I worked on Block Island one summer, spending my days as an employee of the island’s Conservancy and my evenings bussing tables and hostessing at a beachside restaurant. My day job had all sorts of perks: I spent the summer outside, teaching little kids about ocean tides and island geography, or leading marsh walks, or overseeing beach cleanups. I got a killer tan and breathed fresh ocean air all day. One of my favorite parts of the job was assisting with weekly stargazing events. These were hugely popular with summer visitors—we called them “night sky viewings” and we held them in the big field at the Hodge Preserve near the northern tip of the island.
Dozens of families would descend upon the preserve as evening fell, carrying blankets and thermoses full of hot chocolate and snacks. Everyone would settle in, finding a patch of space. The director of the conservancy would start talking about constellations until the sky got dark enough to properly stargaze. We’d all lie back on the cool, thick grass of the lawn and look up at the inky black sky dotted all over with pinpricks of silvery stars.
I never felt so small as I did in those moments. I felt both nearly invisible and intensely, acutely aware of being alive at the same time. It’s how I feel when I look at the horizon across the open ocean, or stand on the summit of a mountain in total wilderness. When confronted with the vast scale of the world, you can’t help being floored by a sense of perspective—this is simultaneously unsettling and incredibly calming to me.
I liked bundling up my blanket when the night sky viewings ended and listening to the happy, sleepy chatter of little kids as they piled into cars. I liked the feeling of family around me, even though they weren’t mine and I was on a solo adventure that summer. I liked waking up the next morning to a sweeping expanse of bright blue sky and thinking how remarkable it is that the stars are still there, somewhere.
My morning routine would involve biking into town and stopping for coffee at a little cafe across the street from the tiny island library. If I had the day off, I’d pack my beach towel and book into a backpack and spend the day suntanning myself and jumping in the ocean. If I was working, I’d spend my lunch hour on the shady front lawn of the library, which was conveniently located just around the corner from the best sandwich place on the island: Three Sisters. I liked to get the Hippie Sister sandwich, a wrap packed with vegetables and hummus and mixed greens, or the Twisted Sister with turkey, avocado, cheddar, and bacon on a roll.
In the evening, I’d sometimes drive into town and meet friends—going to a beach bonfire or drinking beers out on someone’s boat moored in the harbor or listening to live music at one of the little bars. If I was alone and had the evening off, I liked to eat dinner at a little Thai restaurant perched high on the hill just out of town. Afterwards, I’d wander down Main Street, stopping for a soft serve ice cream cone or penny candy at the candy kitchen.
Of course, any summer town candy kitchen worth its salt has a fudge counter. I will just say that my younger years were a very fudge-friendly time (by which I mean, I could not resist it), despite always ordering too much and always feeling sick afterwards from all the sugar.
I would always order a piece of red velvet fudge, and sometimes peanut butter too, savoring each rich square slowly once I got home, sitting on my little porch overlooking the ocean.
I can’t remember the last time I had fudge—I honestly think I’ve overdosed on it to the point of no return. And I rarely, if ever, will order red velvet anything, as I’m not generally a proponent of using food coloring when I can avoid it. But here is the thing…red velvet cake is delicious. But that’s if you find a great version—often bakery ones are a little too sweet for me.
Because of that, and because of the food coloring aversion, I wouldn’t normally have thought about experimenting with this recipe, but I was baking for a friend who loves red velvet, so I thought there must be a way to make a really killer version that was inspired by the classic but wasn’t a standard layer cake with all that frosting. And pound cake is the answer!
This is one recipe where I will happily make an exception on my food coloring rule. You can, of course, leave the food coloring out if you want. The cake is very good on its own, so if you want something that skews more breakfast and less dessert, you could leave off the cream cheese frosting.
Red Velvet Pound Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes one 9'“ x 5” cake
For the cake
1 cup (2 sticks; 226g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (99g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (106g) dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces (113g) semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoons red gel food coloring
1 cup (120g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the frosting
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan.
Beat together the butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar—cream together until very pale and fluffy (at least 3 minutes in a stand mixer).
Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each.
Add the cooled chocolate and food coloring and mix to combine.
Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until the batter just comes together.
Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes (sometimes mine takes even longer so don’t worry if yours does too!)—when ready, a tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a rack to finish cooling.
While the cake cools, make the frosting: Beat together all the frosting ingredients until very fluffy (if you want a looser frosting, add a tablespoon of milk or cream).
Frost the top of the cake before slicing and serving.