Sunday, 7 February 2010

Classic Red Velvet Cake

red velvet 1
Woo! Very exciting Sweet Melissa Sundays today as I got to choose the recipe! No small feat when faced with all the delicious possibilities within the Sweet Melissa Baking Book. The thing I love about the book is the number of American classics it provides great recipes for. Case in point, the butterscotch pudding last week. In the UK, you hear all about the muffins, brownies, Devil's food cakes and pecan pies eaten in vast quantities over the pond. So it's so much fun getting to recreate these sweet treats alongside bakers who're familiar with what the real deal tastes like.

One cake that particularly intrigued me during my time spent in the US (Nashville to be precise) was the Red Velvet cake. Why a cake would be dyed red is still somewhat of a mystery to me but boy, does it look stunning! But what is it supposed to taste like?? It has cocoa in but doesn't have a strong chocolate flavour. This particular recipe also has cinnamon in but I'm not sure that's a typical addition. So I'm hoping that my dear fellow bakers will be able to elighten me as to whether this is an authentic representation of a red velvet cake or not...
red velvet 2
But back to the recipe! So easy to put together and quick to make, this is definitely a winner. The texture was good - perfectly soft and moist - and it tasted great. But my cake didn't go red! It was kind of a brown colour... Now, I gather this is a common problem and theories abound as to why a red velvet cake might not turn red but I'm going to blame the food colouring. You see, in the interests of scientific research (and to get to eat more cake) I also made a comparison cake using the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. For this cake, instead of boring old natural healthy food colouring, I used the red colouring derived from insects - cochineal. The good stuff. It does mean the recipe is no longer technically suitable for vegetarians, but wow was the cake red! As the actual recipe had very few differences (notably it used butter rather than oil) I think that the brand of food colouring used was what did it. So fellow UK bakers! Seek out the cochineal stuff and whack in a whole bottle to achieve the true red colour.
red velvet 5
As for the Hummingbird cake vs Sweet Melissas, I'm on the side of the Sweet Melissas cake. I did slightly prefer the texture of the Hummingbird one (a bit more fluffy and crumby is that makes any sense) but the taste of the Sweet Melissas one was far and away the best. I think it was the cinnamon. So I'm looking forward to reading with interest the other reviews of the cake - do check them out too! Meanwhile, I have 2 cakes to work my way through so if you'll excuse me...

Rosy xx

Red Velvet Cake
from Sweet Melissa Baking Book

For the Cake
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp best-quality unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp red food colouring

For the Classic Cream Cheese Filling and Frosting
12 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups icing (confectioner's) sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract

Before you start
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a 9-inch round of parchment paper.

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a small bowl, whick together the buttermilk and vanilla.
  3. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip attachment, cream the sugar and oil. Add the eggs and beat well. Add the vinegar and food colouring and mix to combine.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the batter in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture. Mix well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat well for 10 more seconds.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake cake pans. Spin the pans to level the batter. Bake for 35-40 mins or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
  1. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and icing sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. Add the butter and vanilla and mix until just combined, about 45 secs. Do not overbeat and use immediately to fill and ice the top and sides of the cake.
Serve the cake at room temperature. It keeps well in a cake saver at room temperature for 2 days or in the refridgerator for up to 5 days. Alternatively, the baked uniced layers can be stored tightly wrapped at room temp for 3 days or in the fridge for 5 days or freezer for 2 weeks. Do not unwrap before thawing.

* I tried this method but I think my butter was soo cool so didn't work at all. But I found it worked well by beating together the butter and cream cheese then adding the icing sugar and beating that in.


  1. Glad to see that you liked it. How cool that you tried the insect-derived food coloring. That IS pretty alright! Sorry this recipe was a winner for me, but I had a good backup which I also posted. Check it out and I think you'll want to make it right away :o) Thanks for hosting this week!

