Ask any Southerner where red velvet cake originated, and you will likely be told it was the South. This famous derivative of devil's food cake is synonymous with the Land of Dixie, even though the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City had a hand in making it famous. Just where the cake originated is an unsolved culinary mystery, but there are some things we do know --
1. A recipe for a new kind of chocolate cake (Devils’ Food) was published by Arnold & Company, Philadelphia, in 1902 in Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book. (Mrs. Rorer was a well-known cookery expert who founded and ran a cooking school in Philadelphia for 18 years.) If the cookbook was published in 1902, then the cake existed before 1902, because it takes some time to put together a cookbook and then have it published. Interestingly, angel food cake came on the scene right before the turn of the century. There was no red food coloring in the ingredient list of the original cake, but devil's food cake was so called because of the slight reddish tint from using smaller amounts of chocolate. (Remember that brown, the color of chocolate, is a combination of red, blue and yellow on the color wheel.) It was sometime later that cooks began using a red tint to enhance the red color.
2. The Perry Home Cook Book, published in 1920, contained a recipe for Philadelphia Red Cake. Soon after, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, NYC, made the cake famous.
3. There is no record of the cake's being made in the South during the first decade of the 20th century.
It would seem that the cake originated in the North, but we may never know for sure. What we do know is that the South has embraced this cake with fervency and called it its own. The cake even has religious symbolism, supposedly signifying the contrast between good (white frosting) and evil (red cake, the color of the devil).
The Waldorf-Astoria red velvet cake is filled and topped with an exquisite custard-type frosting that looks and tastes like whipped cream; but just about everyone now makes the cake with cream cheese frosting. Either way, the cake is delicious; that is, if you can get past the vibrant red color. Remember I'm a Yankee in the South. I didn't grow up on red velvet cake, and seeing that slice of red in front of me is somewhat off-putting. So I close my eyes and savor the moment, trying not to think about what's in the red dye.
Bear Rating: 10 out of 10
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk*
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
2-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided use
2 Tbsp. natural cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. red food coloring
3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, divided use
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. (Instead of flour, I coated my pans with cocoa powder. Because I used springform pans, I also wrapped them in foil.)
With electric mixer, beat 2 sticks butter with confectioner’s sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add cream cheese; beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla and a pinch of salt.
When cakes are cooled, spread frosting over bottom side of one layer. Top with second layer, bottom side down. Spread remaining frosting all over cake. Garnish as desired, with coconut flakes, toasted chopped nuts, flaked white chocolate or fresh raspberries. Yield: 12 cake servings (or about 24 cupcakes) (Note: I made a half recipe, which was enough batter for 3 (4-1/2") springform pans. This made 2 (3-layer) cakes.)
*Buttermilk substitute: Add 1 Tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of milk. Let stand 15 minutes.