There’s no denying that this classic dessert is a crowd-pleaser. Moist and tender with a tangy cream cheese frosting, it’s hard to go wrong. But did you know that there’s a lot more to this cake than just its beautiful color? It’s also surprisingly easy to make. And, once you master it, you can make your own red velvet cakes to enjoy with your friends and family.
This recipe is a variation on the traditional American layer cake, with red food coloring and a creamy buttermilk icing. It’s rich and decadent, but not too sweet, making it perfect for special occasions like Valentine’s Day or a birthday party. The recipe is easy to follow, and the results are delicious.
The most important thing to remember about this cake is to use a high-quality food coloring. This will help the cake achieve its deep, rich crimson hue. You’ll also want to use a buttermilk-based icing, which will complement the sour flavors of the vinegar and bring out the red tones in the cocoa powder.
While modern recipes often rely on food coloring to stain the cake a bright red, that wasn’t always the case. According to The Culture Trip, it was Texas food dye salesman John A. Adams who came up with the recipe as a marketing campaign for his company’s products. He reportedly sampled the Waldorf Astoria’s famous red velvet cake during a weekend stay in 1940 and used it as inspiration for his own version of the dish. He replaced the butter, which was being rationed at the time, with butter flavoring and added a large amount of red food coloring to his mix. Adams’ innovative recipe was a success, and his cake quickly gained popularity in the American South and later across the country.
Although it’s often believed that the cake got its name from resembling brightly colored velvet dresses, red velvet cakes actually get their color from a chemical reaction between acidic ingredients and non-Dutch-processed cocoa powder. When bakers add baking soda or vinegar to the batter, the acid re-activates the enzymes in the cocoa and causes it to turn reddish. Beet juice was sometimes used in place of the vinegar during World War II because items ideal for baking, like sugar and butter, were being rationed.
While it’s still unclear why the cake was named after a specific color, it’s clear that the modern cake is beloved for its beauty as well as taste and texture. It’s become a symbol of southern pride and a popular treat for special celebrations, but it took a cameo in 1989’s Steel Magnolias to propel it into the mainstream. No matter what the occasion, you can’t go wrong with a delicious, homemade, red velvet cake.