Red Velvet Cake

Gâteau Rouge Velours

Is it my imagination, or is Red Velvet Cake on EVERY single menu lately? I’ve noticed it in the last few months. Every bakery, large restaurant chain, etc has jumped on the bandwagon. I wasn’t too sure about where on earth it came from, so I did a little research.

A Red velvet cake is a rich, moist, sweet cake with a dark red, bright red or red-brown color. It is usually prepared as a layer cake somewhere between chocolate and vanilla in flavor, topped with a creamy white icing.

A red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City during the 1920s. According to a common urban legend a woman once asked for the recipe for the cake, and was billed a large amount. Indignant, she spread the recipe in a chain letter.

A resurgence in the popularity of this cake is partly attributed to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias in which the groom’s cake (another southern tradition) is a red velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo.

Red Velvet Cake

Adapted from The New York Times Heritage Cookbook
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 Tbs cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp red gel food coloring (or 2 ounces of red liquid food coloring)
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch cake pans and set aside. Cream shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together flours, cocoa powder and salt and add alternately with the buttermilk and food coloring to the creamed mixture. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and fold into batter.

Divide evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes spring back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Allow baked cakes to cool for 5 minutes in pans. Turn cakes out of pans and allow to cool completely on racks before frosting.

* Prepare recipe twice for four-layer cake. Do not double, unless you have enough pans and a large and consistent-enough oven to bake all four at once.

** The vinegar tang in the finished cake is distinct but not overpowering. Although I used apple cider vinegar because it was the most neutral vinegar I had on hand, I think it would be interesting to try different flavors: balsamic or raspberry vinegar or even lemon juice.

Cream Cheese Frosting
makes enough to frost a 4-layer cake
2 8-oz blocks regular cream cheese
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 lb plus 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (about 5 cups total)
Pinch fine salt
Pinch granulated citric acid
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Sift sugar thoroughly. Combine first five ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until mixture is smooth and light. Add extract and beat to incorporate. If frosting is too soft to adhere to cake properly, refrigerate briefly to thicken before spreading.


One thought on “Red Velvet Cake

  1. Hi Leslie,

    I’ve tried the version at “Sweet and Savory” on Huntington Drive and found it addictive. I’ll let you know how mine turns out!

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