Thursday, December 3, 2009

Red Velvet Cake Taste-Off: Round 2

In mid-November I conducted a taste test of Red Velvet Cake recipes (see blog entry here). I baked 8 different cakes and recruited 25 people to sample and rate the entries. The undisputed winner of the Red Velvet Taste-Off : Round 1 was:

Cake Man Raven's Red Velvet Cake
But the day after I compiled my results, I ran across yet another distinctive Red Velvet Cake recipe. This one was from Rose's Levy Beranbaum book Rose's Heavenly Cakes. The actual cake is called Rose Red Velvet and for its fat is uses butter and oil. It also uses more eggs than any of the other recipes I tested. The person who brought this cake to my attention said it was better than Cake Man Raven's! That got my attention. Better than Cake Man Raven? Red Velvet Cake Taste-Off #2 was on.

For this round I baked three different recipes:
  • Rose's Red Velvet - Rose Levy Beranbaum - the challenger
  • Cake Man Raven's - because it had won the first round of the taste test
  • Waldorf Astoria recipe with a tweak - My original reason for conducting this taste test was to find a recipe that mimicked the Red Velvet Cake sold at Piccadilly Cafeteria (the absolute best RVC). Flavor and color wise I think the Waldorf cake comes the closest, but it is not nearly as moist as Piccadilly's. So in this test I added 1/4 cup of light corn syrup hoping to give it a little more moisture. Sadly my tweaked Waldorf did not produce a copy cat of Piccadilly RVC. Granted my tweak cake was better than the original, but still not measure up to Piccadilly's caliber.

So here are the three cakes all stacked up:



And sliced open:



So which do you think won? Which do you think looks the best?

Well the winner yet again was Cake Man Raven's Red Velvet Cake.

The Waldorf cake came in second and the Rose Red Velvet cake came in third. In this round I only had 9 taste testers, as opposed to the 25 testers in round one. Two of the tasters (the kids) picked the Rose cake as their favorite (they said it was the sweetest), but the other 7 had it as their least favorite. One of the biggest complaints about the Rose RVC was that it was too dry and two people remarked that it had a spongy, angel food cake texture. If you want to see a spreadsheet listing all the results click here.

So after two unbiased tests, the oil based Red Velvet Cake is still reigns as the undisputed favorite.

BUT even as I write this someone handed me yet another RVC recipe. It is Red Velvet time of the year. This one used uses brown sugar instead of white and a 1/2 cup cocoa. I must test this recipe, so stay tuned for round 3 of the Ultimate Red Velvet Taste-Off (some time around Christmas).

55 comments:

  1. Rose and I would like to know why YOU decided to change the taste and texture of our cake for your testing by using (2) 8" round pans(per your spreadsheet???
    Our recipe for this cake in Rose's Heavenly Cakes states to use a (1) 9" heart shaped or round pan. I am Woody, Rose's collaborator, and have tested this cake several times. You skewed the alchemy of taste and texture of many hours of research for a batter designed to be placed in either a ONE 8-1/4 cup volume 9" heart pan or ONE 9" 8-2/3 cup volume 9" round pan by SPLITTING IT between TWO 6-3/4 cup volume 8" round pans.
    If you have read Rose's notes, Rules of Baking, highlights and philosophy in this book and "The Cake Bible", you should know that this is a single layer and slightly domed cake, that is moist and tender with the affed flavor of butter. Your using the incorrect two 8" pans gave you the "angel food" texture and dry cake that you presented to your taste testers.
    Please be careful when you test our cakes or for that matter anybody's recipe to nor only use the correct amount of ingredients, but also the CORRECT PAN.
    You ahd no problem using the Raven Man's (3) 9" round pans.
    Thank you for including your spreadsheet of ingredients, pans and mixing so we could identify that the incorrect pans skewed your taster's scoring. We always welcome to give assistance either on Rose's blog or e-mailing me directly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Both of these posts--very helpful. Great job! Love Cake Man Raven's RVC! Classic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Woody, Every cake in the test taste was baked in either one 8" round pan or one 9" pan. I used one 8" pan for Cake Man Raven's recipe. Sorry I don't own a heart shaped pan, so I can't rebake the Rose Red Velvet using the "correct" pan. If the pan size is that critical to the success of the cake texture/taste, may be should add directions/cooking time for the pan sizes most people have in their home.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonomyous (I assume the Bake More tester),
    We show the Rose Red Velvet Cake baked in a heart shape pan as an idea for Valentines Day.We also say you can use a 9" round pan.