  2. WOW, side by side comparison! I don't know about why it is red, but my roommate and I were thinking about why as well. We believe that it's red because changing to any other color makes it look all weird and also, that red is pretty close to the brown the batter is without the coloring. In addition, maybe with any other dye color, the tongue will turn that color and red is the only one that "looks" the same as your tongue so no one will notice, or pictures won't be bad. HAHA

    Thanks for hosting this week!

  3. Wow! That second cake is definitely red!! I liked this recipe, thanks for choosing it! Red Velvet is a favorite of my daughter's and I made it for her birthday, which is today.

  4. I loved it! My hubby even said the cake was good w/o the frosting :) thanks for hosting! great pick!

  5. Thanks for hosting!

    Your cake is beautiful!!

    My cupcakes didn't turn out red, very brown.

  6. Thanks for hosting this week Rosy and for a great selection! Even though I live in the US, I've only had red velvet once or twice so I don't really know what it's supposed to taste like either. It's been fun reading the posts this week to see what people thought. Both of your cakes look wonderful - thanks for the comparison!

  7. Thank you for hosting this week Rosy. Im glad you picked this recipe because I really enjoyed it. I made cupcakes and cut the recipe down some. YOur cake is so pretty!

  8. This looks beautiful...your site is just so beautiful and elegant! I am so happy I found it!

  9. Both of your cakes look fabulous! The things we must do in the interest of research for our blogs. I was so happy this was selected this month. I really enjoyed the cake and am thinking of making it again for a Valentine's treat.

  10. Your cakes look beautiful! Here in the South, Red Velvet Cake is generally the rich red that you achieved with the insect based food coloring.

    Thanks for hosting this week!

  11. You know what, I wish I had been more switched on and realised that it was valentine's day this week!! This just turned out to be a happy accident rather than a planned v-day pick! I'm so dozy sometimes... Thank you all for baking with me and your lovely comments! R x

  12. Your recipe doesn't actually seem to include food coloring.

  13. HOLY MOLY that is RED!!!

    Thank you for choosing this, it was the first red velvet cake I made that didn't come from a box :)

  14. Great pick! Your cakes are lovely!

  15. Oops! Thanks for pointing that out - added into the ingredients now.

  16. Thanks for a great pick! I made cupcakes and they were very well received. I'm so impressed that you made two cakes! I read somewhere that red velvet cake originated during WW II when bakers used pureed beets in their baking. Now that isn't so popular, we add red food color.

  17. I bake along, forgetting that our wonderful SMS group has bakers around the world who are not accustomed to American recipes. How fun to hear someone from the UK telling a different outlook! LOVED your choice for this week's baking and I also loved how you tried 2 different recipes to get your own verdict. Your photos are wonderful and so are the 2 cakes. Great JOB! =)

  18. un gâteau qui doit être divin, j'en raffole
    à bientôt

  19. I have to pull out my Sweet Melissa book and give these a try. Looks scrumptious. Does the red do anything but change the color? Is this a fad? Cinnamon makes a difference and I bet it adds tremendous flavor to the cake.

  20. Looks great Rosy. I've always wondered what a red velevet cake would taste like. May need to give this recipe a go so I can find out ;0)

  21. Thanks for hosting this week. This was a great recipe. Your cake looks great!

  22. Oh! Lovely red velvet cake...haven
    t tried to make it yet...yours look gorgeous, could have a piece of it at anytime :-) Great pictures!

  23. Maybe using the beets is an option, I have frequently seen beetroot mudcakes or chocolate cakes, apparently it adds to the moisture. I don't eat beetroot, but it might be worth a try, will also make it healthy, kinda.

  24. Just a clarification. FYI, Cream cheese frosting is NOT the original frosting that goes with this the red velvet cake. My grandmother, from the South use to make this cake for me every birthday. I so wish I had gotten the recipe before she passed. The authentic frosting is a milk and flour based frosting. I've been trying to find a good recipe on the internet for it for years to no avail. Her receipe also called for a small whole bottle of red food coloring.