Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Velvet Rouge

It's just ALL OVER the place lately... cupcakes, cakes, cheesecakes, cookies all flavored with this very old fashioned, yet apparently making a comeback flavor. Red Velvet. It sounds so decadent. It looks so fancy. But fundamentally it's just a regular yellow buttermilk cake with red coloring. Yes, that's right I said YELLOW cake. It's not meant to taste like chocolate even though there is cocoa in there. But with 2 tablespoons of cocoa per a cake that serves 12 or more, that's not much cocoa. But let's back up. What is red velvet cake and where did it come from? Most people think of it as a Southern cake and most people think it should be frosted with a heavy cream cheese frosting.

Um, not so much...

Not that I have traveled the country far and wide to research this, but all I've read seems to support the red velvet cake originating in the north. Sometime in the early 1900's and somewhere around New York City; perhaps even the Waldof-Astoria Hotel. That is the particular recipe you see photographed here. This is my family's recipe which is quite old and almost identical to this one. It's touted as the Waldorf's recipe and is a recipe I see all over the web with only slight variations.
Many people also think a red velvet cake is to be topped with cream cheese frosting resembling that on carrot cakes. But that it also not correct. At least not traditionally. That traditional frosting is a butter roux frosting; also known as cooked flour frosting. There's no cream cheese present, but there is flour and milk (and butter, and sugar and vanilla). The frosting only has 1 cup of sugar which keeps it light and not too sweet and frankly, is what I think got me such rave reviews!

There are a lot of theories on why the red velvet cake is, well, red. Some talk of how cocoa of "yesteryear" (lower levels of alkaline) reacted with the sour milk (buttermilk) and created a reddish hue. Others talk about WWII housewives using beets to sweeten their cakes due to sugar rationing (tho sugar beets are white...) Hrmm. Whatever the case may be - today's red velvet cake is red due mostly in part to: Red Food Coloring. And we [literally] eat it up for it's beauty and fancifulness!

This recipe asks you to make a paste with the cocoa and food coloring

This isn't the first red velvet recipe I tried - it's the second. I first did Saveur's after reading about it on this red velvet cake comparison (I notice the "Waldorf" recipe wasn't reviewed, perhaps it really would have come out on top!) And I didn't like it; nor did my tester, Connie. I can't even explain why. The frosting was too heavy and sweet and the cake wasn't as flavorful or light. In fact, I threw a couple cupcakes away!!

Now that is some RED batter

But this recipe, the Waldorf one... FANTASTIC. I've made it a few times now, all for good sized groups (a friend's dinner party and cupcakes for a bake sale at work) and have heard great reviews. Worth noting: my "pack" tends to be primarily Asian and we Asians don't enjoy overly heavy, sweet desserts (um, except for THIS Asian - tho I'm only half so that must be why). I had a coworker tell me my red velvet cupcakes were better than Spinkles' (!!!!!!!!) but she too, is Asian.

Even though it's totally artificial - it's just so flippin' beautiful!

If it counts - I also heard some non-Asian coworkers talking in the hallways: "did you try those red velvet cupcakes? They were incredible!!" That really fluffed my feathers! So I'm gonna check this off as a success. Whether I'm baking in Hong Kong or San Francisco or New York.

Only did 2 layers; 4 would have been fun --- The finished crumb coat, ready to frost

After a bit more thought I realized this cake would work just great as a Green Velvet Cake (St. Patrick's Day?) or Purple Velvet Cake (Mardis Gras?) or even Blue Velvet Cake (Kid's Birthday?) I'd probably leave the cocoa out of most of those however...

I sprinkled on toasted pecans and some little white
LOVED the crunch of both on top!

Look at that crumb!

Like I mentioned earlier, my family's recipe here called for a butter roux frosting which asks you to cook flour and milk together until it is a VERY thick roux, then whip it with butter, sugar and vanilla until it resembles whipped cream. The frosting is light and slightly sweet and doesn't weigh the cake down at all. This was a first for me and while I enjoyed it - I do still LOVE me some cream cheese frosting. In the future, I might try replacing the roux with some cream cheese and keep everything else the same. In theory it sounds great - that same tangy cream cheese flavor without being too heavy or sweet.

You wanted to see the cupcakes too, right? :P


  1. What a gorgeous cake and pretty cupcakes!



  2. Now I am extra sorry I missed the bake sale!

  3. I think I would enjoy the Waldorf one better too except with butter. Cakes made with oil just aren't as good in general. I'm so excited you got such rave reviews at work.. it's always a great feeling to have people appreciate what you bake!

  4. I found your blog through a friend of yours who knows how much I love to bake. Your pictures are great, and everything looks delicious. I just wanted to make a little comment about red velvet cake. Traditionally it's actually a chocolate cake and the red hue is achieved by a reaction between cocoa powder and acids in the batter. A lot of people now though do exactly as you did, just coloring the cake red or helping the color with food coloring. But traditionally red velvet cake is actually chocolate.

  5. Steph actually I did use butter! I forgot to mention that - the family recipe calls for butter instead of the shortening/oil. Maybe that's what made it extra special... ;)

  6. Hi April!

    I'm so glad you read the blog! I love knowing that people read it and enjoy it! Yah I should have said that (since I did so much research, but I didn't want the entire post to be about the history of the cake). You're right - it's TRADITIONALLY a chocolate cake (the thought is that it's also where Devil's Food got its name - from the reddish hue that was made when cocoa reacted with the vinegar and buttermilk) but today it is really not chocolate at all since the recipes call for so little. Some people still label it as a "light chocolate" cake and also call it the "chocolate cake of the South" but perhaps those recipes have more cocoa than the most common recipes I've seen which call for about 2 T.

    Um, ANYWAY!! Thank you so much for reading! And feel free to comment anytime! I love reading comments 'cuz that tells me that people actually enjoy what I put out there! :)


  7. Your camera sure takes good pictures.

  8. absolutely gorgeous. that's a good idea about the different colors for different occasions.

  9. red velvet is my favorite! yum, lise! :)

  10. Your red velvet is such a bright red! Mine seems to turn out a darker, deeper red. Perhaps that's the difference between the Waldorf and... who knows what recipe I use. :)

  11. This is the recipe (cake and frosting) I always use, too. The frosting is labeled "Bride's icing" in my family recipe. Yes, you can make it in other colors. You can make a layer in blue and one in red, and then use the white frosting to make a pretty, patriotic cake for the 4th of July.
    If your town has an ovarian cancer walk in September, make and sell teal cupcakes for the event. Donate some or all of the profits to the ovarian cancer group. Just use teal paste food coloring (such as Wilton brand). I'm an ovarian cancer survivor who has participated in walks, so I KNOW these would be a huge hit!
    I can hardly wait to explore the rest of your blog!
    Karen in Ohio

  12. But where's the recipe? :(

    1. QueenBee -Click on the word "Saveur's" in blue. It is underneath the fourth picture from the top of the page. This link will take you to the recipe. Personally, I would use red gel coloring and a lot of it in a white cake (not yellow) to get the really bright red color. It might be good using white chocolate (Lindt white truffles maybe) instead of cocoa powder too. Just adjust the sugar a little. Good luck, I hope it works out well for you. Happy New Year!

  13. Hi QueenBee,

    If you read the post, you should find the link to the recipe...I know, no one has time to read the entire post. :)

    If you look in the 2nd paragraph after the "Um, not so much..." I link to a recipe which is almost identical to this recipe. It saved me the time in having to type it all out.