If you haven’t yet been to one of the 5 Hummingbird Bakery branches in London (or the 3 in Dubai), you really should go and give it a shot. Trust me, you won’t regret it!The Hummingbird Bakery is an American-style bakery founded in 2004, its first branch opened on Portobello Road in Notting Hill, and aimed to bring the authentic taste of American home baking to London. Ever since my friend brought me to the South Kensington branch in 2009, I’ve been hooked. A friend knew how much I loved their cupcakes and bought me the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook for Christmas and I’ve been baking using their recipes ever since.
Any American can tell you that the best thing about the red velvet cake from the Southern states is its eye catching, bright red colour. It’s my favourite part of the cake, a little hidden surprise underneath the white frosting which has it’s own surprise for the unsuspecting: a taste of cream cheese instead of vanilla.
It’s definitely a favourite of mine as well as friends and colleagues. The only thing I’d recommend when baking is to take the measurements for the frosting as an approximate. For the cake, I’ve tried using different types and brands of red food colouring and found the best so far is to stick with Dr Oetker’s red food colouring (not the natural kind). Dr Oetker’s natural red food colouring leaves your cake orange and with a slightly funny flavour. In this post, I decided to try the Tesco brand, but it didn’t turn out as well. The original recipe asks for 20ml, but I found this leaves the cake a dull/dark red colour. Using the whole 30ml bottle works well to give the cake that bright red colour.
For the best frosting, I’ve just gone by eye and texture – using the full quantities makes it too runny when left at room temperature for a short time.
Red velvet cake
Makes 12 cupcakes or a 2-layer 20cm cake
60g unsalted butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
10g cocoa powder
30ml Dr Oetker red food colouring
½ tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp white wine vinegar
Cream cheese frosting
300g icing sugar, sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cream cheese, cold
1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (325°F) Gas 3.
2. If you’re using an electric mixer, add the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy and well mixed. If you’re like me and are using a wooden spoon, using the back of the spoon, blend the butter into the sugar.
You should end up with flakes of buttery sugar, like this:
3. Add the egg and mix well.
4. In a separate bowl, add red food colouring and vanilla extract to the cocoa powder to make a thick, dark red paste.
5. Add the paste to your cake batter.
Mix well until it’s bright red.
In my case, it’s a dark red/brown colour
6. Measure half of the flour and add to the mix. Then measure half of the buttermilk and mix this in too.
7. Now repeat step 5, add the other half of the flour…
…then the other half of the buttermilk.
8. Add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and white wine vinegar.
9. Split the cake mix between 2 lined cake tins or 12 cupcake cases.
Grease the base of your cake tin before lining so that the cake comes off easily
Ready to go in the oven!
10. Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. You can also use a cake skewer to check, it should should come out clean when inserted in the centre.
11. Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
In the meantime, prepare your frosting.
12. In a small bowl, using the back of your spoon blend the butter until it’s soft and easily spreadable. If you’re using an electric mixer, just add the butter until it’s soft.
13. In the electric mixer, add the icing sugar to the butter until it’s well mixed. If you’re using the back of your spoon, add only a tablespoon of icing sugar until it’s well blended using the same technique as in step 12.
The technique with the back of the spoon is to make sure your sugar and butter frosting doesn’t come out lumpy. In the electic mixer/small bowl, the butter and sugar mix should look something like this:
Thick and spreadable butter and icing sugar frosting
Continue adding sugar in tablespoons until you’ve got a decent amount of frosting.
14. Next, adding a small amount of cream cheese (I used about 100g), blend this in with the back of the spoon into the mixture. If you’re using an electric mixer, the high speed helps, but when you’re mixing by hand stirring the cream cheese into the butter and icing sugar will separate the frosting, so always blend, blend, blend.
15. Now your icing will seem quite runny, so add more icing sugar to the frosting until it’s stiff but spreadable.
The great thing about using small quantities of sugar and cream cheese is you can add small amounts until you get it right. If it’s too stiff, add a bit more cream cheese. If it’s too runny, add icing sugar until you get the right consistency.
16. Keep the frosting covered in the fridge until your cakes have cooled.
17. Once your cakes have cooked, using a flat knife run it along the edge of the tin to separate and remove the cake.
18. Peel off the baking paper but don’t throw this away – this will come in handy for decorating the cake.
19. Add frosting to the top of one cake – this will keep the two layers of cake together.
20. Now sandwich the two cakes together…
…and frost the sides and top.
21. This next step works best if your cake has been left to cool in the air, it helps dry out the crumbs on the cake tin. Now gently rub your fingers along the baking paper you peeled over the top of the cake.
I’ve found that the red velvet cake has a unique flavour because of the cocoa powder. The buttermilk and white wine vinegar also keeps the cake moist and soft. It’s a perfect combination with the complimentary cream cheese frosting which gives it a beautiful blend of different flavours that you can’t really identify, but really take it as a melt in your mouth moment of ‘awesomeness’ when you’ve taken your first bite.
The fun thing I’ve noticed is, the traditional velvet cake is in red, but other companies have now taken on the trend and introduced blue, purple and any other you want your velvet cake to be. So choose a colour and go mad. If you can’t decide, you can also use the same recipe, but split your cocoa powder paste between different colours and make a rainbow layered cake instead!
Have you made the Hummingbird Bakery’s red velvet cake at home? Got any tips to share?