    PAGE 84 from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" states
    SPECIAL EQUIPMENT One 9 by 2 heart-shape or ROUND cake pan (8 to 8-2/3 cups), encircled with a cake strip,...
    Our concern is that you state on your spread sheet that you used:
    Rose's (2) 8" rounds, and now you say you had a 9" pan. The cake definately would have changed if you used either (1) or (2) 8 " round pans.
    Raven's (3) 9" rounds, and now you say you used a 8" round pan.

    Again as Rose and I commented in the above comment, there is relationship for ingredients + pan size + oven temperature + time to give the texture and taste for a given baked item. If you look at the Wedding Cake chapter, you will see different leavening requirements for different pan sizes or when you convert a recipe for a bundt or sheet cake.

    You may need to do some RE-testing for other cake author cakes where you decided to switch pans for your convenience. If you need more assistance, please check in with either the forums on www.realbakingwith rose.com, or Marie Wolf's linked blog for the bake-thru, or check with Dorie Greenspan who is linked to your blog.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous,
    To verify my results as I downloaded the Cake Raven Man's recipe from his website and baked (3) 9" round cakes per his instructions, I called his bakery. My cakes which the 1350 grams of batter divided to fill each 9 inch pan about a third full and baked to a slightly domed cake of 1"high. The bakery confirmed this is the finished height per layer as the assembled cake is three layers of cake with the frosting sandwiching each layer and covering the top sides. His prescribed baking soda amount is to have each layer be as flat across the top as possible.
    Though you might like to know what we found out from testing ourselves. As you know, any recipe that Rose has included in her books has a credit to its source after contacting the recipe's author for approval and information.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have always wanted to give Cake Man Raven's a try, but have stuck with magnolia's cake recipe! I think I'm going to have to give his a shot, though!

    ReplyDelete
  7. have you tried the red velvet from the Nestle site? I contains melted dark chocolate instead of cocoa. thank you for posting the results of your study. I've much enjoyed it. I've been on my own RV search, and I did not like Rose's recipe...I don't think the taste is changed by the pan it's baked in...it just doesn't have the flavor of others.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sorry I'm so late responding, but I went on the "Cake Cruise" and when I returned all the Christmas craziness (shopping / baking / graduations / out of town guests) had me snowed under.

    Teanna - Give Cake man Raven's cake a try a lot of people think it is the best.

    Sandi - I haven't tried the Nestle RV recipe yet. I'll put it on my "to bake" list. I have found a few more RV recipes that I want to try, so RV Round 3 will be coming soon.

    Woody - If you would like to see some other opinions on the Rose Red Velvet recipe go to CakeCentral.com. There is a thread where several people have tried the recipe. Some loved it, some didn't care for it at all, and some "tweaked" the Rose recipe to get it just right. http://cakecentral.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=659968

    PS: Sandi, on the above mentioned CakeCentral thread there are also some posting about the Nestle RV recipe.

    ReplyDelete
  9. wow!! Who knew a cake could cause so much controversy.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi TeaLady,

    If you think this is controversy checkout some of the comments on the Earl Grey Shortbread recipe from the Food Network. There are angry accusations of recipe theft, plagiarism and a rehash of Cindy McCain's cookie recipe debacle. What a hoot!
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/claire-robinson/earl-grey-shortbread-cookies-recipe/reviews/page-2.html

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just wanted to say I love the CMR recipe. Have used it numerous times and it's as close as I can get to my Great Grandmas recipe taste wise. Most recipes end up looking great but the flavor is never right.

    ReplyDelete
  12. FYI...

    I baked Rose Berenbaum's RVC using the exact recipe listed in her book and the exact size pan listed as well and I found the cake to look beautiful, bake beautiful, come out of the pan beautifully, iced beautifully, cut beautifully and tasted like cardboard...way too dry for my likes...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous,
    Sorry to hear about your dry Red Velvet Cake. Next time give Cake Man Raven’s or Rebecca Rather's Red Velvet a try. Both of those recipes create a very moist and yummy cake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't have problems with dryness. The final product of her recipes reminded me of that line from "The Man with 2 Brains" after Steve Martin consummates his marriage with Kathleen Turner he says, "That was so PROFESSIONAL". I was wanting home baked goodness and getting Sara Lee instead.

