Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

I can almost remember the date and time of the first time I ate a bite of Red Velvet cake.  Kendra and I were working at a new church plant in a tiny community outside of Edmond, OK and had reconnected with some very good friends of ours who were also attending the same church.  Red Velvet was our friend, Donna, and her family's favorite celebration cake.  Donna shared with me that her mother had made this cake for her and that no one could make it like her mother.  Who could make something like a mother? No one!  We come close but the one ingredient that cannot be recreated is the pinch of mother's love that goes into the creation of a dish.  Red Velvet was a way to honor, remember, and enjoy a fond child hood memory.  Luke, her oldest, requested it more often than not (I remember one strawberry cake he requested) as his birthday celebration cake.  That first bite was just incredible.  I knew at that moment, Red Velvet would be a life long favorite cake.  Now over a decade since that first bite it is, in fact, still a lifelong favorite.

I was determined to make this cake for several reasons.  The foremost reason was I wanted to make the cake for Donna so she wouldn't have to make her own birthday cake.  The first several cakes were made in her kitchen, with her close supervision.  Kendra and I always had a great time with Brian, Donna's husband, and Donna.  I always came, "close enough" she would say.  I think she was just glad she didn't have to make her own cake!  Red Velvet remains one of the only truly from scratch cakes I make.  I make this cake at Christmas and for Kendra on her birthday because it is her hands down favorite cake.  My children have fallen in love with Red Velvet and is requested quite often.  I save it as a celebration cake to keep it special.  Mentioning the words red and velvet send my kids running to kitchen to enjoy a slice or two.

This is an easy cake to create, however you must remember to follow certain steps to ensure that it turns out right.  It has a subtle chocolate note, isn't a chocolate cake.  The flavor can only be described as red velvet as their is no other taste with which to compare.  You MUST not over bake this cake or it will be dry.  I usually take my cakes out before the minimum baking time elapses finding that 22-25 minutes is all it takes to make this cake "done."  I think, possibly, the single biggest mistake a cake baker can make is to over bake a cake as this leads to dry cakes.

I promise I'm almost ready to give you the recipe.  There is just one more issue that we have to cover: frosting.  Putting a cream cheese frosting on a red velvet cake is without a doubt very popular, however I submit that it is a criminal offense.  Red Velvet cake is subtle, cream cheese frosting is obnoxious.  Who wants an obnoxious flavor hog icing on a subtle delicate cake like red velvet? Not me.  The frosting I must insist you make is the one included.  Please do not let me know you've made this cake and frosted it with cream cheese frosting.  There are just somethings people need to never be told.  This frosting is as subtle as the red velvet itself, yet when the two come together they are magic.  The frosting is creamy, light, and has just the hint of vanilla flavor. The creamy texture of this frosting gives your palate that "velvet" taste.  Having a stand mixer will keep us friends, if you decide to make this frosting.  You have to mix the sugar and margarine together for a very, very long time.  We'll get to that though.

Red Velvet Cake

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • eggs
  • ounces red food coloring
  • tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
  • cup buttermilk
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • teaspoon baking soda
  • teaspoon vinegar

Step one:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour two 9" cake pans, set aside.
In a small bowl: add the food coloring and cocoa together, mixing well.  Set aside for step three.
In the bowl of a stand mixer add the sugar and shortening together.  Mix on medium speed until completely incorporated (about five minutes), scraping down the sides to ensure even mixing.  Add eggs one at a time, mixing completely between each addition. Add salt and mix.

Step two:
Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between the two.  Remember you always begin and end with the dry.

Step three:
Add the food coloring and cocoa paste. Mix to incorporate.  Add vanilla.  Add the soda and vinegar, in a small bowl and add to cake batter.  Mix just to incorporate.

Dispense the batter evenly and bake in the pre-heated oven for 26-30 minutes.  Check the cakes often with a cake tester after 20 minutes and remove promptly when cake tester comes out dry.  Cool on wire racks until ready to frost.


  • tablespoons flour
  • cup milk
  • cup sugar
  • teaspoon vanilla
  • cup margarine (Parkay all the way), room temperature.

Step one:
In a medium sauce pan, add the flour, milk, and vanilla.  Over medium heat, stir with a wire whisk until the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat.  Place in a shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Cool in refrigerator until no longer warm (10-20 minutes).

Step two:
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, add the butter and sugar.  Mix on medium speed until the butter and sugar combine then on high until the mixture is fluffy and creamy (about 20 minutes).  Add the cooled paste and mix until is is well blended.

Frost cooled cake.

  • I don't cut corners when it comes to greasing and flouring pans on this one.  I had rub Crisco in my pans and then flour them to ensure there will be no sticking.
  • As soon as I put the cakes in the oven, I make the paste and get it in the fridge to cool.  By the time I get the mess cleaned up from the cake batter... the cakes are done so I pull the cakes out of the oven to cool.  That's about the time to start the frosting, and by the time the frosting is mixed enough to add the paste it's cool (about 40 minutes has elapsed.).
  • The butter and sugar will look fluffy, but be sure to feel it because you don't want to feel a lot of grains.
  • I usually put this cake in the fridge and let it set up overnight.  I don't know why, but I do.
  • I think the next time I make this I'm going to dump in the cocoa, mix it, then add the food coloring to the mix and try to avoid the stirring process all together.  It may not work, but it's worth a shot.  My kitchen usually looks like a red paint grenade went off.
  • These cakes don't rise a lot, they will look flat so don't freak out.  It's ok, it's normal.


Memaw's memories said...

I make this cake and am thrilled to have the frosting recipe you've attached.

I thought you were supposed to put cream cheese frosting on it....who knew.

I have always wondered what would happen if you left out the red food coloring. I know it wouldn't be the pretty red color, but would it make a difference in the cake itself? I've never been brave enough to leave it out.

Will said...

I think the cream cheese frosting thing is a southern deal, not sure. I just know the frosting in this recipe is THE one, Ha. Have you ever made twinkie cake? The frosting tastes like that frosting.

I've wondered about omitting the dye as well, but don't want to run the risk of ruining a good thing. By the time it's all done I'm ready to sit down with a fork and dig in!