Psssst…. there’s a surprise inside this pale exterior!
Oh yeah! Red Velvet Cake, with Cream Cheese Frosting… AND A LAYER OF CHEESECAKE IN THE MIDDLE! This cake has been in the planning process since February. When my friend began her plans for her husband’s surprise birthday, I immediately asked if I could make the birthday cake for Lincoln. I love any opportunity to bake, and wanted to know his favorite flavor. She began to describe his favorite cake by saying “He loves red velvet.” Ok, cool, I’ve never done a red velvet cake. Then said she said “Well, actually, his FAVORITE cake is this red velvet cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory.” Immediately I thought of this red velvet cheesecake. But as she described it more, I realized it wasn’t that at all. After a little more back and forth (she’s British/French and I’m from Kentucky, so we don’t always speak the same language… j/k), and a little googling I realized THIS is what she was describing! HO-LY COW. Can I do that? I’ve never made a red velvet cake OR a cheesecake, but I do like a good challenge!
I spent a LOT of time thinking about “Lincoln’s Cake” (which is what I always referred to it as when discussing it). A little more googling revealed at least two other bloggers (here and here) had successfully made this cake. While I didn’t follow either of their recipes, it definitely boosted my confidence to know it CAN be done! Around the same time I was pondering this cake, The Kitchn posted some very helpful tips on how to achieve a great cheesecake. This just added more “fuel to my fire”, and my confidence in baking a cheesecake grew more. I didn’t own a cheesecake pan, and luckily my friend Liesl let me borrow hers. The more cheesecake recipes I scoured, the more I read that cheesecakes freeze really well. This led to me solving my biggest dilemma in the preparation of this cake, HOW IN THE HELL DO I GET CHEESECAKE IN THE MIDDLE? I realized if I FROZE the cheesecake layer, it would be super easy to transport when layering the cake. And whaddya know, I was right.
When it came down to choosing the actual recipes I would follow, I wanted sources I trusted. Martha Stewart has never let me down before, so I went with her Classic Cheesecake recipe. I adapted it by skipping the crust, and halving the recipe, to come out with a thinner layer. And for the red velvet cake, that was practically a no-brainer. I went straight to Bridget’s Red Velvet Cake Comparison. I didn’t blindly choose her favorite. Instead I poured over her every word, and weighed her every description, to figure out which one I wanted to use. She won me over with what she described as her favorite, and so I chose to follow Kelsey of Apple a Day’s adaption of a Saveur recipe.
Now for some notes on the structure and assembly of this gorgeous cake. Since I knew when I baked the cheesecake I wouldn’t be making a crust, I lined the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Once baked, I let the cheesecake cool completely, then stored it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning I removed the outer ring of the cheesecake pan, but left the bottom circle of the pan, and wrapped it in two layers of plastic wrap and two layers of aluminum foil and placed it in the freezer. When baking the red velvet layers, I used these Bake Even strips to help achieve a level even cake. I also used a cake leveler to level it perfectly once it had cooled. I chose to apply frosting to only the outside layers, as adding it to the cheesecake layer seems a bit excessive. So, when it came time to put the cheesecake in the middle, I took it out of the freezer, unwapped it from the foil and plastic. The metal bottom of the pan was easy to remove. Then I simply peeled off the parchment paper layer. It literally could not have been easier. The cheesecake never seemed like it would break, and was quite sturdy. I used the plastic wrap I had removed as a buffer between my hand and the cheesecake when transferring it, to keep the cheesecake from sticking to my warm hands. After I put it on the red velvet cake, I realized it seemed to be about half an inch too wide. So, I just let it sit, and soften for about 5-10 minutes, then I cut the edges off with a knife. I then applied the crumb coat, which is VERY necessary when you have such a bright cake under white frosting! After some time in the fridge, I applied the second, thicker layer of frosting. Topped with shaved chocolate and white chocolate curls, this is one of the prettiest cakes I think I’ve ever made!
