It is humiliating for me to admit that the first time I became aware of the existence of Red Velvet Cake was on Newlyweds with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. I can remember Jessica walking up to her wedding cake and shrieking “Red Velvet! My favorite!” and me being baffled thinking, “Huh?”
Seriously, what is Red Velvet Cake? Why was it so mysterious to me? What’s the hype? Who made it red? The Red Velvet Gods? Why isn’t it blue, or green, or just the normal light brown if it weren’t for the addition of almost an entire container of red food coloring? Is it a chocolate cake? Is it vanilla? The words “Red Velvet” did not give me any indication of what I would taste upon trying this cake.
I ended up tasting this elusive flavor in various places, and I couldn’t decide what I felt about it, or what it was. Once I made one of Paula Deen’s recipes, and it was weak and weird. Then, one summer while on vacation in Harbour Island years ago and I tried a dense, wonderful Red Velvet Cake that bowled me over, and that was it. Sold. I got it.
My need to make it and was exacerbated by the fact that my sister loves it. Her birthday was coming up, so now I was on a mission to find a recipe that was worth it, because Red Velvet cake is actually a scrumptious subtle chocolate cake similar to a German Chocolate Cake. Plus it is typically slathered with my all-time favorite frosting, cream cheese icing.
Most recipes I found, though, only add about a teaspoon or tablespoon of cocoa powder. Um, that’s nothing. How am I going to taste the chocolate? I finally found my match made in Red Velvet Heaven thanks to my favorite food blogger, Deb, over at smittenkitchen.com. This recipe calls for a full half cup of cocoa.
The cake’s texture is soft but dense at the same time, it’s as if a cake crumb was a tempur-pedic mattress… does that make sense? The chocolate flavor is there, but it’s not a full on, in your face chocolate. It’s more of a… lingering choco-ness. And don’t get me started on the perfect cream cheese frosting. It is melt in your mouth goodness that will leave you taking more and more bites. I didn’t want to cut myself an entire piece, so instead I walked by it several times throughout the day and ate bites of it like a barbarian (this is why the cake looks all scraggly in the photos.). Just cut yourself a piece.
Alternatively, you can make cupcakes. I made these last Christmas, and dyed the frosting green, and stuck a star shaped sprinkle on top so they were like cute little Christmas trees. People loved them.
So there we go. Red Velvet Mystery, solved. The case will be closed forever when you make this cake.
Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook via Smittenkitchen
Makes 3 cake layers or about 35 cupcakes
Note: if making cupcakes, the baking time will be 20-25 minutes. Fill your liners about 3/4 of the way up and then pipe or slather icing on them.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
For Cream Cheese Icing
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3–4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted (if you want an icing that is more dense, use 4 cups)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.
Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.
Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.
Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.
Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment.
Make Cream Cheese Icing
Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.
Make sure the cakes are cooled before you frost.