It was the last century when I first saw/ate Red Velvet Cake. I think someone's mother brought it to a Brownie event (yup - I was a Brownie, Girl Guide and Land Ranger. Loved doing knots and am thrilled with this Knots app. But I digress...) Red Cake seemed to fall into disfavour for a time after that - likely because of concerns about red food coloring. Of course now it's all the rage, appearing in most bakeries and coffee shops. There's even a boxed cake mix - so clearly this is a cake that is now becoming mainstream.

My grievance (if you can call it that) is that the cakes / cupcakes more often than not seem red-brown, rather than red. Years ago, on "Good Eats", Alton Brown offered up a red cake recipe and explained the science behind it all. In brief,  "the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin in cocoa... This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "red velvet" as well as "Devil's food". (Source) The addition of some food colouring pushes the "red-brown" closer to red.

I have made this using Alton's recipe, but this time I reached for America's Test Kitchen: Special Collectors' Edition - Best Ever Desserts (2015). (Recipe online.)

Messy looking, but tasted great!

Messy looking, but tasted great!

Impatient me did not let the cake cool for two hours before frosting / cutting,

Impatient me did not let the cake cool for two hours before frosting / cutting,

Photo of Cake from ATK zine

Photo of Cake from ATK zine

Preheat oven to 350 F, using middle rack position. Prepare two 9" round pans - grease them and line with parchment rounds, then grease parchment and flour pans. How to cut parchment rounds.

2 1/4 cups (11.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Whisk together in medium bowl. Set aside.

1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 TB distilled white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk above 4 ingredients together in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup.

2 TB natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 TB (1 ounce) red food colouring

Mix cocoa and food colouring in small bowl until smooth paste forms. Do NOT use Dutch-processed cocoa for this. 

Cocoa powder and food colouring mixed into smooth paste

Cocoa powder and food colouring mixed into smooth paste

12 TB unsalted butter, softened
1.5 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar

Using a stand mixer with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (about three minutes). Reduce speed to medium low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk mixture in 2 additions, scraping down bowl as needed. Add cocoa / food colouring mixture and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Give batter final stir by hand - important that batter is totally red - no white streaks.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack about two hours

16 TB unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (1 pound) confectioners’ sugar
1 pound cream cheese cut into 8 pieces, softened
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch salt

FROSTING.  Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use. Line edges of cake platter with four strips of parchment paper to keep platter clean.  Place one cake layer on platter.  Spread 2 cups frosting evenly over top, right to edge of cake.  Top with second cake layer, pressing lightly to adhere, then spread remaining frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.  Carefully remove parchment strips before serving.


Notes and Tips...

  • Weighing flour - precision in baking is important, thus the preference for weighing flour and a digital scale makes it easy
  • Cocoa - use natural unsweetened cocoa powder, NOT Dutch-processed cocoa for this.
  • Butter - tips on room temperature
  • Cooling - pics show the results of impatience. Though I waited until the cakes were cool enough to not melt the icing, had I waited longer the slicing would have been more tidy.
  • Frosting - I wondered why my icing did not appear to be as white as the photo in the zine. Turns out I made a mistake and used only one "brick" of cream cheese. The required one pound equals two packages of cream cheese. It still looked and tasted fine, but with the extra cream cheese it would be less sweet and prettier. Even with only one brick of cream cheese I had frosting left over, but this stored well in the fridge and I used it for another dessert a few days later.
  • Storage - Assembled cake can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperate before serving.
  • Make ahead - Cooled cakes can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Do this only with totally cooled cakes. Even if just a tiny bit warm, the warmth will result in condensation, ruining the cake's texture. The plastic wrapped cakes can be wrapped in foil and frozen for up to one month.
  • A thought... lately it seems to be trendy to put icing only between layers and on top. This cuts down on calories a wee bit, but can also look dramatic in a funky way. Problem with red cake is that the edges of the cake turn brown in the baking. (Look close at the photo of my cake slice.) I have not used these, but to prevent cake sides from browning, and to keep cake layers flat, one can use insulating strips. ATK has tested these and recommends Rose's Heavenly Cake Strips. Various websites offer home made versions (example) but i have no experience with these either. Let me know if you do!

<== Questions or Comments about this recipe? Visit the Recipe Q. C. page - looking forward to hearing from you!