Happy Blogiversary...

Hard as it may be to believe, yet another year has gone by here at "The State I Am In," bringing us to my third annual blogiversary. I've managed to persevere through all the upheaval of moving and creating a new home to write a total of 191 posts in the past year. That's the most posts I've written in a single year since I started blogging, and works out to a post every 1.9 days. Given everything that I've accomplished in the last year, I'm pretty pleased with myself!

I've undergone quite the lifestyle change in the past year, moving away from the heart of the city to a far-flung neighborhood, and building a home with the man I love. My posts skew more toward the domestic side these days, chronicling our various home improvement projects and the progress we're making on finishing our condo, as well as the meals I prepare for us. I made it my New Year's resolution to expand my cooking repertoire this year by trying new recipes, and using Pinterest as a visual to-do list has helped me to try over three dozen new recipes in the nearly three months since we moved. In case you hadn't guessed, "food" is still the most popular tag here at "The State I Am In," just as it always has been.

Accordingly, I've decided to continue my tradition of marking my blog's anniversary by baking a special cake. I've always tackled something new for my blogiversary, but in the past, I've always followed a random whim. This year, I thought I'd take a slightly different tack, and make a cake with a long, storied tradition -- my grandma's red velvet cake. For as long as I can remember, this is the cake Grandma would bake to celebrate family birthdays (usually my mom's or my aunts'), though she has changed her recipe countless times in recent years, in search of something slightly better. In my opinion, however, nothing can trump the original, and my copy of the recipe is the one she used throughout my childhood.

Red velvet cake is usually thought of as a Southern dessert, and didn't start to become widely available in Chicago until the cupcake boom of the past decade or so. Its striking red color, and unusual, marshmallow fluff-like frosting, both unnerved and fascinated my friends whenever we would share a cake with them when we were growing up, and several of my girlfriends have blamed me for ruining them on all commercially available red velvet cakes today.

You see, our family version eschews the typical cream cheese frosting that usually graces red velvet cake (in fact, I believe most red velvet cupcakes sold in shops are merely a vehicle for serving people cream cheese frosting), in favor of "seven-minute icing," the usual topping for Southern coconut cakes. Seven-minute icing, which derives its name from the amount of time you beat its ingredients over a double boiler in order to make it, is sticky, slightly chewy, but also fluffy and creamy. I'm not sure how it came to be combined with red velvet cake; our recipe came into our lives by way of a lady that belonged to Grandma's church, but other than that, we have very little information about how this recipe came to be a family staple. Still, I can't fathom eating red velvet cake in any other format.

I've long been too intimidated to try my hand at Grandma's signature dessert. My mom has successfully made it, and I have more baking experience and skills under my belt than she does at this point, but my repeated failure to replicate my grandma's Texas cake had me spooked. What if I failed at this too? My status as heir apparent to Grandma's baking legacy would be seriously called into question.

My blogiversary calls for something truly special, however, and I decided that this year it was time to conquer my fear of "red cake," and give it my best shot. Thankfully, Mom happened to be over at my house the day I tackled it, because Grandma's instructions for the frosting were somewhat vague. Apparently, her conception of a double boiler varies substantially from the technical term. She conceives of it as a medium saucepan, partially submerged in a wide, shallow pan of boiling water. This unusual set-up was a little harrowing, as the scalding water was sloshing out of the pan as I beat the icing, but the end product turned out absolutely perfect, so I was happy to have obtained some motherly guidance in making it.

I almost don't want to say it, but I think my red cake turned out better than many of the ones I've had from Grandma Betsy, and it was certainly a feast worthy of my blogiversary. Here's hoping my success with Grandma's red velvet cake is a fortuitous sign for the next year of "The State I Am In!"

Red Cake
adapted from Grandma Betsy

1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons natural cocoa powder
1 oz. red food coloring, plus 1 oz. water
2 1/4 - 2 1/2 c. cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350.
1. Cream together butter and sugar.
2. Add two eggs, one at a time.
3. Combine vanilla, cocoa, food coloring, and water. Mix with butter, sugar, and eggs.
4. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Add alternately with buttermilk to egg mixture.
5. Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl, and gently fold into batter.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, in two 9-inch pans lined with parchment paper in the bottoms. Ice when cool.

Seven-Minute Icing

2 egg whites
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Combine all ingredients except vanilla extract in a saucepan set into a shallow pan of boiling water. Beat with an electric hand-mixer for seven minutes.
2. After beating, add vanilla extract. Spread onto cake immediately.

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