Kitchen Witch - Be my velvet Valentine

Tea for two needs cake. So do Grandma, your pals from work, and all the other lonely hearts sticking out their tongues on this lovers-only holiday.

With or without an admirer this weekend, one needs an antidote for the irrepressibly goopy love stuff on center stage at the local CVS. Walk on by those bags of cupid-themed M&Ms and pick up a few bottles of red food coloring instead. No, we’re not paint-balling love birds in Piedmont Park; we’re making red velvet cake.

Based on color contrast alone, the velvet cake is unlike no other. Beef tartare-shaded layers get a coat of stark white cream cheese frosting that is so bright you may need sunglasses. The combination is shocking, strangely beautiful and kind of sexy - like hot pants and white go-go boots.

Allow yourself two hours, for both cake and frosting, but please don’t doll up this beauty until the cake is completely cooled. A flat-edged pastry spreader is useful, but I’ve used a wide serrated knife with decent success.

We all deserve a sex-kitten moment every once in a while. Preheat those ovens, pronto.

Red Velvet Valentine’s CakeAdapted from James McNair’s Cakes by James McNair

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 bottles (1 ounce each) red liquid food coloring

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Grease bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans, and line with circles of parchment paper (plan B: grease and flour pans).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Over a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to mix well and set aside.

In a bowl with a hand mixer, beat butter at medium speed until creamy, about one minute. With mixer still running, slowly add sugar. Occasionally stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl. Beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly drizzle in eggs and beat until mixed well, remembering to scrape sides of bowl. Add vanilla and food coloring. Using mixer on low speed or a rubber spatula, begin to incorporate about one-third of the dry ingredients, alternating with half of the buttermilk. Continue to alternate dry with wet, ending with the remaining flour mixture, until ingredients are incorporated.

Divide batter evenly between pans and with a spatula, make sure that it is evenly distributed. Place each pan on a baking sheet and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove pans and cool for about 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. While cake layers cool, make frosting.

Cream Cheese FrostingAlso from James McNair’s Cakes

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 eight-ounce bricks (1 pound) cream cheese, chilled

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Pinch salt

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Optional: light cream or milk, if needed

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer until fluffy. Add cream cheese, vanilla and salt, beating at low speed, just until mixture is smooth and creamy. Don’t overbeat, as cream cheese will get thin and runny. Using a rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl. Add 1 cup of sugar and beat on low. Add remaining cup and beat until just smooth and spreadable; taste for sweetness and consistency. If too thick, add a little light cream or milk. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate. When ready to use, allow to warm up to room temperature. Makes a generous amount for a two-layer cake.Culinary questions? Reach CL’s Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.??