I am on a bit of a mission. Maybe you can help me out.
I am in search of the best red velvet cake in America. So far, I have tasted over 160 different versions of red velvet cake ? visiting bakeries and restaurants (and one rest stop) in places as diverse as New York City; Big Sur, California; Charlottesville, Virginia; and San Antonio, Texas. I've been lectured on the merits of utilizing beet juice versus cherries versus red food coloring; on how much buttermilk is too much buttermilk; and on whether sweet vanilla frosting or salty cream-cheese frosting best "serve" the cake batter. Recently, a baker friend in Philadelphia offered me a stern lecture on how red a red velvet cake is even supposed to be. "Only fools expect red velvet cake to actually be bright red," she said. "Real connoisseurs know the best cake looks closer to the color of poop." Lovely.
I should probably back up a second and explain how I moved into the realm of "real connoisseur." In my novel The Divorce Party, red velvet cake finds itself playing a prominent part. (It even finds itself a place on the book cover.) The Divorce Party focuses on a woman heading out to Montauk, New York ? an affluent beach town on the edge of the world ? to meet her future in-laws for the first time, the very weekend they are having a 200-person party to celebrate the end of their 35-year union. And, at the center of that celebration, is one perfect red velvet cake. One perfect red velvet cake and one $26,000 bottle of wine: a 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild.
The Divorce Party just came out in paperback, and I find myself back out on book tour, getting asked the question that propelled the mission in the first place: What is the best red velvet cake you've ever tasted?
In doing "research" to make sure I have a good and solid answer, I have found my mission growing larger and larger ? people's passion for red velvets constantly surprising and exciting me.
"It really comes down to this. You can't offer a fair answer until you've tried red velvet cake everywhere," the Philadelphia baker-friend said. "It's simply unfair to the cake."
I would never want to be unfair to the cake. So, this weekend, while I am in town visiting one of my favorite bookstores, I will add Portland red velvets to the mix. All suggestions of places I need to try are welcome.
As would be, you know, a $26,000 bottle of 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild.
For research, of course.