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Red Velvet Cake

If you mention the words “red velvet cake” to a group of people in the South, you’ll likely to get a bunch of oohs and aahs. This is one of the most popular types of cakes in this regions, and everyone loved when this beautiful red cake makes an appearance at parties, potlucks, and even weddings (remember Julia Roberts’ red velvet armadillo cake in Steel Magnolias?)

I knew about the fascination behind red velvet cake, but I had never actually made one before. I actually rarely ate them growing up because my mom was never a huge fan of them. I always liked them for the cream cheese frosting. I may be a huge chocolate fan, but I do love some cream cheese frosting! 🙂

Our young adults group is starting up again and since I’m in charge of the dessert each week, I wanted to start the year with something that people would get excited about. I found this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which is one of my favorite food blogs. It got great reviews, and it didn’t disappoint. This was a fabulous cake. It was super moist, and the cream cheese frosting was delicious without being overly sweet. I only had one issue- there was not nearly enough frosting for the cake. Not even close- and I was not over frosting it. The recipe didn’t make anything close to the 6 cups of frosting it was supposed to. I would say it made 2-3 cups. Luckily, I was easily able to make another batch and finish the cake, so if you’re making this, I would double the frosting recipe. This is definitely a keeper recipe. It was completely devoured, so I took that as a good sign!

Red Velvet Cake (Source: The Confetti Cakes Cookbook by Eliza Strauss, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

Time: 90 minutes, plus cooling
Yield: 3 cake layers

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
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.

1. 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.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. 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.

4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

5. 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. Cool completely before frosting.

Cocoa Notes

  • Some red velvet cakes have no cocoa, others have up to half a cup. The less cocoa, the brighter the red, and the less food dye is needed to give it the desired hue. This cake has more cocoa and quite a bit of red dye, but as you cans see from the picture, it is a real stand-out red. Feel free to use less, but make sure you dissolve it in 6 tablespoons of water to compensate for any moisture lost.
  • Dutch versus Non-Dutched cocoa: This recipe uses baking soda, so it calls for non-Dutch-Processed cocoa. The reason is that Dutch-Process cocoa is neutral and will not react with baking soda, so it can only be used in 1) recipes with baking powder or 2) recipes with enough other acidic ingredients that will compensate for the lack of acidity. However, you’ll notice that this recipe has both vinegar and buttermilk in it, or quite a bit of acidity, leading me to wonder if either kind of cocoa could be used with success. I had non-Dutch on hand, so I used it, but if you only have Dutch and try this recipe, let us know if it works. Personally, I prefer the Dutched stuff because it usually is of a higher quality with a more delicate chocolate flavor.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from several sources

Makes 6 cups (I doubled it to make enough to cover the cake)

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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.

Icing Notes:

  • Technique: Cake decorators will always tell you to ice a cake in two batches, first a “crumb layer” and then the more decorative one. Though I rarely bother, in this cake in particular, with its dark hue barely disguised by a thin layer of frosting, it is especially helpful. To do this, place a small amount of frosting on the cake and spread it over the entire surface that will be iced, thereby anchoring wayward crumbs in place so that they will not mess up the final product. A few minutes in the freezer or longer in the fridge will firm this up so that you have an ideal surface to build the real layer of frosting upon. (I did a rushed, half-assed one, hence the visible crumbs in the final product.)
  • Quantity: The recipe here creates an amount of frosting that allows for a thin coat between and over the cake layers. I found it to have the ideal cake-to-frosting balance for this recipe. However, you might want to double the recipe if you prefer a more decadent, padded frosting layer.


11 Responses

  1. This looks SO good. Red velvet is one of my favorites but I haven’t made it myself yet. This recipe sounds great. I love that it uses so much cocoa powder instead of just 1 or 2 T as other recipes call for. DH promised me red velvet cupcakes for my birthday and never delivered so I think I need to fwd this to him.. 🙂

  2. Yum! This recipe looks awesome. The pics are great too!

  3. It looks so moist! Looks like I’ll be making (and eating) some cake today.

  4. This cake looks so delicious. Oh my gosh, the pictures are very tempting.

  5. I definitely “Ooh”ed and “Aah”ed in my head when I saw that picture. Yum!

  6. I’m intrigued by red velvet cake for a long time now, and it seems that lots of bloggers has already done it. Your version looks so yummy that I feel like trying it out.

    May I know what kind of red food coloring did you use? Is it in powder form? 6 tablespoons of coloring sounds a lot to me. 😉

  7. i’ve never even had a red velvet cake before! wonder what it tastes like?

  8. This recipe looks fine, not exactly the red velvet cake recipe I grew up with. And yes I am from the South. But have any of you heard of Gravy Icing. That is the original icing for this cake and it includes flour and it is cooked on to of the stove. For a true traditional Red Velvet Cake of the south, one must truly try this icing on the cake and be sure to incorporate lots of pecans in the icing and a few non traditionalist top with flaked coconut.

  9. Yes… cream cheese icing is not authentic for a RVC. Many southerners do use it now, but the original icing is a cooked flour/milk/sugar/crisco whipped to glorious fluffiness…

    Gravy icing is going by the wayside, and I’m sad about it.

  10. This looks amazing and I want to eat it, unlike my own similar creation: http://apocalypsecakes.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/raining-blood-red-velvet-cake/

  11. […] Happy Valentine’s Day!  I hope that whatever you are doing, you are spending it with someone special, whether it’s your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, or a group of your best friends.  David and I have never been ones to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way.  We usually get each other candy (he gets cinnamon heart candy and I get M&Ms) and a card (the card has to be funny and/or naughty ) and we cook dinner together at home.  When it came to deciding what dessert to make for our church group this week, I knew I wanted to make something Valentines-themed.  My first thought was cupcakes with pink and red frosting, but I just made cupcakes and I wanted something a little bit different.  I then thought of these Red Velvet Whoopie Pies that I saw on Bridget’s blog around Christmas.  This was exactly what I wanted to make- it’s red, has cream cheese frosting, and is different from the usual Valentine’s Day treat.  And what a great twist on Red Velvet Cake! […]

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