Don’t laugh. This cake didn’t start out as a Smurf It began with an image of a regal blue velvet. Something coloured deep, royal and glorious like the coronation cape of the House of Windsor. I’d seen the majesty of a true royal blue standing on the pristine marble counters of Belles in Johannesburg. Three layers of deep blue with a clean line of white icing separating each layer and covered all over by stiff snow white butter cream icing. Yum. It was much too beautiful to eat.
When I returned to Australia I found myself obsessed by the desire for blue velvet. I discovered that this is an elusive cake and the more elusive it became, the more I wanted it. Not even Belles has a photograph of it so I couldn’t derive vicarious joy by going back to their website time and again to look at it.
I scoured the internet for blue velvet recipes but could find none that really lived up to the image cemented in my mind of that fine cake at Belles. I found recipes for blue velvet with nuts or blueberries and other lumpy things but nothing that matched up to the streamlined majesty of the cake at Belles. I truly believe in the philosophy of less is more, especially when it comes to cakes, and I wanted the stark simplicity of perfect texture and colour to speak for itself and not be distracted by cheap decoration and confections. To add anything else, to give in to even the smallest twirl or creamy flourish, would be to destroy the elegance and symmetry of a perfect blue velvet.
All the recipes for Blue Velvet I did find contained one common warning about colour. For a successful blue velvet, everyone strictly admonished, you must use Wilton’s royal blue colour paste and one dab, ONE DAB, of Wilton’s violet. The dab must be small enough to sit on the end of a toothpick.
Problem one was finding the right food colouring. The easily available Queens variety to be found on all supermarket shelves looks royal blue in a bottle but doesn’t have a matching violet mate. Not only that but appearances can be disruptive. Royal blue in a bottle without the teeny tab of violet, magically turns into turquoise in cake.
Problem two was texture. The cake at Belles was so moist it appeared to glisten on the plate. Eschewing the red velvet recipe because I didn’t want to use cocoa, I decided to wing it by using my white cake recipe. Logic told me that if my white cake was successful, the addition of a teaspoon of food colouring couldn’t do it any harm. I was wrong. White cake doesn’t like to be blue – the texture was heavy and rock hard the following day.
Problem three was the icing. It’s nearly impossible to whip icing in the 40 degree celsius day we people in Perth called summer. Cookery books written in the Northern hemisphere don’t factor in ingredients which seem to separate as you’re whisking them. My icing began to separate and the layers of cake that slid away from each other as the icing quite simply melted. I resorted to strawberry jam as a type of glue hoping to cement the layers together so that I could ice the outside of the cake.
The strawberry jam only succeeded in making my Smurf look as if it was beginning to bleed.
When I realised I had failed in my attempt to produce the imposing blue velvet as seen at Belles, I opted for quirky and called this cake ‘Vintage Indian Tea Cake with strawberry and roses’. I threw a dash of rosewater into the icing mixture because I was taken with the picture on the bottle. I had idle thoughts of ladies in India sitting on large verandas pouring cups of tea out of transparent china.
My neighbour Fiona came to the fence to taste my vintage Indian tea cake. I explained about the heat, the colour and the poetics of cake. She liked the taste she said but all she could see was a Smurf.
This post is not to promote the virtues of the Vintage Blue Tea Cake but rather to offer an example of what happens to the colour if you don’t use the toothpick of violet. I have now managed to get my hands on some Wiltons Royal Blue and Wiltons Violet food colour for another attempt at the elusive Blue Velvet.