Family Ties: “Sometimes being a brother is better than being a superhero.” – Marc Brown

It’s rare for me – Adam – to step out from behind the camera and dare the written word, but it’s a special occasion.

It’s my sister’s birthday.

She lives in Australia with her husband Darren.

I miss her.

My older brother, younger sister and I grew up traveling the world: a new country every couple of years, a new school and a new journey through unfamiliar landscapes and languages. The only constants we had we found in each other, forming a bond that no distance or number of time zones could possibly diminish.

I think that an older brother never really lets go of the little girl that was once his sister, no matter how many years have passed. Closing my eyes, I vividly see the blond, bright-eyed little girl squealing, “You’re it!” with delight on discovering my carefully chosen hiding place. My ears still ring with sheer exuberance of her belly laugh as the Pirate Ship ride at Luna Park reached its impossible apex, threatening to spill us all to the ground far below. We built houses and forts and played capture-the-flag. We stayed up late into the night talking about everything and nothing. Friends, allies and even adversaries throughout the years, my sister and I always remained each other’s support and stability. Today, we build brands, not forts and play at more sophisticated games, but we still talk long hours – albeit on Skype – and there is a warm comfort in the fact that despite the continents, the miles and the time between us, we are still the constant in each other’s lives.

So, Mary, in the absence of my being able to celebrate your birthday with you in person, I – and we – are sending you a birthday cake. (Just have Darren slip on an apron and bake it for you. I’m confident he can handle it.)

Know as you enjoy each velvety bite that I am with you in spirit as I always am and that I wish you a very warm, happy and loving birthday.

We were lucky enough to have Mary home for her birthday (and for the holidays) several years back (how time flies!). When asked what kind of cake she wanted for her celebration, she requested her favorite – a red velvet cake, a true Southern delicacy. But since her “signature” color is lavender, I made her a red velvet cake without the bright red food coloring and added a subtle purple hue in the fluffy cream cheese frosting for the special occasion. This is the recipe that I developed for her and one that I have been making for Christmas ever since. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving!

A very Happy Birthday to my sweet sister-in-law.

Red Velvet Cake

Author: Cheryl Beverage Barnes
Recipe type: Cakes, Sweets and Desserts
Serves: 12
Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cake


  • For the cake:
  • 2-1/2 cups cake flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring, preferably natural (see note below)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • For the frosting:
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • pinch of salt


  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a glass measure, combine the buttermilk, vinegar, food coloring and vanilla.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, occasionally scraping down the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the batter has been incorporated. Evenly divide the cake batter between the two pans. Bake until a cake tester or tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 12 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. For the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Beat until combined. With the mixer on low, add in the sugar and salt; mix until smooth.
  5. When the cakes are completely cooled, spread some frosting on one cake layer; top with second cake layer and spread the remaining frosting over the tops and sides.


…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:

Planning: Cover and refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to serve. The cake will keep for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Product Purity: There are several companies that make all-natural food coloring, like Indian Tree and Select, available at whole foods markets and online.

Presentation: I love the look of an old-fashioned layer cake, but you can also make cupcakes with this fantastic batter. A few red and white sugar sprinkles add a festive touch of whimsy to the cake, too.

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