      Delete
  14. You know.. honestly, I was going to buy Rose's book because it looked interesting... but if the attitude of Woody, her "collaborator" is any indication, I don't want to give any of my money to jerks.
    Woody, Perhaps watching how you speak to people via the written word would serve you well in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree with you. I was going to buy the book as well. Now I don't want anything to do with it. There are better ways to communicate with people.

      Delete
    2. I COMPLETELY agree with you both. How rude and condescending this "collaborator" was in her/his posts.

      Delete
  15. I agree with you, Anonymous, I also thought Woody's reaction was a little over the top. And because of that I wonder if he is really Rose's "collaborator", or just someone trying to make her look bad.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi, I just reading your blog about red velvet cakes. It is my husband's favorite. Did you ever try the recipe with brown sugar and 1/2 Cup of cocoa? Can you tell me where to find the recipe? Thanks! I am going to try the Cake Man Raven one!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous,

    Here is one that appeared in the New Orleans paper a few months back. It calls for 1/2 cup cocoa and 1 lb of brown sugar. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but it does sound good. If you try it let me know how it tastes.

    http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2009/12/damgoodsweet_features_new_orle.html

    It is from Chef David Guas' book DamGoodSweet.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Oh my goodness gracious! I really enjoyed this blog post, thank you for putting your name out there on CC! I myself have my doubts of the authenticity of Woody's claims, mainly being her corroborator. I have always had a positive and classy impression from Rose, and had planned on buying her pricey books in the future. This makes me want to research a bit more to find out if that was indeed them, before purchasing. That was a huge mistake with regards to public relations if he indeed is who he claims to be. Everyone knows LOVE is what makes cakes taste so good!

    ReplyDelete
  19. i wish there was a way to get the recipes for these they look devine!!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Whoa, I have one of Rose's cookbooks, Cake Bible but after reading WOODY's tone I think I will skip buying more. Maybe he was having a bad day but his information could have been presented in a better way.

    Thanks for all the cake taste tests. I have done similar spreadsheet supported bake offs for cookies and frosting so I appreciate the effort.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hi Kris,

    Please post a link to the cookie and frosting bake-offs. I would love to see the recipes you tested.

    Carol

    ReplyDelete
  22. I just stumbled across your blog after researching dozens of RVC's myself--always wanted to conduct taste test experiments but can't seem to find enough lab rats. I love the info you provided, but I love your attitude even more.
    Will be a returning customer :)

    Chau

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hi Chau, Thanks for the words of encouragement. It is always nice to know someone is reading my stuff :)

    Carol

    PS: I hope you find some lab rats for your taste test. That's one problem I don't have. Everyone in my extended family has a huge sweet tooth.

    ReplyDelete
  24. It is well known that changing recipes will alter the end result of the baked cake. With that said, not all are as temperamental to changes like Rose's. I have both Rose's books, and have tried quite a few of the recipes. To be honest, I don't care for them: THEY ARE DRRRRRRYYYYYYYY!!!Every body is entitle to have an opinion, and Woody's reaction to this post reinforces mine about this books: snobby. How dare u put down their glorius recipes!!! :-P

    ReplyDelete
  25. LMAO... oh the drama. The turth is, a good majority of the cake recipes in the Cake Bible are lacking that something special (my not-so-humble opinion of course). They tend to be flat (flavor-wise) and lack sophistication (again my nsho). Perhaps, Woody, if you spent more time in the kitchen and less time shooting your mouth off on the internet that would be remedied. It's called an opinion... everyone is entitled to their own even if it is not in agreement with yours.

    You do realize that in your attempt to come to the rescue of your precious recipe you actually make it sound LESS appealing than it already did. A cake that is so tempermental that baking it in an 8" pan vs. a 9" pan would harm it's delicate balance to the point of catastrophe is not worth having in the repetoire.

    I have to say that I don't love Cakeman's RV either... it's too oily for me (but I love butter cake so I am biased). It's cool to see them all stacked up and hear your results.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have to say, as a baker of 45 years, the difference between using a 9" pan and an 8" pan is NOT critical to the end result as long as baking times are watched so you don't over/underbake.

