The red velvet revolution

I have turned down a lot of chocolate over the past 25 years.

You see, it was a quarter-century ago that my family doctor and I jointly figured out that my skin couldn’t handle even trace amounts of the key ingredient in chocolate, cocoa. It wasn’t a deathly allergy, but if I had myself a Mars Bar or a chocolate chip cookie, the acne that had plagued me since my early teenage years would go into overdrive.

It wasn’t easy to give up. I still remember visiting a friend of mine from Frankville as she finished up her shift at the convenience store located in the Port Hawkesbury Shopping Centre during the mid-‘90s. I tried talking to her from the other side of the main counter, but that put me in front of several shelves’ worth of candy bars.

As my nostrils took in the sweet scent I had come to know and love over the previous two decades of my life and my eyes beheld so many welcoming, familiar names – Aero, Snickers, Caramilk, Malted Milk, Coffee Crisp – that I would never purchase again, I knew I had to reposition myself or I was going to break down into a sobbing mess.

It took awhile, but I finally did break my chocoholic status and was rewarded for years of discipline and patience when cocoa’s less-threatening cousin, white chocolate, started to make itself more readily available to the average consumer. Suddenly, I was finding this creamy substitute nearly everywhere – basic candy bars, baked goods, coffee and tea flavourings, actual baking supplies – and my sweet tooth rejoiced.

And then, a couple of years after this wave of white chocolate, along came the red velvet revolution.

Now, prior to 2010, I had no idea that red velvet cake or any of its various offshoots even existed. But it was a delicacy among upper-crust Victorian families and was regularly served in Eaton’s department stores here in Canada during the ‘40s and ‘50s. (I now know this because, believe it or not, red velvet cake has its own Wikipedia page. As it should.)

But as Cathy and I began to watch TV’s suddenly-burgeoning selection of cooking and baking competition shows, we noticed this brightly-coloured dessert gaining renewed prominence. It’s not an accident that two major fast-food chains unveiled a whack of red velvet delicacies earlier this month, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

To me, red velvet cake seemed to defy logic because I could eat it without my face breaking out even though, for all intents and purposes, it’s a chocolate cake. It’s made with cocoa and all the other rich ingredients you’d expect to find in a basic chocolate pastry. It even has a lingering chocolate taste to it, which belies its crimson colour. And yet it has never resulted in so much as one ill-timed and poorly-placed pimple anywhere on my face.

Not only can I eat red velvet cake, I can even bake it. With Cathy’s encouragement, I’ve taken a crack at baking numerous times during our marriage, and on alternate birthdays, I bake my own cake. For two of these occasions, the cake has been red velvet. I was shocked in 2014 when I managed to create something so moist and delectable that it could not have possibly been the result of my handiwork. Last year’s red velvet cake wasn’t quite up to this standard, but it was still a good one and I’ll happily keep trying to perfect my efforts.

I’ll keep seeking out red velvet cake in its various forms, as well. I still recall my amazement when Cathy and I headed to the Skipping Stone Café and Store in Guysborough two summers ago and found red velvet among the flavoured syrups available for the establishment’s coffee. I hadn’t been so happy with a coffee on a hot summer day since I had a pumpkin latte at our favourite Sydney coffee shop two years earlier. (Yes, I’m “that guy” who loves flavoured coffee on a hot summer day. I’m also “that guy” who will down an iced coffee drink when it’s minus-10 on a January afternoon. The less you think about this, the better our respective days will probably be.)

I doubt we’ll see red velvet baked goods or flavoured beverages at our favourite quick-stops beyond February – after all, with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, we must make way for the avalanche of mint coffees and Shamrock Shakes. But I hope this little miracle will find its way back onto our menus and take its rightful place alongside pumpkin, peppermint, cinnamon and other seasonal tastes that find a way to tickle our taste buds all 12 months of the year, and not just for a specific holiday.

Next week: “How Caramel Macchiato Changed My Life.”