Who isn’t charmed by red velvet cakes? They’re cute: red-and-white striped, as adorable as a candy cane, as sweet as a valentine. They’re typically towering and grand, and scream “party.” Plus, just about anything covered in thick plumes of cream-cheese frosting is automatically delicious.
But behind the pretty facade so much of it doesn’t add up for me. The chocolate is barely perceptible and the “red velvet” is just red food dye, and a lot of it.
But one day, a reader left a comment on an everyday chocolate cake in my archives [of my blog] and told me she’d been out of the required buttermilk and used red wine instead. She’d turned chocolate cake into a red-wine chocolate cake. And I’d never had one of these before, never even considered it, but I had to drop everything I was doing and try this substitution. It quickly became one of our favorite cakes. With its loud chocolate flavor and natural red tint—this was the real red velvet cake.
This is my favorite cake for grown-ups, and, yes, I do mean grown-ups, because the wine does not fully bake out. (You’re welcome.) The flavor trifecta is red wine, chocolate, and a slip of cinnamon, three things that you will quickly see have always been meant to be together. It’s chocolate-flavored and naturally red, and the texture is so dense and moist that only a little frosting is required between the layers, and that frosting is whipped mascarpone cheese—or cream cheese for people who have taken a fancy to triple-crème cheeses.
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (179 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) white granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3/4 cup (177 ml) red wine, any kind you like*
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon (133 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (41 grams) Dutch cocoa powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup (118 grams) chilled heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment, and either butter and lightly flour the parchment and exposed sides of the pan, or spray the interior with a nonstick spray. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. Mix until 3/4 combined, then fold the rest together with a rubber spatula. Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be shiny and smooth, like a puddle of chocolate. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. This cake keeps well at room temperature or in the fridge. It looks pretty dusted with powdered sugar.
Make the topping: Whip mascarpone, cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form — don’t overwhip. Dollop generously on each slice of cake. It can also be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 hours.