    What IS critical is the fat to sugar ratio, and if the recipe I've seen for Rose's RVC is accurate, the fat to sugar ratio is so far off I wouldn't even consider baking it that way.

    One time - ONE - and never again - I tried a recipe for RVC with a similar disproportion between fat and sugar. Never, NEVER again. When there is twice as much sugar as fat in a recipe for a cake, something is off. I don't care how many cookbooks you have published, that recipe is a mistake.

    If you look at recipes for RVC, they are essentially similar, and that includes Rose's. Except for the disproportion in the sugar/fat ration it's pretty much the standard RVC recipe. And there are a handful of RVC cake recipes out there that repeat the mistake in the sugar/fat ratio. It's just not a good cake - comes out too dry and has to be handled in special ways to counteract that.

    Look at Cake Man's RVC recipe. It's a 1:1 sugar:fat ratio. That, or something close to it, is the correct ratio for a cake if you don't want it to come out dry. No wonder it won the taste test.

    As for people who get belligerent about whether or not their recipe (if it is their recipe) was followed exactly to the letter, all I can say is, if your recipe is so poorly balanced that you can't bake it in 8" pans instead of 9" pans, it wasn't any good to start with. You do realize that you are talking about a difference of ONE CUP OF BATTER? Assuming you fill your pans to the halfway point as if fairly standard. That means an 8" cake pan would be filled 1.25" instead of 1" deep. Big whoop! That's still below the 2/3rds mark which is still acceptable for a typical cake recipe.

    At least, Big Whoop if your recipe is any good to start with.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Oh yeah, and personally oil would be my last choice of fat for an RVC, plus - can't currently get into cake man raven's actual website because it's infected with a virus, as of 9/23/2011.

    However, if the recipe attributed to CMR is accurate, he's also using the wrong frosting. The real authentic original RVC frosting is a cooked buttercream sort of frosting. Cream cheese is a poor replacement for the original.

    Still it's better than Rose's RVC, and easily modified.

    ReplyDelete
  28. so informative, excellent post!!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thanks so much for this. So helpful. I found my favorite white cake recipe from your scratch off, and now I'm going to try Cake Man Raven's RVC! Sorry people are being such sore losers about their cake not being baked in the PROPER pan. That's utterly ridiculous. No cake baker wants a cake that can only be baked in a heart shape pan. Pan size DOES NOT matter anyway....

    ReplyDelete
  30. Good grief, folks - it's only cake.

    And it's only an opinion - everyone has one, and this was The Bake More's.

    ReplyDelete
  31. The secret to Waldorf astoria rvc....is to make it at least 3 to 14 days before serving. Time in the freezers wrapped properly will give you the "only" rvc worth eating. And where did all the cream cheese frosting come from? This cake needs only French lace frosting. Compliments this cake perfectly without overpowering. Just saying...try it. Was fun reading tho..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tip, Robyn. I will give it a try. I'll bake both the Waldorf Astoria and CMR versions and let my Thanksgiving guests do a taste test. I will let you know how it goes.

      Carol

      Delete
  32. How were your cakes? Did you find them to be more moist? Did you use the French lace frosting?

    ReplyDelete
  33. The Cakeman Raven was by far the moistest, and I used cream cheese frosting on all the cakes.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Got my rvc out of the freezer three days ago. Iced it with French lace frosting. Sitting under glass domed cake plate till today.Waldorf recipe. Soooo good! Hope everyones tastes like Christmas!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Thanks again, this was so much fun.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I have two of Rose's cake books, and have probably only baked one or two recipes from them. She is such a cake-nazi (totally reminds me of Seinfeld's soup-nazi character), that I just really dislike her tone and the way she writes about baking. I've also seen other Red Velvet cake bake-offs and Rose and Woody always have to rationalize that they didn't win because you obviously did something wrong. Get over it and stop being such a nag! If your cake can only be baked in one specific type of pan without being completely ruined, then it isn't a good recipe. period. Get off of your high horse already.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Sounds like Rose and Woody are just this.....sore losers.

