Red Velvet, Red Velvet

Growing up in the South has had an immense influence on the products that I bake. Pound cakes and pies maintained a common presence on the Sunday dinner table. The best of these sweet treats were scratch-baked from memory, as family recipes were passed generally from generation to generation. However, there was one cake in particular that was sure to be the showpiece: THE RED VELVET CAKE.

The most important question regarding this cake, of course, was “Who made it?”. Although the question may seem simple, it spoke volumes to the quality, taste, and freshness of the cake—not to mention the rate at which it would get eaten. Big Mama’s Red Velvet Cake was definitely the showstopper of the evening. And anyone who dared challenge her cake with one bought from the store was relegated to silent dismissals of naïveté.

Red Velvet Cupcake

My earliest memories of eating Red Velvet Cake bring a smile to my face, as it was one of my favorite desserts to eat. What I did not know then was that this little cake would virtually transform the bakery world—and, in particular the cupcake niche—within a couple decades. Walk into any bakery or cupcake shop today and you are sure to find it on the menu. It is a standard by which many bakeries are measured. And it remains one of the most popular dessert items consumed across the country.

So why is this “chocolate cake with a little bit of red food color, rather than a red cake with a little bit of chocolate” so popular? Your guess is as good as mine. No doubt, however, that the red filling paired with the creamy white frosting had something to do with it. It is definitely a combination that requires one to pause, look again, and cut a slice before it is gone!


Although its origins are enigmatic (there is a controversy over whether this cake has southern origins or if it was first served at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City), it is definitely a cake that is sure to be featured prominently on any table. The recipe below is (what I believe to be) the original recipe from the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The original recipe is complemented with a frosting made with flour. I prefer Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and have included a recipe for it below. Enjoy!

Waldorf Astoria Red Cake

½ cup shortening
1½ cup sugar
2 eggs
3 tblsp (unsweetened) cocoa
2 oz red food coloring
2¼ cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. Make a paste with cocoa and food coloring. Add to the mixture. Add buttermilk and flour alternately. Add vanilla. Mix vinegar and baking soda. Fold the mixture into the batter. Pour into 3 or 4 greased and floured 8” cake pans. Bake at 350 F for 24-30 minutes. Frost with the red cake icing (see recipe below).

Red Cake Icing

3 tblsp flour
1 cup milk
1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Add milk to flour slowly, avoiding lumps. Cook the flour and milk until thick, stirring constantly. Cool completely! Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla until creamy and fluffy. Beat the flour and butter mixtures together until very fluffy. Do not overbeat.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
4-5 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter, salt, and vanilla in mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Slowly add powdered sugar by 1/2 cup quantities, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Combine until smooth and fluffy. This recipe should frost and fill the accompanying cake recipe or about 24 cupcakes.

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