What is this, Velvet?
You can find red velvet cake in most black neighborhoods, especially in Harlem. It is often a highlight of June 16 celebratory meals, as are many red foods (red drink, watermelon, sausage) that symbolize black sacrifice and the enduring quest for freedom.
While historians of black culinary customs have not traced the origins of the dish back to black people, we grew up seeing and aspiring to have red velvet cake all the time. As a kid, Jon tried to avoid going to church on Sundays, but if a trip to Amy Ruth’s on 116th was on the agenda, he’d stop by for that red slice. His version tasted homemade, it was super moist and not too sweet, with beautiful walnuts along the icing. Our version gets its color from freeze-dried raspberries, which he’ll find in the dried fruit section of the grocery store. Crush them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle to give your cake its vivid hue.
For the cake:
Nonstick spray or melted butter
2¾ cups (550g) cane sugar
4¼ cups (420 g) cake mix
¾ cup (65 g) freeze-dried raspberries, crushed into a fine powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon (17g) baking soda
1 tablespoon (13g) baking powder
½ cup (120 ml) grapeseed oil
½ cup (120 ml) buttermilk
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs (150 g)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups (340g)
For the glaze:
4 cups plus 2½ tablespoons (500 g)
14 ounces (400 g) cream cheese
10½ ounces (2⅔ sticks/300g) unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 2½ tablespoons (100 g) sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons (40
g) crushed candied pecans, to decorate
1½ tablespoons raspberry powder, to decorate
Make the cake:
Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line three 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans with cut-to-size rolls of parchment paper and grease with nonstick spray (or you can use enough melted butter to coat bottom and sides).
In a large bowl, whisk together the cane sugar, flour, raspberries, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, then sift the mixture into another bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the grapeseed oil, buttermilk, lemon juice, eggs, and vanilla. Mix at low speed until a homogeneous liquid is obtained, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients, one large tablespoon at a time, and mix until just combined; Do not over mix.
With the mixer still on low, add the boiling water in a slow stream. Pouring slowly will gradually increase the temperature of the batter so the eggs won’t cook. You want the water to be hot to help emulsify the batter and create a smoother, velvetier cake. Aim for a final batter texture that is thin like brownie batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared cake pans. Bake the cakes on the center rack for 40 minutes. Don’t move them while baking or they will collapse. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool completely.
Make the glaze:
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla. Start mixing on low speed and gradually increase to high, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix well, making sure there are no lumps.
Remove the cakes from their pans. Place one cake layer on a pie plate. Spread an even layer of the cream cheese frosting on top. Repeat with the second and third layers, ensuring an even layer of frosting between each layer. Finally, frost the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the top with crushed candied walnuts and raspberry powder. Slice and enjoy. Leftover cake will keep for 3-5 days, wrapped or in a container.
Too often, sweet potatoes are relegated to holiday dishes like sweet potato casserole and pie. But the naturally sweet orange flesh of this root vegetable is a year-round staple that you can play with during any course. Our version of the potato hash focuses on bright and warm elements like ginger, a hint of coriander and cinnamon. You can curl the ketchup for our Aquafaba Aioli.
3⅓ cups (800 ml) grapeseed oil
1 pound (455 g) sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil½ cup (85 g) oyster mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
¼ sweet onion, chopped
3 scallions, sliced, white and green parts kept separate
½ red bell pepper chopped
½ chopped green pepper
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground coriander
Aquafaba Alioli (page 290), for serving
sprigs of fresh dill, to decorate
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. We will come back to it.
In a medium saucepan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat until it registers 365°F (185°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place nearby. Add the sweet potato cubes to the hot oil and fry for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. The outside of the cubes should look a bit blistered. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sweet potatoes from the oil and transfer to the lined baking sheet to drain.
Return to your hot cast iron skillet. Add the olive oil and oyster mushrooms. Grill the oyster mushrooms until they turn brown and their moisture has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, onion, scallions, bell peppers, salt, paprika, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, and coriander. Stir well to incorporate the spices. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, then add the sweet potato fries and green onions. Stir to combine and remove from heat.
Drizzle the hash with the aioli. Garnish with sprigs of fresh dill. Serve immediately.
Taken from Ghetto Gastro presents Black Power Kitchen by Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, with Osayi Endolyn (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Food photography by Nayquan Shuler and atmospheric photography by Joshua Woods.
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