red velvet cake with vanilla buttercream

Happy Birthday Me: Red Velvet Cake with Vanilla German Buttercream

On Saturday last, a strange thing happened. My husband took both of my boys out on a mission to hunt down poussins. That wasn’t even the strange thing. The strange thing was I found myself alone in my own house for probably the first time in nineteen months (I don’t count being pregnant as being alone for obvious reasons).

Now if I had thought it through, I most certainly would have taken a much longed for nap but instead I got a rush of productivity. Giddy in my new efficient and capable self I began carving a pineapple, rustling up lasagne and hoovering the house. Not content with such achievements I decided it was the perfect and obvious opportunity to make myself a birthday cake. Some, I’m sure, would consider such things cringingly sad and indeed it probably is but I don’t care, I was 29 years and 361 days old with no babies hanging out of me, no distractions whatsoever.

The buzz was slightly dimmed when I realised the scarcity of provisions. But low and behold, a Red Velvet Cake was possible. I never thought much of such creations, assuming they were merely garishly coloured madeira cake but no. No they aren’t, they’re full of mad stuff; vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and only two eggs. Two eggs? I thought that’ll just about do me for a 7″ round cake. Lovely. How wrong I was. The humble images of a modest birthday cake soon dissipated as the batter kept growing. It ended up comfortably filling two 7″ (18cm) tins. Now that’d be fine, I suppose, if I had left it there but once baked I decided to cut each round in half, ending with four sponges. Clearly these needed to be sandwiched by something delicious, and they were. A queer beast. Something I’d never heard of, German buttercream. Then on top of all of that I felt it needed a final flourish. A bitter, dark chocolate ganache.

Happy birthday to me indeed.

For the record German buttercream involves making a super thick, almost custard like concoction to add to the butter. A triumph I must admit. Not clawing and sickly like the lazyman’s buttercream I tend to make. Worth the effort entirely. I found the recipe whilst trawling through google results for ‘less sweet buttercream’.  It’s from a wonderful site called The Tough Cookie; here’s the link.

I might also mention, the recipe for the red velvet cake itself is from Rachel Allen’s ‘Cake‘ book. She did me over with the marzipan at Christmas but redeems herself utterly with this number. A surprisingly…velvety..sponge. My father even remarked on it’s lovely texture. I shalln’t say what sister no. 4 thought he said.

red velvet cake with vanilla buttercream

Oven temperature 180 Celsius

Red Velvet Cake;

Butter                              100g

Caster sugar                     200g

Vanilla extract                  1 teaspoon

Eggs (separated)              2

Buttermilk                         175ml

Red food colouring – I’ll let you decide

Plain flour                          175g

Cornflour                            25g

Baking powder                   1 teaspoon

Cocoa powder                     1 tablespoon

Pinch o’ salt

White vinegar                    1 tablespoon

Bicarbonate of soda           1 teaspoon

German Buttercream;

Plain flour                           35g

Caster sugar                        200g

Pinch o’ salt

Milk                                      240ml

Butter                                    225g

Vanilla extract                      1 teaspoon


Dark chocolate                     100g

Butter                                   25g

Milk                                      60ml

Preheat the oven and line two round 18cm tins with baking parchment. What? You don’t know how to? Sure click here.

This recipe isn’t particularly difficult it’s just a bit faffy so keep your wits about you. Actually, this recipe benefits from a tip I shall give you;

When baking, take out all of the ingredients you need. As you use them put them away. This way by the end if there are any left out on the worktop you’ve made a mistake.

So wise.

Beat the butter, sugar and vanilla together, in a large mixing bowl, till smooth. Add in the egg yolks and beat again (top left in the photo below).

In a separate jug measure out the buttermilk and add in enough red food colouring to make the mix look offensively bright. It will look more pink than red so fear not, you’re just looking for intensity at this stage.

red velvet cake

Now weigh and measure out the flour, cornflour, baking powder and cocoa powder and stir them all together till they’re nice and uniformly mixed (bottom left in the photo).

Whisk the egg whites, together with the salt, till the firm peak stage.

You should now have a buttery bowl, a pink milky jug, a floury mix and firm egg whites.

Pour the milk mix into the buttery one and beat to combine. It might be a bit curdled looking but don’t worry (top right in the photo).

Throw in the floury mix and fold everything together.

Put a third of the egg whites into the pink batter and fold. Then add in the remaining egg white and continue to fold till it’s nicely mixed.

Now get your bicarbonate of soda measured out in a little bowl.

Add in the vinegar. It’ll start bubbling madly so quickly throw it into the batter and mix it through (bottom right in the photo).

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and put them into the oven.


They’ll take about 35 – 40mins to bake and should be just firm to the touch. Be sure to rotate them half way through so they bake evenly.

red velvet cake


Let them cool in their tins as you rustle up the buttercream.

Weigh out the flour and sugar into a large saucepan and add in the salt. Stir it all together.

Whisk in the milk gradually. The lumps disappear if you do it in stages (top photo below).

Pop the pan onto a medium – high heat and bring to a boil.

Once bubbling turn the heat down and let it cook away for another two minutes then remove it from the heat and scoop it out into a shallow bowl. It should look like almost set wallpaper paste (middle photo below). Yum. Cover it with clingfilm and let it cool down. I put mine in the fridge as I haven’t the patience for room temperature cooling.

german buttercream
fancy german buttercream collage

Beat the butter with the vanilla for about 4 mins till it gets a bit paler and very soft.

Once the gloop has cooled beat it into the butter, a tablespoon at a time (bottom photo above).

That’s all it takes and it is so much more delicious than standard buttercream.

Finally the ganache. Put the chocolate, butter and milk into a heatproof bowl and microwave for a minute. Whisk it gently till smooth. Pleasingly easy.

dark chocolate ganache
easy dark chocolate ganache

For the assembly, slice each sponge in half so you end up with four disks.

Find a pretty plate and plop a small lump of buttercream into the middle, to anchor the cake, and place a sponge disk on top.

Spoon on a little under a quarter of the buttercream and smooth it out.

Put on another disk of sponge.

Another less than quarter of buttercream. Smooth.

Another disk.

Buttercream. Smooth.

Place the final disk on, flat side up.

Scrape out the remaining buttercream onto the cake and sparingly cover the top and sides of the cake using a palette knife or something similar. I left mine a little rustic.

red velvet cake
so rustic

Put it in the fridge to harden.

Once the cake has chilled, stir the ganache, which should have cooled down nicely, and pour it over the top of the cake. I went rustic again, not covering the whole cake.

Garnish with an old berry and a grating of chocolate.

Jaysus. Long recipe but quite worth it.

red velvet cake

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