Could you make a red velvet cake from scratch and without a recipe?
Houston’s Willie Mike can and did as a contestant on Fox’s hit reality cooking contest “MasterChef.”
After losing a team challenge, Mike, as the team’s captain, had to decide which of his team’s members were safe from elimination and which team members had to participate in the dreaded “pressure cook.” The loser of the pressure cook is sent packing, no longer in the running for the “MasterChef” grand prize: a cookbook deal and $250,000.
“I was relieved,” Mike said, referring to show host Gordon Ramsay’s reveal of the pressure-cook challenge. “It could have been (a dish) that would have totally gotten me kicked off. I make red velvet cakes all the time.”
The 25-year-old, however, did have to explain his cake’s decoration to the celebrity chef: “I told him, down here in Texas, we put pecans on everything.”
The episode not only showed off Mike’s baking skills – he was the winner of the pressure cook – but it showed how gracious the church-music director can be.
“I try to be me,” said the soft-spoken Mike when asked why he put himself in the pressure cook when he could have protected himself from elimination.
The show, which airs at 7 p.m. Mondays on Fox, started with 21 amateur cooks vying for the title of “MasterChef.” There are 13 chefs still looking to impress judges Ramsay, chef Graham Elliot and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.
Locals have done well on past seasons of “MasterChef.” Houston’s Christine Ha won Season 3. Her cookbook deal led to the publication of “Recipes From My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food.” And in last year’s Season 4, James Nelson of Houston made it to the final five. Nelson is one of the founders of Bravado Spice hot-sauce company.
Mike has a theory on why Houstonians do well on the show.
“I think Houstonians really value family,” Mike said. “And when you value family, you want to feed them well.”
He also points to the Houston contestants’ temperaments.
“We’re about camaraderie,” Mike said. “We’re not into all that drama.”
Willie Mike’s Red Velvet Cake
Makes 9-inch cake
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3½ cups cake flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoon salt
2 cups canola oil
2¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1½ tablespoons red gel food coloring
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoon baking soda
2½ teaspoons white vinegar
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
24 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Instructions for the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray three, 9-inch round baking pans with nonstick spray or grease with 1 tablespoon butter and then line the bottoms with parchment rounds.
Sift cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With mixer on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla.
Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
Place baking soda in a small dish and stir in the vinegar.
Stir to dissolve then add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds,
Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.
Let the cakes cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove from the pans and peel off parchment paper.
Level off the tops of each cake with a serrated knife. Reserve the tops for the crumb-layer garnish.
Instructions for the frosting: Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add sugar, one cup at a time. Finally, add in the vanilla and mix until smooth.