Barbara Bailey's Red Velvet Cake

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For the cake:
Solid vegetable oil shortening, for greasing the pans
Flour, for dusting the pans
1 package (18.5 ounces) plain butter recipe golden cake mix
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 bottle (1 ounce) red food coloring
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting:
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

To make the cake:
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust them with flour. Shake out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Place the cake mix, cocoa powder, buttermilk, food coloring, melted butter, eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and the baking soda and vinegar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for two minutes longer, scraping down the side of the bowl again if needed. The batter should look well blended. Divide the cake batter evenly among the 3 prepared cake pans, about 1 1/2 cups of batter per pan, smoothing the tops with the rubber spatula. Place the pans in the oven. If your oven is not large enough to hold 3 pans on the center rack, place 2 pans on that rack and one in the center of the rack above.

Bake the cake layers until they just start to pull away from the side of the pans and the tops swing back when lightly pressed with a finger, 17 to 21 minutes. The cake layer on the higher rack may bake faster so test it for doneness first. Transfer the cake pans to wire racks and let the cake layers cool for 5 minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edge of each layer and give the pans a good shake to loosen the cakes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack, then invert it again onto another rack so that the cakes are right side up. Let the layers cool completely, 15 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting: Place the cream cheese and room temperature butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the 1 teaspoon vanilla and the confectioners sugar and beat on medium speed until well combined. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat the frosting for 1 minute longer.

To assemble the cake, transfer one cake layer, right side up, to a serving platter. Spread the top with some of the frosting. Place a second cake layer, right side up, on top of the first and frost the top. Repeat this process with the third layer. Frost the side of the cake with a thin coat just to seal the crumbs. Use the remaining frosting to go back over this and liberally frost the side, working with smooth clean strokes. To make slicing easier, place the uncovered cake in the refrigerator until the frosting sets, 20 minutes.

(To make it easier to frost a red velvet cake without the crumbs mixing in the frosting, and turning it pink, here are some tips from Anne Byrn: She says to be sure to grease the pans with solid vegetable shortening and dust them with flour. This forms a crust on the outside of the layers, and the crumbs are much less likely to rub off into the frosting. You can frost the cake with ease. Also, frost the cake first with a thin skim coat of frosting, then go back and refrost the cake on top of this with a more generous hand. The skim coat seals in the crumbs and you can frost with no worries. To make an even more impenetrable crust, chill the cake for about ten minutes after applying the skim coating of frosting, then continue frosting.)

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