A southern tradition that is as rich in history as it is in flavor, red velvet cake gets it color and taste from cocoa powder.
A Classic Cake Takes on Some Color
The sign of a true red velvet cake is the deep red color that gives the cake its name. The original red velvet cake recipe didn't call for red food coloring and the cake derived its color from the reaction of the cocoa powder to the acids, vinegar and buttermilk, that are part of the recipe. Prior to the introduction of Dutch processed cocoa. Dutch processed cocoa is more alkaline and does not give the cake a red color that is as pronounced as regular processed cocoa. Since then red velvet cake recipes have included red food coloring to add a stunning red color to the cake. While the red velvet cake recipe will be reddish and just as delicious without the inclusion of red food coloring the fun of the cake is the stark contrast of the red cake to the traditional white icing, so I encourage the use of red coloring to make this cake.
The Cake Finds a Home
Red velvet cake became very popular in the southern states and became a staple at weddings where it is the traditional grooms' cake. The grooms' cake is either served at a separate table from the bride's cake, the large cake with the miniature models of the bride and groom placed on top, or it is served after the rehearsal dinner. While the red velvet cake is usually reserved for the grooms' cake it has gained popularity as the brides' cake as well.
A Legendary Cake Inspires an Urban Legend
Red velvet cake became the focus of an urban legend in the 1960's when a chain letter started circulating that contained a red velvet cake recipe. The letter claimed that a woman was visiting New York City and had dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. As part of her meal she ordered the red velvet cake. When she returned home she wrote to the hotel asking for the recipe. The hotel supposedly sent her the recipe along with a bill for $350.00 for the recipe. Since she could not get out of paying the bill she decided to send the recipe to everyone she knew, so that no one would ever have to pay such an exorbitant price for a recipe. The letter asked that the recipient copy the recipe out and send it to everyone the recipient knew. Although the story was false it did serve to once again popularize the red velvet cake. Because of this urban legend the cake is sometimes known as the red Waldorf cake.
Red Velvet Cake Recipe
This recipe makes a very rich and moist cake. I suggest that you try making it as a cupcake as well. You can ice it with any white frosting that you like, I provide a basic white frosting recipe at the bottom.
- 3 1/3 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
- 2 1/4 cups of sugar
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 2 ounces of red food coloring (6 tablespoons)
- 1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder (it works best if it is regular processed not Dutch process.)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Prepare three 9 inch round pans or two 9 x 13 inch square pans by coating the pans with butter and then dusting with flour.
- You should line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper but this is not entirely necessary.
- Sift together the flour and salt.
- Using your standing mixer, set to a medium speed, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla.
- Add the eggs one at a time making sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Mix together the cocoa powder and the red food coloring together.
- Add the cocoa mixture to the batter.
- Reduce the mixers speed to low.
- Add half the buttermilk. Wait until the buttermilk is completely incorporated.
- Add half the flour. Wait until the flour is completely incorporated.
- Add the rest of the buttermilk. Wait until the buttermilk is completely incorporated.
- Add the rest of the flour.
- Mix together the baking soda and vinegar.
- Mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into the pans.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Cool the cake in the pans for 15 minutes or until cool to the touch.
- Remove the cakes from the pans and continue to let them cool for at least one hour.
Basic White Frosting Recipe
- 1 ½ sticks of room temperature butter
- 2 pounds of confectioners' sugar
- ¼ cup of milk (more might be needed)
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- Using your stand mixer beat butter until smooth.
- Slowly add two cups of the sugar.
- Slowly add the milk.
- Add the vanilla.
- Add the remaining sugar one cup at a time.
- Add more milk if the frosting isn't soft enough to spread easily.