September 18th is National Red Velvet Cake Day, and we’ve got a bunch of red velvet cake recipes for you, below. But first, here’s the history of the cake, which grew to immense popularity over the last two decades, after gathering dust in many a recipe box.
If you want to order a red velvet cake, the best one we’ve had is from Daisy Cakes.
We used this food holiday as an excuse to order another one.
“The history of red velvet is not black and white,” says Deborah Harroun, author of Red Velvet Lover’s Cookbook.
Stories detail its discovery in the 1870s in Canada and in the 1950s in Pennsylvania. Some give credit to the Deep South, where red velvet cake is topped with cream cheese frosting.
Southern Living Magazine says it isn’t Southern at all, that it started as Waldorf Astoria cake. The backstory, says the magazine, is that someone got charged a mint for the hotel’s recipe and then shared it for revenge [source].
Originally made from beets or beet juice and cocoa (and the best recipes still use these ingredients), the cake yields a reddish brown color with a mild chocolate flavor.
Today’s recipes made with red food coloring can be a florid red. A thick white frosting is traditional (we vote for cream cheese!).
Today, many recipes use red food color instead of beets, which leaves a rosy red and arresting color but a more bland flavor and texture. A light-textured chocolate layer-type cake with a deep reddish brown color.
Our first experience with red velvet cake, long before the craze of the last decade, was a type of chocolate cake with red food coloring. Our mom baked a recipe called Red Devil’s Food Cake from the 1950s, where the chocolate cake had a red hue.
Mom used beets in her Red Devil’s Food Cake. And what a great cake it was! We’ll have to dig up the recipe and publish it.
But think again, says Deborah Harroun: “The cocoa taste actually appears as just a hint when done correctly. I say that a red velvet cake or cupcakes tastes like butter cake with just a hint of cocoa. It may be a hard flavor to describe, but once you’ve had it, you probably won’t forget it!”
While many committed bakers deride red velvet for its use of “fake” red food coloring, there are natural ingredients that can be used to achieve the same red hue: cranberries, other red berries, and pomegranates.
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