A Valentine's Day Breakfast Surprise: Red Velvet Pancakes with Brandied Cherry Butter
The taste of Red Velvet cake, as my wife likes to say, is the taste of Sin.
There's something to that idea. Sin and red velvet go well together (remember Scarlett O'Hara's scandalous party dress?) Like sin, Red Velvet cake is shocking at first, then intriguing, then irresistible. When you succumb to the temptation of it, it's easy to lose yourself in its delicious sweetness, mindless of the consequences. And when you wake from your frosting-coated fugue to find your platter empty and yourself filled with remorse (and cake), you swear oaths of abstinence, restraint, and moderation -- until the next irresistible temptation comes along.
So, yeah -- overall I'd say she's got it right.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Red Velvet cake shares its historical roots with another naughtily-named cake: Devil's Food.
Properly made, Red Velvet cake has a soft, smooth-textured crumb and includes an unexpected ingredient, cocoa, which accounts for the rich and mysterious flavor that often hooks people from the very first bite. Though you wouldn't know it to look at it, cocoa contains the plant pigment anthocyanin, a flavonoid responsible for the red color in cherries and cranberries, among others. Older cake recipes used acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or vinegar to enhance the leavening action of baking soda, which brought out the red pigment in cocoa. The chemical reaction between anthocyanin and acid gave cakes containing cocoa powder a reddish hue (hence Red Velvet cake), and, according to James Beard, the red tint in a very dark chocolate cake inspired the name Devil's Food.
With the advent of the Dutch process, all that changed. An alkalyzing agent, (often potassium carbonate) was added to make cocoa powder dissolve more readily. But the alkalyzing agents decreased the acidity level, so chocolate cakes made with Dutch process cocoa lost their reddish color.
Food historians theorize that cooks missed the reddish tint and began adding things like beets and cherry juice to their cake batter in an effort to reproduce the color. Though many recipes call for these ingredients, most use food coloring to achieve the effect.
The intensity of the coloration in Red Velvet cake can vary on a scale ranging from 'Subtle' all the way up to 'Joan Crawford'; modern cake mixes tend to be in the upper end of that range. It can be a bit disconcerting the first time you see your batter bowl looking like it's full of melted lipstick, but you eventually get used to it....no, wait, that's a lie. You never really get used to it, but after the first time you can at least contemplate how good the end result will taste!
Using this recipe, you can turn a standard Red Velvet cake mix into a unique, impressive, and wildly delicious breakfast for your sweetheart on Valentine's Day. Yes, it's luxuriously rich, but remember this is a day for indulgence, not for counting calories. And as far as the 'taste of sin' aspect goes, you can always quote that old Bon-Mot-O-Mat, Oscar Wilde: "I can resist anything but temptation."
Red Velvet Pancakes with Brandied Cherry Butter
3/4 cup dried cherries (about 5 ounces),
3 Tbsp brandy (or cognac)
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 of an 18.25 oz box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Red Velvet cake mix (about 2 cups lightly filled)
2 large eggs, beaten (see Cook's Note)
2 Tbsp oil
1/4 cup + 1 tsp water
3 Tbsp butter
Dark chocolate, shaved or grated
Whipped cream (optional)
Powdered sugar (optional)
Coarsely chop about 1/4 cup of the cherries and set aside. In a small saucepan, simmer the brandy for a minute to evaporate the alcohol (you can flame off the alcohol instead if you're feeling theatrical), then add the water and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, add the whole and chopped cherries, and cook for a few minutes until the cherries soften and plump up a bit. Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine the cake mix, eggs, oil and water in a mixing bowl until just thoroughly blended (don't overmix). If batter seems too thick, add another tablespoon of water. Cook the pancakes in a non-stick pan over medium heat. You want to cook these a little slower than regular pancakes because you don't want them to brown too much. Keep them warm in a low oven.
When ready to serve, reheat the cherries and whisk in the 3 tablespoons of butter. Spoon the cherry butter over the pancakes and shave or grate some dark chocolate over the top. Decorate with whipped cream or powdered sugar, if desired.
Makes about 8 pancakes (about 5 inches across)
Cook's Note: To make these (or any pancakes) lighter, separate the yolks and whites. Combine the beaten yolks with the other batter ingredients; beat the whites to soft peaks and gently fold them into the batter.
--Doug DuCap, Southern Food Editor/Wandering Educators.com. Weblog: www.huggingthecoast.com