To review, both of our families have traditionally made red velvet cake as a birthday treat. I recently found a copy of my grandmother's recipe and my husband obtained his grandma's recipe and we made one of each to see which was better.
The key differences were as follows:
• My grandmother had me mix my baking soda with vinegar before adding it to the batter. Hubby had no vinegar in his recipe.
• Both recipes called for shortening, but in an effort to make mine a little more "traditional," I used real butter instead of shortening. Hubby used margarine in the frosting where I used butter.
• My cake had slightly more red food coloring and much less cocoa.
• My baking time was slightly longer.
• My frosting used milk as a base (I substituted heavy whipping cream); his used water. Mine also had vanilla.
Now, I have baked one other cake in my life about 12 years ago and my husband doesn't recall ever having done so. But he is the baker of the family, and I'm the cooker, so I feel as though he had a slight advantage to begin with. However, watching him bake made me take that back. When he took his cakes out of the oven and tried to put them on the cooling rack, he managed to nearly destroy one of the layers trying to get it out of the pan and onto the cooking rack. Both of my layers came out of the pan quite easily, though he claimed I over-floured the pan.
Then there was the frosting debacle. My frosting looked beautiful and appetizing, while the hubby's was grainy and runny. He ended up remaking it and it still didn't turn out right in his opinion. I find this particularly interesting because my grandmother made a note on her recipe that she didn't care for the appearance of her frosting, even though it tasted fine and she rarely used it. So either I'm a much better frosting maker than Grandma, or she had some seriously high standards for frosting.
So as you can see, my cake is clearly more aesthetically pleasing than his, but what about taste?
My husband and I split our cakes in half and each took two half-cakes to work. We had our co-workers partake in blind taste-tests (they had to determine the better cake before we identified the makers).
Now here is where I think my husband cheated. I got three votes in favor of my cake, three votes in favor of his cake, and one vote for his cake/my frosting. He got four votes for his cake and one tie. When we tasted it together, we agreed his cake was more moist, but my frosting was better. So clearly, he sabotaged my cake before he gave it to his co-workers.
Despite this, I think the plan now is to combine the two recipes into a super recipe. I wasn't sure why my grandmother would have me mix the baking soda and vinegar, set it aside, and then add it last to the batter, so I tried to look for an explanation online. The best answer I got was that originally red velvet cake was made with beets rather than red food coloring (kind of like carrot cake, but with beets) and if the beets reacted with the baking soda, it would make the cake more blue than red, so the vinegar was added to try to prevent that. Seeing as how hubby's cake turned out fine without the vinegar, I think I'll skip it from now on.
Also, I'm not sure how important the cocoa is to the flavor, so I think maybe we'll compromise and go somewhere down the middle. Then I think we'll still use the butter and cook the cake a little shorter than I did and see what happens from there.
Our downstairs neighbors were kind enough to shovel the walkways after the storm, so we're planning on trying out our combo recipe as a thank-you to them tomorrow. Meanwhile, I think my next Grandma recipe will be from the crêpe and omelet book. More on that next week.