    ReplyDelete
  38. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I am trying Cakeman's RV now...in the oven. I have Rose's books...and yes, I believe Woody works for her. I have read her books and tried her recipes and they are lovely. I do have to say though as a baker it is very difficult to have to know every different pans size for a batter and how to adjust leaveners accordingly as Rose addresses in her books. That would be my only complaint to the books period. I would never leave the kitchen or get an order complete from a customer with all the different sizes cakes come in today. But I understand them trying to defend their recipe. Honestly I considered "the baker" error in all these RV bake contests because scratch baking does require skill. Thanks for the bake off either way....it was a good read.

    ReplyDelete
  40. when I started reading this I wrote down the name of the cakes so I can try them myself. as I kept in reading in disgust rose's cake quickly was scratched off. no one should be that hard up about a cake contest because of a small difference in cake pans. who wants such a pain in the butt recipe anyway. what are you supposed to tell people? that you can only make that cake in 1 size take it or leave it? and this woody guy needs to learn some manners especially seeing as he himself is linking himself to rose. if I were rose I would can woody this instant as he is giving her a bad name and turning away current and future customers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Woody’s rant also convinced me not to buy any of their cookbooks. They can count me as another loss sale. I wonder if he still works for Rose?

      Delete
  41. I have test all the recipes today and here is my opinion: the first place was Rose Levy Beranbaum.
    I chose this recipe because it's so tender, moist and velvety texture. My family and my whole class really loved it. And I don't think it's dry ( maybe you should check your step)
    About Raven men's cake, it's still delicious, but it was more "crumbly" and heavier than Rose's recipe.
    Actually, I think the result depends on people own taste. Some people like tender texture, while the other prefer heavy but more "buttery taste" as traditional butter cake.
    Both of these recipes are great, but each person can find the one that suits his/her taste.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I agree Liu Shang Jiang, each person will have his/her own preference. Some like their cake light and fluffy, some like dense and rich. Some like butter, some prefer oil, and some swear by shortening. Guess that is why there are some many different variations. As far as missing a step during baking… I guess it is possible, but I like to think not. I’m a little OCD when baking. Okay, I’m a LOT OCD. When baking I make a copy of the recipe and cross out ingredients and steps as they are added/completed. I even do this weird thing with M&M (or any candy that is handy). If a recipe calls for multiples of something (say 3 cups of sugar, 2 cups of flour, etc) I lay out a corresponding number of M&Ms, and then I eat one M&M every time I add something to the batter. Crazy I know, and very very fattening, but with those M&Ms I never forget how many cups of sugar I’ve already added to my batter.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Actually I adapted the recipe. Rose's RVC call for 3 egg whites ( = 90 gram) but I added extra one. I also added 1 more teaspoon of vinegar - an acid which can keep the cake moist. I don't know if this adaption would change the result or not. Maybe I will test the original recipe when I have free time.

    ReplyDelete
  44. wow, thank you for all the tests!! They are really helpful. I just wonder if you used different food color brand for each cake as their shades were very distintive?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Hong Mai, No, I used the same brand of food color in all the cakes. I think it was called Astor. And it was a big, big bottle, not like those tiny bottles that McCormick sells. :-)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, and yes, I also hate the fact that I have to buy many tiny bottles to stock up for RVC ;)) Then the amount of cocoa powder is the cause of such difference in shades, don't you think?

      Delete
    3. Hong Mai, Differences in the amounts of cocoa power and the amount of food coloring is probably the main cause for the difference in color. The Waldorf recipe has twice the food coloring and twice the cocoa power of the other two. But from what I remember, the Rose Red Velvet didn’t have any baking soda or vinegar. This variation might play a part in the paler color of the Rose Red Velvet cake. But then again the fat is different in each recipe (butter vs oil vs shortening) so that may play a part too. So confusing. We need a chemistry professor to pipe in with an explanation. Where is Alton Brown when we need him?

      Delete
    4. :))) too much science for me. I think I might just choose the best shade out of top 3 recipes and go with it ;)
      By the way, I find several versions of Cake Man Raven recipe on google. Could you please spare some time to send me your version of his recipe to my email address: thenestdiary@gmail.com. Thank you very very much!!

      Delete
    5. Hi Hong Mai, Sorry I thought I sent this message a few days ago, but I guess not :-) Sorry

      Here is a link to a Google document/spreadsheet that has all the RVC recipes. Let me know if you have any problems accessing it. And Happy Red Velvet baking!!!

      Carol


      https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bzhj-pF4shuXUERSWkh3ZnJNZDg/edit

      Delete