20 February 2007

Red Velvet Goes Chinese for the New Year

For those of you who might have missed it, February 18 was Chinese New Year, a.k.a. Lunar New Year or Tet as it's called by the Vietnamese, and it ushered in the Year of the Pig and the (Lunar) calendar year 4705.

There are many food traditions associated with the Chinese New Year, things one eats during the holiday to insure one has a prosperous year. Fish, clams, sea cucumbers, noodles, and dumplings come to mind, but I'm sure there are other dishes I don't know about. And while I don't go out of my way to eat everything that will supposedly bring me good fortune, I do make a point of marking the occasion by eating well.

This year my celebrations included a potluck dinner on new year's eve at a friend's place where I brought red velvet cupcakes. Now I know red velvet cake isn't on any list of things to eat for Chinese New Year, but it is red and red is a color associated with the new year—think red packets filled with money. So I figured why not bring a Southern tradition to the party, it's potluck and anything goes (as you can see from the pictures below).

Besides, red velvet cake seems to be all the rage now—The New York Times just ran an article in its Dining & Wine section last week—although ironically I grew-up eating quite a bit of it. There was a family friend in Maryland who would always bake a red velvet cake for Christmas, so for me it was never out of fashion as I saw on a table least one once a year.

For my red velvet cupcakes, I followed a recipe from Bon Appétit minus the raspberries and blueberries.


2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 1/2-pint baskets fresh raspberries
3 1/2-pint baskets fresh blueberries

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 27 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

For frosting:
Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over top of cake. Arrange 1 basket raspberries and 1/2 basket blueberries atop frosting, pressing lightly to adhere. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange remaining berries decoratively over top of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

Makes 12 servings.
Bon Appétit, June 2003
Adapted from B. Smith

Happy Year of the Pig!

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