Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

Cullen-Cakes & Spinach & Artichoke Dip

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Day 13/365 - Saturday, March 21st 2009

Did you know that Twilight came out on DVD yesterday at 12:00am?  That sound you hear is millions of teenage girls (and others) turning the teevee on and letting out a sigh over the dreaminess that is Edward Cullen.  My friend Erica hosted a Twilight Movie Release Party last night to celebrate – I just love a theme party don’t you?  My contribution?  Cullen-Cakes, red-velvet cupcakes with sparkly white frosting (just like Edward in the sun).

This was my first time making red-velvet cake and I actually had to make it twice to get it right.  My first batch were a bit over-cooked because I followed the recipe as written – it made a layer cake and I didn’t adjust for the smaller cupcakes. This is the first batch that I made on Friday – as you can see, the edges are a bit crispy…


The second batch came out perfectly, bright red, moist and delicious!

Red-Velvet Cupcakes

Red-Velvet Cupcakes

The recipe came from the Food Network.  There are quite a few recipes for red-velvet cake on the site – I picked this particular one because it came from a Sara Moulton show and Sara’s never steered me in the wrong direction.  This recipe was no exception – the cupcakes were a hit!

Southern Red Velvet Cake
Recipe courtesy Cakeman Raven, Cakeman Raven Confectionery, NYC via Sara’s Secrets

  • Vegetable oil for the pans – I used cupcake liners
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows
  • Crushed pecans, for garnish – I used sparkly sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes, 20 minutes if you’re making cupcakes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake

I made/would make a few adjustments to this recipe to account for the fact that I was making cupcakes – I only cooked the cupcakes for 20 minutes and they were perfect.  The yield for the cake batter was 24 cupcakes plus one large ramekin cupcake – the leftover-batter-ramekin cupcake baked for 30 minutes.  The frosting recipe makes an insane amount of frosting – I used half of the frosting to frost all of the cupcakes – if I were to make these cupcakes again, I’d halve the recipe.  I topped the cupcakes with sparkles to mimic Edward’s skin in the sun – they were pretty, see…

Red-Velvet Cupcakes with Sparky Frosting

I also made Spinach & Artichoke Dip for the party. It was the only non-Twilight themed food at the party but it’s Erica’s favorite snack so it was okay…

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Now, not to toot my own horn but my Spinach & Artichoke Dip is amazing.  That statement is based on lots of feedback – I bring it to parties and people rave (which is nice, I won’t lie).  It’s a bit different, it has some unconventional spices, but tasty.  It’s also serious party food.  What does that mean?  It really should only be eaten on special occasions – the massive amounts of dairy are pretty intense.  Tasty, but intense.

I don’t actually follow a recipe when I make this dip.  It has been adapted to suit my tastes and it lacks an ingredient that is in every single Spinach & Artichoke Dip in existence – mayonnaise.  See, I hate mayonnaise and I won’t use it for anything – not even as an ingredient.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

  • 1 8 oz. package of Neufchatel or cream cheese – I usually use Neufchatel
  • 8 oz. Sour Cream – I usually use the light sour cream
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of scallions, minced or 1 small onion, grated or 3 shallots minced
  • 1 package of frozen artichoke hearts (they come in a square box in the frozen-food section but I forgot to look at the size before I opened the package), thawed and drained or 1 can of artichoke hearts
  • 1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach – the square box – thawed and drained well (I put the spinach in a clean kitchen toewl and wring the heck out of it
  • 1 envelope of dried vegetable soup mix – Lipton or Knorr
  • 1 tsp. (or to taste) cumin
  • 1 tsp. (or to taste) chili powder
  • 1 tsp. (or to taste) smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. (or to taste) cayenne
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup grated smoked cheese, I usually use Swiss
  • Salt & pepper

Everything for this recipe needs to be at room temperature before you start.  Put the cream cheese into a bowl and beat it with a mixer, hand or stand whatever works for you – I only have a hand mixer so thats what I use, until fluffy.  Fold in the rest of the ingredients, it will look like this:

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Keep folding until it looks like this:

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Then dump it into a casserole dish and,if you’re feeling super-extravagant as I usually am, grate some extra Parmesan cheese over the top.

Spinach & Artichoke Dip

Once the dip is ready to be baked, pre-heat your oven to 350F.  Letting the dip sit at room temperature while the oven pre-heats allows the flavors to meld deliciously.  At this point, you can also cover the dip and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it – I’ve made it the day before and it’s delicious!

Bake the dip for 30 minutes, until it’s hot and bubbly.  Finish it off under to broiler to get the top all golden brown and delicious.  Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

Erica did a lovely job planning and executing her Twilight party – it was so fun!  Everything related to the theme…

Erica's Twilight-Themed Table

Erica's Twilight-Themed Table

Erica's Twilight-Themed Table

Have a relaxing Sunday!  Tonight I’ll be making either Creamy Lemon Pasta or Roasted Squash Pizza, details will follow tomorrow…


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