Irresistible Cake Love

I haven't been married for very long (it'll be one year in just a few weeks), but if there's one thing I've learned about keeping the love alive, it's the element of surprise.

Right now, as I type, Mister MA, who's still under the covers, has no idea what is in store when he ambles downstairs for his morning coffee.

Red velvet valentine: Who could resist? (Kim O'Donnel)

Because he knows I'm always testing recipes, he paid little attention last night to the unfrosted red velvet sheet cake cooling in the dining room. My plan: To transform this cake rectangle into an edible love note, a sweet message he could read, digest and savor. As of last weekend, I had no clue what I might do to surprise my main squeeze for this year's love-a-thon, but then Cupid showed up and pointed me in the direction of cookie cutters that spell out "I ♥ U."

The genius behind this culinary levity is Decor Craft Inc., a Providence, R.I.-based company creating all kinds of design whimsy. According to its Web site, DCI products are sold nationwide at stores such as Container Store, Crate & Barrel, MOMA store, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, but I found these cutters at TableTop in Dupont Circle (set of 3 cutters, $10). (If you've spotted the lovey cutters elsewhere, please share your sightings in the comments area below.)

The package suggests chocolate chip cookie dough as the romantic medium, but I decided to go full throttle in the name of St. Valentine and instead whip up the reddest, baddest batter on the planet.

Just after the ripe hour of seven, I rolled out of bed and Cupid and I got to work, cutting the cake into shapes and beating cream cheese into frosting oblivion. (Mister MA was snoring, so there's no way he'd even hear the whirr of the beater.)

As I sipped my first cup of coffee, I assembled my little works of velvet art and placed on them on a platter, which I left on the living room table so that he'd see his valentine as he walked down the stairs (I was going for the airplane banner at the Jersey shore effect.)

When Mister MA came to, I asked him to make enough coffee for both of us, and as he ambled downstairs, I waited in anticipation for his reaction, perhaps one of joy and excitement. Who knows, maybe he'd run up the stairs and plant one on my lips in appreciation.

And that's where surprise goes both ways. Mister Dope MA walked right past the platter, lured by the tray of red velvet crumbs sitting on the dining room table.

"Honey, what's going on with these cake crumbs down here?"

He is indeed my funny valentine.

Isn't that the thing about love -- it's always where (and when) you least expect it.

Join me for more sweet nothings at noon ET, when I host another round of What's Cooking.

Red Velvet

Adapted from James McNair's Cakes by James McNair

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used equal amounts Earth Balance spread with success)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 bottles (1 ounce each) red liquid food coloring
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature


With a nonstick spray, grease the interior of a baking sheet, about 11x15 inches, and line with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to mix well and set aside.

In a bowl with a hand mixer, beat butter at medium speed until creamy, about one minute. With mixer still running, slowly add sugar. Occasionally stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl. Beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly drizzle in eggs and beat until mixed well, remembering to scrape sides of bowl. Add vanilla and food coloring.

Using mixer on low speed or a rubber spatula, begin to incorporate about one-third of the dry ingredients, alternating with half of the buttermilk. Continue to alternate dry with wet, ending with the remaining flour mixture, until ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into pan and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow cake to completely cool before frosting. Peel parchment paper off bottom of cake and place cake on a flat work surface. Position cutters on top of cake, making sure there is enough work space between shapes. With sharp end closest to the cake surface, press cutters, one at a time, completely into cake. Using a serrated knife, trim around shape to help with extraction (a rubber flipping spatula helps to lift as well). Carefully place shapes onto a platter long enough so that message can be read. With a flat spatula, frost each shape. Serve immediately.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from "Feast" by Nigella Lawson

8 ounces cream cheese
¾- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
½ cup heavy cream (I've also used ½ & 1/2 and evaporated milk with success)

Place cream cheese in a mixing bowl, and whip with an electric beater, until smooth. (You may also do this with a food processor.) Gradually add confectioners' sugar, tasting for sweetness.

Add cream and beat again until you have a spreadable consistency.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 12, 2008; 10:35 AM ET Valentine's Day
Previous: Cooking: The Next Happy Pill? | Next: 14 Things to Know About Cooking Beans


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The cake crumbs were delicious!

Posted by: Mister MA | February 12, 2008 12:15 PM

Can you adjust this recipe to make cupcakes? would you just cook them for a different amount of time?

Posted by: Anon | February 12, 2008 2:02 PM

Anon, you sure can adapt this for cupcakes. Look at link below for details:

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 12, 2008 2:13 PM

Good -- I hope to be the most popular person in my office after making them for Thursday a.m.!

Posted by: anon | February 12, 2008 2:44 PM

I made the cupcakes for a Super Bowl party (Pats-SOB!), and while they tasted delicious, the centers fell a little while they cooled. I think my oven may run a little cool- could that cause of the fallen centers?

FWIW, I made two batches, and both of them turned out the same, so I don't think it was a case of a missing ingredient. Thanks!

Posted by: Para | February 12, 2008 3:12 PM

Maybe you took them out too early.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2008 3:33 PM

Thanks Kim - I am going to bookmark this recipe... cake, cupcakes, it'll all be good!

For the chatter who is trying to interest her BF in cooking, I would also add that taking a cooking class together will do wonders. Get the boy some knife-skills with a practiced teacher and he'll be asking to show off that "manly" skill in your kitchen in no time!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | February 12, 2008 4:52 PM

Hahahahaha - great story!

Posted by: WI | February 13, 2008 11:34 AM

I usually go for heart shaped pancakes on Valentine's Day morning. I have yet to find a good method of coloring the batter red though because once they are nicely browned on each side, only the inside shows red when you cut into them.

Posted by: MaltaMom | February 14, 2008 10:47 AM

Is there ANY substitute for the red dye in Red Velvet cake? The thought of eating all that food coloring absolutely grosses me out!

Posted by: MJ | February 16, 2008 2:14 AM

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