On Valentine’s day Suzen and I tried a different approach. Rather than do cards, roses, or gold, we agreed to cook something together. And it had to be a dish we’d never done before.

Something red.

Something sweet.

Something chocolate.

All things considered, those three conditions do filter out a lot of potential recipes.  That phrase, “All things considered” is of course very familiar to many of us. It’s the weekday afternoon news show on NPR. One of the NPR producers, Melissa Gray, has a nickname: the Cake Lady. Each Monday she brings to work a new homemade cake delicacy. A year’s worth of these superior recipes has been gathered into All Cakes Considered. This is a masterful book, filled with a spectrum of recipes that include old friends and new ones, and everywhere a burst of flavors.

One of her recipes just happens to be red, sweet, and chocolate. The Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake is perfect for February 14th, and for any other day as well.

This recipe produces a dense cake, with a beautiful dark red color sheathed in a snow white cream cheese frosting. By using sour cream instead of the usual buttermilk for this version of a classic recipe, Melissa defines a subtle cake where the chocolate taste is just perceptibly there. Your mouth is left refreshed, not overpowered.

You’ll enjoy All Cakes Considered for two reasons. Of course, the recipes.  But second, the head notes.  You know those two or three lines at the top of each recipe giving you some background? Melissa writes paragraphs, in a witty style with loads of information about the history and details of each cake. For this red velvet cake, you find out how to make it red, how red it could be, whether all the food dye used could actually kill you. It’s a fun read, and, no, thanks to modern chemistry the modern red dye is perfectly safe, although you probably will use more here than at any other time in your life. You’ll devour this colorful recipe. Tour this book to find some intriguing ideas. I still am and you can look forward to further blogs.

Here’s the recipe. Grab that bottle of red food dye.


Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients for the cake

2 sticks [1 cup] unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup Dutch process cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sour cream
½ ounce red food coloring

Ingredients for the frosting:

½ cup [1 stick] unsalted butter, at room temperature
Two 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
Two 16 ounce boxes confectioners’ sugar [about 3 ¾ cups each]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preparation of the cake:

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour three 8-inch or two 9-inch round cake

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium speed, and gradually add the sugars, beating well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, dry whisk the flour, baking soda, cocoa, and baking powder together.

Returning to the creamed butter and sugar, add 1 cup of the floured cocoa mixture and 1/3 cup of the sour cream alternatively, beating well after each addition. Repeat until all of flour mixture and sour cream are blended in.

Add the food coloring and beat well. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and stir up the batter at the bottom, then beat again.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and place the pans close to the center of the oven rack, but not touching. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the cake layers test done.

Cooled the layers in the pans for 10 minutes, then unmold on cake racks to cool to room temperature


Preparation of the frosting and assembly:

Cream the butter and cream cheese together at medium speed. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, beating until light and fluffy.  And the vanilla extract and mix until just incorporated.

Assemble and frost the layers in the usual way, frosting the sides last, after the crown.

Source: All Cakes Considered by Melissa Gray