Sunday, February 7, 2010


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.
Red velvet is enjoying a resurgence of late.  There are red velvet brownies, cheesecake, whoopie pies, and cupcakes.  You can find red velvet confections in any part of the country now, not just in the South. 
Duncan Hines makes a red velvet cake mix, and you can also buy canned cream cheese frosting.  But there's just nothing like homemade.  If you’ve never made a red velvet cake from scratch, give it a try. It’s a special cake with a rich history and makes a dramatically beautiful Valentine’s Day or Christmas dessert. The version below, from Cook’s Country (an affiliate of Cook’s Illustrated) is very moist and flavorful, with dark red color. And if a layer cake scares you, just make cupcakes and pile the frosting on top. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cook’s Country Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Bear Rating:  10 out of 10

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Pinches salt, divided use
1 cup buttermilk*
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
2-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided use
2 eggs
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
4 cups confectioner’s 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.)

Whisk flour, baking soda and pinch of salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, 1 tsp. vanilla and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a paste forms.
With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1-1/2 sticks butter and granulated sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture; beat on low until combined, about 30 seconds. Repeat, ending with flour mixture. Add cocoa mixture; beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center returns with just a few crumbs, about 25-30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool completely.

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.


  1. Am loving ur write up on the to baking red velvet this month...the month of love,freah air and red cake....and was jus reading a bit myself too...looks reall good ....fantastic

    all the more reason i feel like LOVE IS IN D AIR ,SO IS ROMANCE WISH U LOADS OF IT @365

  2. i stumbled upon your recipe for red devels food cake, just in time for a romantic valentine's day offering. i had a slice of 'blood' cake many, many years ago when my babies were still babies, but i lost it somewhere between my second divorce and third name change. by the way, my dear friend, eva stokes was the one who introduced me to the heavenly, delicious devil's food cake. so, with one week before valentine's day, i'm excited to find your recipe just in the nick of time. Love, Love and LOVE

  3. Because the source is Cooks and as this looks so moist and delicious that I'm going to bookmark it. I've been looking for a good Red Velvet cake forevah. Thanks for this post! Much appreciated by me.

  4. Hello, Judy,

    Terrific photos of the cake, it looks delicious! I'm happy to hear that you'll be a judge for the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation's "Taste of Coastal Carolina". Hope to see you there!


  5. Cook's Country; Why not come up with a Red Velvet Cake Recipe eliminating chemical food coloring .... and why not using the original ingredient of Beets?!

    Thank you!

  6. Anonymous, You can make a red velvet cake sans red food coloring, if you desire. According to my research, beets are not the best option for making this cake.


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