Birthday, Bro, and Blue Velvet Cake

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August is the month of blue.

It’s a good thing. Paul McCartney’s favorite color is blue (I’m still reeling over Outside Lands); it’s the color of Shark Week, the best week ever (don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise); and it’s the color of my close friend’s favorite baseball team (a team-that-shall-not-be-named).

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Last weekend brought on a collision of all of these tinted circumstances along with said friend’s birthday. To wish him well and secretly commemorate Shark Week at the same time, I came up with this cake that true to the theme, blue everyone away.

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This is is essentially a red velvet cake in blue form. Red velvet cake is buttermilk-based and gets its hue from the chemical reaction between the anthocyanin, a pigment in cocoa, and the acids from buttermilk and vinegar. Today’s red velvet cakes are much redder because of added food coloring, which may not be the most natural way to go, but it does make for a standout dessert that lends itself to other coloring options.

It would be fun to make this cake with each layer as a different color, since the base is the same no matter what. If any of you try this out, I’d love to see photos!

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Even though I can’t write with icing to save my life, I think I hope I was able to get the point across through these three layers of dessert goodness. With a cake-filled birthday bro and my nifty new cake carrier in tow (get yourself one here), I deem this weekend adventure as a celebratory sweet success.

All my cake dope.

Happy birthday, Shaunt!!

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Blue Velvet Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

For the Cake:

2 sticks butter, room temperature
1.5 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 Tbsp blue food coloring
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the Frosting

2 8-oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Simple Syrup

1:1 ratio of granulated sugar to water

Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray three 8 or 9-inch round pans and line the bottom with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper and set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes on medium speed. Add in the eggs one at a time.
  • In a small bowl, mix together cocoa powder and food coloring and add to egg mixture.
  • Mix together flours and salt. Alternating with buttermilk, slowly add into the wet ingredients until just combined, starting and ending with the flour mixture.
  • Combine vinegar and baking soda in a small bowl (it will fizz; chemistry!). Mix into everything else. Divide the entire mixture evenly between the three pans and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is set when poked with a toothpick. Rotate the pans halfway throughout baking to ensure even cooking.
  • Let cool on a wire rack. Once cakes are at room temperature, unmold them from the pans and wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

Frosting:

  • Beat together cream cheese and butter until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add in powdered sugar and lemon zest until everything is well-combined. Note: You can make everything 2-3 days in advance and assemble the night before if needed.

Assembly:

  • Cut out rectangles of parchment paper and overlap them onto your serving platter (in my case, the base of the cake carrier). Place the first cake on top of the papers. Generously brush the top with simple syrup and spread about 1 cup of the frosting over it with an offset spatula. Repeat with the second layer.
  • Once the third cake is on top, spread a thin coat of frosting over the entire cake and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This is your crumb coat; it ensures that no crumbly runaways show up in the final product.
  • Use your spatula to evenly spread the rest of the frosting over the cake. Once frosted, decorate the top however you want!
  • This cake is best served at room temperature. However, if it’s a hot day, the frosting will melt, so keep refrigerated if needed.

‘Cue the Food Coma: Reviewing Hi Lo BBQ

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As a pescatarian, I’m rarely thrilled about barbecue because I usually end up eating soggy potato salad and all the cornbread in the world. Carb-licious, but not worth it.

And then along came Hi Lo BBQ.

Lurking on the grimy diversely lived-in section of the Mission, this restaurant quietly opened 5 months ago and hasn’t stopped churning out great food since. I am lucky enough to know an old coworker from the cooking days there and proceeded to spend the night in yet another birthday dinner (this is the last one, I swear) and a 12-hour food coma. I just wish I were a little bit taller so that I could have eaten even more!

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BBQ and beer go together like Nutella on waffles, so my Radner beertail (Dutch white beer + lemonade) was refreshing. The house-made pull-apart rolls with honey butter were so good that we ate two orders, not by choice but rather pure necessity.

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The chefs here distinguish themselves in creative plating. It’s not easy to make BBQ look pretty, but somehow, they do it. On Wednesdays, Hi Lo does an off-the-menu item called the Bangin’ Burger, and judging by the look on my friend’s face, it was aptly titled. Even with my diet, I had tons of options to choose from, including an entrée (!) of brassicas, farro, and egg. While egg can be a vegetarian cop-out (who doesn’t love eggs?), I had nothing to complain about.

Hi Lo also loves its mustard seeds; they showed up on two different dishes. They were very noticeable (in a good way) in the summer pickles, but were overshadowed by fresh dill in the potato salad. That said, I love dill, and this was one of the best potato salads I’ve ever had.

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No meal is complete without dessert, and naturally, I ordered both items. The first: s’more in a jar, which resembled a parfait and showed off some SF flair (we love Mason jars in this city). While delicious, I found this to be a too-safe dessert to have on the menu. Chocolate and marshmallow is always a hit pair and best saved for winter when there aren’t as many fruits in season.

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The second dessert epitomized summer: sliced peaches, corn cake, whipped cream and POPCORN. With the signature side plating, this was everything I want in a July meal on the town. Not too sweet with just the right amounts of everything, I hope this stays on the menu for when I visit next. And with this Texas-meets-NorCal joint, you best believe I will be.

I’m still full.

Chicharrones: Fried pork rinds so fresh that we could literally hear them crackle at the table.

Melon salad with grilled onions, levain, and a serrano pepper vinaigrette.