The school playground this morning was full of red noses. Not the usual sore, runny kind that go hand-in-hand with childhood during the winter months, but red noses with glasses, smiley faces and various bits of tape or string added at home to hold them in place on such very small faces. Being too grown-up, L had declined to wear her own red nose for the event. She said there wasn’t any point as it kept falling off anyway and then she’d just lose it. She was probably right – this child does seem to be quite capable of losing just about anything in the most peculiar of places (I won’t talk about purple bunny just yet – we still have hopes that he’s hiding somewhere in the house).
The playground this morning also appeared to be full to the brim with fairycakes (or cupcakes, depending on your side of the Atlantic). Now here, the maths just doesn’t quite add up. To raise money for Red Nose Day 2009, everyone was asked to bring in some cakes that could be sold during the day. And so, there they were this morning, standing dutifully in line, each child clutching the requested batch of 12 or so cupcakes in one hand … and in their other hand, their 20 pence coin with which they would be able to buy one cake at the cake sale. Hmmm. That’s an awful lot of excess cupcakage. These teachers must really love cake!
For our part, we contributed a shiny platter of red velvet madeleines (which gave me a perfect excuse for using the beautiful madeleine moulds that my Mum brought back from a holiday for me some time ago now).
Maybe I’ve just been somewhere else, but I’ve honestly never before seen or tasted a red velvet cake. I only came across the notion when I started reading other people’s food blogs a few years ago. I’m sure I would have remembered if I’d ever been served such a gloriously red thing as this.
The name sounds so very dreamy and luxurious that I was taken by surprise by the sheer amount of food colouring a red velvet cake seems to contain. I think I must have confused it with Devil’s food cake somewhere in my reading as I was expecting the red colour to arise from an interaction between the baking soda and cocoa powder. But then, dear old Wikipedia tells me that the two names for the cakes have a long history of being used interchangeably, so I at least feel in good company in my confusion.
I hesitated about the red dye. Some chefs use colouring from beetroots instead, but the effect is not quite as traffic-light red. And it is Red Nose Day and not ‘Mahogany’ or ‘Brown-with-a-Reddish-Hue’ Day, after all. Would I be a really bad mother if I made my one-time-only-for-a-special-event madeleines red with food colouring …?
My conscience was finally silenced by this lovely quote from an article in the New York Times:
Perfect Endings bakes the excellent red velvet cake that Williams-Sonoma featured in its catalog for the first time at Christmas. Mr. Godfrey said he uses a recipe he learned to bake with his grandmother, a native of Little Rock, Ark. “But for the bakery I couldn’t bring myself to offer a cake using red food coloring,” he said. “I tried cherries and beets, but it wasn’t right. Then I decided to honor my grandmother, so I went ahead with the food coloring.”
And the madeleines would be small and gone in a couple of even very child-sized mouthfuls … and I wouldn’t be sticking any candies or sugary frosting on the top … and they would be ever so wonderfully the perfect colour for the day.
Here then, in honour of Red Nose Day 2009 (and Mr Godfrey’s grandmother), are our extremely red velvet madeleines (based on a recipe by Pinch My Salt, except I converted her measurements into weights and used the batter to make about 40 madeleines).
Red Velvet Madeleines
8 3/4 oz cake flour (or kate flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz (5 tbsp) red food colouring
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
10 1/2 oz caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 1/2 oz buttermilk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Lightly oil the madeleine moulds.
Place the cake/kate flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Mix the food colouring (yes, all of it) and the cocoa powder together in a small bowl (I bet you can’t do this without getting your hands red … if you give it to a small child to mix, be prepared for a red-splattered kitchen, too). Stir until the paste is smooth and without lumps. Set aside (don’t you think this recipe is beginning to sound a lot like an EU farming policy?).
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy (about 3 mins). Add the eggs gradually, beating well to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the vanilla and red cocoa paste. Beat then scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
Sift in one-third of the flour mix and beat to combine. Then beat in half of the buttermilk. Scrape.
Sift and beat in another third of the flour mix, then the rest of the buttermilk. Scrape.
Finally, sift and beat in the remaining third of the flour mix. Scrape.
In an egg cup or small bowl, mix together the vinegar and baking soda (fizzzzz – T liked this part!). Add the fizzy potion to the cake batter and beat to combine thoroughly.
Fill each madeleine mould with the batter until about 3/4 full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the centre of the oven. Leave for 2 minutes in the pan before releasing each madeleine with a palette knife and transferring them to a wire rack to cool.