red velvet cake is something of a trend at the moment - I remember when I first discovered the concept and got my dad to make me one for...possibly my sixteenth birthday?  Maybe fifteenth.  There are hundreds of variants of the recipe knocking around, including one I once tried which used beetroot to colour the sponge rather than artificial colouring!  Since then, it's taken off in leaps and bounds, particularly since the whole cupcake thing exploded a couple of years ago.  I am a huge fan - my friends can vouch that a few years ago, I went through a phase of dousing every cake I made in food colouring (my rainbow cupcakes became the stuff of legend at the orchestra I went to) - so what's not to love about a red chocolate cake?  Amazing.

So when my beautiful friend Sarah's 21st birthday rolled around, I decided to break out the cupcake cases and get my bake on!

This cake idea actually has a bit of back-story to it.  Basically, Sarah and I - like the super awesome teenagers we were - made it a tradition of doing joint costumes for fancy dress opportunities.  And our favourite was Dr Seuss's Thing 1 and Thing 2.  The costume involved T-shirts with marker pen labels, denim skirts and red tights, topped off with backcombed hair and turquoise eyeshadow - ever the classy ladies.  And so, now that we're growing up and we haven't donned our red tights for a few years, I thought we'd take a trip down memory lane.

See the resemblance?
The first of many incarnations of
this costume idea, at a friend's 16th birthday.

For this recipe you will need:
60g unsalted butter - leave it out the fridge for a bit, or mixing is a bit tough
150g caster sugar
1 egg
10g cocoa powder
20ml red food colouring
Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
120ml milk (a lot of recipes specify buttermilk, but I couldn't find any...semi-skimmed was absolutely fine)
150g plain flour
Half a teaspoon of salt
Half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
One and a half teaspoons of white wine vinegar

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 3 (170 C/325 F) and line a cupcake tray with twelve large paper or silicone cases.
Cream the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy.  Slowly add the egg, beating the mixture well as you do so, until everything's well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, mix the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and food colouring into a thick paste - it may take a while for the ingredients to combine but keep at it because it will work eventually.  I contemplated starting again at one point, but then it all suddenly clicked!
Add this paste to the first bowl, making sure you get as much out of the bowl as possible (a rubber spatula works wonders for getting every last drop).  Mix it all up, adding some milk and flour along the way.  Keep adding both ingredients slowly until it's all in there and combined into a lovely thick red mixture.
Whack in the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar - all of which require a steady hand as the measurements needs to be as accurate you can get them - and give it all a good last mix until you think it's all ready to be baked.

Pop your mixture into the cake cases, filling each about two-thirds full.  Bake them in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back - you should be able to insert a skewer into the centre and have it come out clean.  Leave them to cool in the tray for a few minutes before putting them on a wire rack to cool fully.

Now, here comes the fun bit!  With the red aspect of the Things 1 and 2 theme covered, now all that was left was the blue hair.  My original plan was to use blue candyfloss to decorate it, as can be seen in this photo I nabbed off Google images:

But after failing to locate any blue candyfloss, I admitted defeat and went for a simple buttercream frosting.  I don't actually know the measurements for this, as I have never used a recipe in all my years of baking.  My plan tends to be - whack about a chunk of butter or margarine in a bowl and just keep adding icing sugar until you get the consistency you want.  This can take a while, particularly if you want your buttercream to be thick and create a slight crust when dry.  For this particular batch, I added some blue food colouring to the bowl until I was happy with the shade.

All topped off with some labels I printed from the Internet - I would have liked to use rice paper, but instead I just had to tell everyone to by no means eat the paper on top!  And voila!

So there you have it!  You can decorate them in any way you want, to suit any theme or person!  Let me know about your baking triumphs in the comments - I am actually really proud of these cakes, and that doesn't happen often as I'm not a great baker.

And a huuuuuge HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sarah - her birthday night out was such a good laugh, and I miss her now that she lives her university life in Wales.

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