Introduction: Red Velvet Cake

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Classic red velvet cake seems to have quite a rich and winding history.

At one time, red velvet cake was colored with beets instead of food coloring!  However, the pigment in the beets would react with the alkaline elements in the recipe to turn the cake blue.  (So if you want to try your hand at a blue velvet cake, you can cause this change chemically without need for food coloring!)  To counteract this, baking soda would be mixed with vinegar and added at the end of the process.  The idea create a less alkaline environment while the fizzy bubbles would add a light, airy texture.

Originally, however, no additional coloring was added to the cake at all to turn it red.  The subtle color was achieved through a chemical reaction with the cocoa in the cake.  The reaction of vinegar and buttermilk changes the the pH to reveal the red anthocyanin in the cocoa.  However, now that we use "Dutch Processed" cocoa which is more alkaline, that reaction is less pronounced. Now red food coloring is used to create a red velvet cake that really pops in color. 

The original recipe called for an ermine icing, also known as a butter roux or boiled milk frosting.  It's complicated and time consuming! Current recipes replace this with a simpler, more accessible cream cheese frosting.

So here we have a mishmash of techniques that all come together to create one epic cake.  What a history!

  • Scale
  • Mixer
  • Mixing bowls of assorted sizes
  • 9" Cake Pans (2)
  • Cooling Racks
  • Silicone Spatula
  • Offset Spatula for icing the cake

Red Velvet Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups (275g) cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 oz. (60mL) red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup (120g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
  • 16 oz. (452g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (120g) unsalted butter (one stick), softened
  • 1 teaspoon (5mL) vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups (250g) powdered sugar, sifted
  • pinch of salt

Make the Cake:
  • Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
  • Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or three 8-inch round cake pans.
  • Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. 
  • In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste.
  • In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes. 
  • Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. 
  • Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well.
  • Beat in half of the buttermilk.
  • Beat in another third of flour mixture, scraping the bowl with a silicone spatula.
  • Beat in second half of buttermilk.
  • End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, scraping the bowl with a spatula.
  • In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda until good and fizzy.  Add it to the cake batter and stir well to combine. 
  • Divide batter evenly between the cake pans.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  • Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  • To remove the cakes from the pan, place a plate or wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, then gently lift the pan. 
  • Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting. 

Make the frosting:
  • With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth. 
  • Turn mixer to low and blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract. 
  • Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy.
  • Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

  • Stack the cakes with a thick layer of frosting in between.
  • Frost cake with one thin "crumb coat" layer to trap all the red crumbs from spreading.  
  • After this has set, apply a thick layer of frosting over the crumb coat.  

This is a great recipe to use for making cupcake, cake pops, and red velvet chicken too!  Enjoy!