Now, you probably want to know what this tastes like, right? Well I can assure you this cake received RAVE reviews. The birthday boy was very happy, and while the blown out candles were still smoking, he jumped up and gave me a big hug. (Wonder what made him instantly think I was the baker? hehe) Everyone said it was amazing. The red velvet is sweet, with that slight tang from the buttermilk. It’s so hard to describe that flavor. But it was rich, and moist! The crumb was absolutely perfect; spongy and tight. It was really fluffy too. And the cheesecake… For my very first cheesecake, I was amazed that I could do it, and it was quite easy. Cheesecakes always seemed daunting and scary. This one didn’t even crack or bubble! It set perfectly. The flavor was rich, and decadent, just as cheesecake should be. Oh, it was so good! And the frosting, was perfect as well. It wasn’t overly sweet, but it was smooth, and delicious. This truly was a match made in heaven!
I know I don’t usually write this much, but this cake was just so delicious, and surprisingly easier than I expected. It is time consuming, but it’s not hard. It’s especially easier when you break up the steps into different days. The cheesecake needs enough time to freeze anyway. And frosting sits well in the fridge OR freezer, just let it return to room temp before using. So, essentially, you could do those steps ahead of time, and then on the day of, just bake the layers, let the cool, and assemble and frost! The cake cuts easiest when chilled, but even when not straight from the fridge it’s still easy to get a clean slice. The hardest part actually is transferring a slice to the plate!
This cake was so delicious and stunningly beautiful, I did something I’ve NEVER done before. I baked it again, with the sole purpose of photographing it for the blog. Lincoln’s surprise birthday party was at night, at a restaurant, and there were lots of people, so there was no way I could get a good photograph. So, before I returned the cheesecake pan, I did it all again! But, this way I was able to share it with lots of people who hadn’t tried the first cake; and also with some of the people that had, and wanted more!
(Love the idea of this cake, but are you more of a chocolate & peanut butter person? Check out my new adaption of this cake! Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake Cake)
Lincoln's Red Velvet Cheesecake Cake
For the cheesecake:
1 1/4 pounds bar cream cheese (20 oz), room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
For the cake:
2 1/2 c. cake flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 TBSP cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk
2 TBSP (1 oz.) red food coloring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
For the frosting:
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
12 oz. butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 c. confectioners' sugar
1 bar white or dark chocolate (Optional for decoration), I used Ghiradelli
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Set a kettle of water to boil. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium until fluffy, scraping down side of bowl. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in lemon zest and juice, and salt. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down side of bowl after each addition. Beat in sour cream.
Cut parchment paper in a circle and line the bottom of the cheesecake pan. Wrap bottom half of pan in foil. Pour in filling; place in a roasting pan. Pour in boiling water to come halfway up side of springform. Bake until just set in center, about 45 minutes. Remove pan from water; let cool 20 minutes. Run a paring knife around edge; let cool completely. Cover; chill overnight, then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze.
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa, and salt into a medium bowl.
Beat eggs, oil, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
Divide batter evenly between 2 greased and floured 9" round cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool 5 minutes, then invert each onto a plate, then invert again onto a cooling rack. Let cakes cool completely, then level.
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined. Add sugar and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, 5–7 minutes.
Place bottom layer on cake stand. Remove cheesecake from freezer, unwrap, and remove from metal bottom, then peel off parchment paper. Place cheesecake layer on top of the bottom layer of the red velvet cake. If the cheesecake is wider than the cake, and it is necessary to to trim it, wait approximately 10 minutes for the cheesecake to soften, then trim it with a knife. Place top layer of cake on top of the cheesecake, and coat with a generous layer of the cream cheese frosting to act as the crumb coat. Be careful not to get any red velvet crumbs in the bowl of frosting! Refrigerate approximately 30 minutes, then frost with as much of the remaining frosting as necessary. Top with shaved white chocolate and/or shaved dark chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (This cake doesn't have to stay in the fridge until IMMEDIATELY before serving, so don't worry if you have a 30 minute lapse between the refrigerator and serving.)
**Update** I’ve gotten so much great response on this cake, and I greatly appreciate when readers comment saying they’ve made the cake. And I love to see when you send in your own photos! Here’s a couple:
Commenter #48 Amber’s cake:
Commenter #49 Patrick’s cake:
Reader Joyce’s cake, Christmas version!