What Is This, Velvet?
You can find red velvet cake in most Black neighborhoods, especially in Harlem. It’s often a capstone to celebratory Juneteenth meals, as are many red foods (red drink, watermelon, hot links) that symbolize Black people’s sacrifice and enduring quest for freedom.
While historians of Black foodways haven’t traced the origins of the dish 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 was gonna pull up for that red slice. Their version tasted homemade, was super moist and not too sweet, with beautiful pecans along the icing. Our version gets its color from freeze—dried raspberries, which you’ll find in the dried fruit section of the grocery store. Crush them into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle to give your cake its vivid hue
For the cake:
Nonstick spray or melted butter
2¾ cups (550 g) cane sugar
4¼ cups (420g) cake flour
¾ cup (65 g) freeze-dried raspberries, crushed into a fine powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon (17 g) baking soda
1 tablespoon (13 g) baking powder
½ cup (120ml) grapeseed oil
½ cup (120ml) buttermilk
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 large (150 g) eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups (340g)
For the frosting:
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, for garnish
1½ tablespoons raspberry powder, for garnish
Make the cake:
Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line three 9-inch (23 cm) round cake pans with rounds of parchment paper cut to fit and grease with nonstick spray (or you can use just enough melted butter to coat the 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 on low speed until you get a homogeneous liquid, 2 to 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low, add the dry ingredients, one large spoonful at a time, and mix until just combined; do not overmix.
With the mixer still on low, add the boiling water in a slow stream. Pouring slowly will gradually increase the temperature of the -batter—this way, the eggs won’t cook. You want the water to be hot to help emulsify the batter and create a smoother, more velvety cake. Aim for a final batter texture that’s 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 around while baking or they will collapse. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool completely.
Make the frosting:
In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla. Begin mixing on low speed and gradually work up to high, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix thoroughly, ensuring there are no lumps.
Remove the cakes from their pans. Place one cake layer on a cake 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 pecans and raspberry powder. Slice and enjoy. Leftover cake will keep for 3 to 5 days, wrapped or in a container.
Far too often, sweet potatoes are relegated to holiday dishes like sweet potato casserole and pie. But the naturally sweet orange flesh of this tuber is a year-round staple that can make a play during any course. Our take on potato hash centers bright, warming elements like ginger, a hint of coriander, and cinnamon. You can curve 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, chopped 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 green bell pepper, chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground cilantro
Aquafaba Aioli (page 290), for serving
Fresh dill sprigs, for garnish
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. We’ll 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 sheet pan with paper towels and set it nearby. Add the sweet potato cubes to the hot oil and fry for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. The exterior of the cubes should look a bit blistered. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sweet potatoes from the oil and transfer them to the lined sheet pan to drain.
Return to your hot cast-iron skillet. Add the olive oil and the oyster mushrooms. Pan roast the oyster mushrooms until they develop a brown color and their moisture evaporates, about 8minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, onion, scallion whites, 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 fried sweet potatoes and scallion greens. Stir to combine and remove from the heat.
Drizzle the hash with the aioli. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from Ghetto Gastro Presents Black Power Kitchen by Jon Gray, Pierre Serrao, and Lester Walker, with Osayi Endolyn (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022. Food photographs by Nayquan Shuler and atmospheric photographs by Joshua Woods.
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