The Mill City Farmers Market recently celebrated 5 years of providing the Twin Cities with an incredible bounty of locally made and grown products from small farms and businesses. Sounds like a good excuse for a birthday party to me. Somehow, the staff at the market must have gotten wind that I like to make unusual birthday cakes, because they called on me to bring a market-inspired cake to the celebration.
Here's the story behind the game that goes on in my house, come birthday-time. When my husband and I first started dating, I asked him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday. Never one to give a straight answer, he said, "A lemon cake with potted meat frosting". I now know to call his bluffs, but at that time, I shrugged, bought a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and served it. The next year, I asked the same question, got the same answer and promptly went to the store, bought a Pepperidge Farms Lemon Cake, spread a can of Devilled Ham on top and gave him his crazy cake. I thought that it would end right there.
The next year, when asked what he wanted for his birthday cake, my husband asked for a Cigar and Espresso Cake. This time, I took on the challenge with gusto and created a cake that tasted just like cigars and espresso. No, I didn't break a cigar into the batter (no carcinogens for the kids, thank you very much). I actually infused the dark chocolate ganache frosting with Lapsong Souchong, a smoked black tea, which gave it a perfect smoky taste the kids even enjoyed, and put some instant espresso in the cake. I won the challenge and haven't been able to make a plain cake since. Two out of my three kids now demand a custom birthday cake every year, too. Luckily, my stepson, who's birthday is the day after my husband's, loves the ice cream cake from Dairy Queen. My brain can only focus on one crazy project at a time.
So, when the market organizer called to see if I'd do the cake, I jumped at the chance. Instead of one offering, though, I asked if I could make two cakes. I just can't keep it simple, can I?
The first cake was inspired by that 1950s stand-by, Red Velvet Cake, which is so loaded with red food coloring you notice the, ahem, effects for many days. I used fresh beets, instead. The lasting effects might still be there, but at least it's natural and not red dye#40. I got the original recipe from my friend, Jeffrey Sherman Thompson, and made just a few adjustments .
Red (beet) Velvet Cake
3 ½ cups Cake Flour (Not Self rising)
¾ cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
¼ cup ground, uncooked red beets
4 tbs unsweetened cocoa
In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add beets, including any juice that has collected, vanilla, cocoa powder and salt. Mix until well incorporated. (optional: add ¼ tsp freshly grated ginger for a slightly different flavor profile)
Measure out buttermilk then add to batter in 3 parts alternating with flour.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-40 min. Cool completely before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
3-8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
Buttercream Frosting (alternative to Cream Cheese Frosting)
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
3-4 tbsp cream or milk
Beat butter in stand mixer until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix until well incorporated. Add cream to desired consistency.