A recipe for making a busy red velvet birthday cake on a packed, non-stop Saturday in the bakery. Caramelised pecans included, but definitely not for the faint-hearted…
This story reminds me of the people we constantly work with and the food we share. In a restaurant, bakery, hotel, cafe or wherever, there is a team of people working in close proximity, facing the ups and downs of the day as a collective and, despite the stress and hard work, making the most of those shared moments to improve their day.
A busy non-stop Saturday in the bakery. Doors open at 08:00 and immediately a steady flow of hungry regulars, new faces, breakfast crowds, curious readers of online reviews, others who simply like the look of the cakes from outside and decide to come inside.
The manager is rushed off his feet all day (as we all are), not mentioning to anyone that it’s his birthday, but we all know the date, and appreciate his hard work. It’s a heavy morning, Saturdays generally are, head down, keep moving, keep going, we’ll be fine, we’ll get through this, everyone keep focussed, queues are getting longer and longer…
Midday brings another wave of customers, just as eager. The displays need to be refilled time and again, inside needs to be clean and tidy, despite the crowd, the atmosphere is welcoming yet ‘buzzing’. The afternoon rush calms just briefly.
You just never can guess at which moment the lull will arrive to offer some respite.
I seize the chance and build up a towering red velvet cake as quickly as I can. Usually I make it with two thick layers of red velvet sponge, or three thinner ones. Here, a busy red velvet birthday cake for just one person, I cut small discs from the layers, using a steel ring. Before I know it, I have nine discs. NINE! This is going to be an exercise in construction, timing and stability: too much cream between the layers, and it’s all over, the walls come tumbling down. Too little cream and it’ll just be a block of cake with speckles of cream, the red velvet blob! Got to get this right – the pressure is on and the (birthday) clock’s ticking.
No need to make the cream: there’s always plenty made fresh every morning: icing sugar, cream cheese, butter. Yes, that cream cheese frosting I always use for some of my favourite cupcakes. Don’t tell me you’re on a diet, will you? It’s all good stuff, just take a small bite, it won’t do you any harm, believe me. Believe me…
Cake and creamy frosting, layer upon layer. Some of the crumbs mix into the cream, the cake turntable is not helping here, this needs to be turned by hand. Easy. Besides, the red crumbs add a rustic homemade charm to the finish.
Reach out for some of those store-bought sprinkles, red, white, pink, green blue and orange. STOP! That’s not what I want. Too late? One or two sprinkly things fall from my fingers, but that doesn’t put me off. Throw a pan on the stove, add some sugar, water, mix well, add some pecans, keep stirring. Ah yes, caramel pecans, nice choice, perfect combination for the red velvet. Keep stirring now. Everything goes dry and white. Keep stirring… Wait… smoking now, almost about to burn! Wait just a moment longer. Off the heat, blob of butter, mix well, cool, chop, sprinkle onto the cake, munch a couple yourself.
Find a candle that matches to place on top (a pink one will have to do). Grab a box that looks like it will be big enough (not a chance). All the crew gather round to present it to the manager, who is genuinely moved; a round of applause and hugs and then it’s back to the busy evening… Happy birthday! Enjoy your cake later and keep hold of these good memories!