An American Classic, The Red Velvet Cake…

For my husbands birthday this year I decided to do something different. Normally I make a cake that is a proven treat and I have been making it for over a decade. However, now, as I work on both my growth as a cook and baker I wanted to expand my repertoire. This got me thinking about all the classic cakes. I have several I have “mastered”, from carrot, to chocolate, to tortes, and even a fantastic german chocolate I knew there was one that still evaded me. The Red Velvet Cake. 

Red Velvet Cake has an interesting history in this country and part of my interest is its illusiveness. What is it? What is the original recipe? What is the “flavor”? What is a French-style butter roux icing?

Anyone who has seen the 1989 classic Steel Magnolias must remember the wonderfully funny scene with the “grooms cake” that looked like an armadillo and was made of red velvet. Red velvet has deep roots in southern cooking but I had a hard time finding “why”. The cake itself has a history for the country that dates back to the depression era. Trying to find any specifics is tricky as several establishments that made the red velvet cake famous have kept their recipe a closely guarded secret. Places like Eaton’s Department Store in Canada and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel both made this a sought after treat however I fear their recipes are lost to time.

I started scouring the internet for recipes. I found many. However they all we’re a twist on the classic. Most notably was too many of them used the cream cheese frosting rather than the roux icing. They also call for a TON of red food coloring.

Now anyone who knows me and my cooking knows that I and kinda obsessed with natural, real, no chemicals, no preservatives… so the idea of 2 ounces of red food coloring gave me pause. Determined to go through the recipe once without making any changes I broke down and bought the red food coloring. (Up until this point I never knew you could buy just red food coloring.)

So I set out on making the cake. The recipe I chose to use was from Cuisine at Home. What drew me to this recipe was that they added white chocolate to the roux icing. So I measured out my ingredients and got them all put together. This recipe was odd because it called for only oil, no butter or shortening. It also didn’t have you mix the baking soda and the vinegar it just had you add the vinegar at the end. Still I went through it fighting my instincts.

Sure the color was amazing but what was odd was when the cake came out of the oven the edges and the bottom almost looked burnt. I had to do a lot of trimming which also made me a little sad but I did reveal a gorgeous red cake.

The frosting was interesting. One of the issues with the roux is that I had a hard time finding any clear information on the consistency it needed to be. By the time I stopped cooking it the consistency resembled something more of paper mache paste and it began lumping up due to getting so thick. I pushed it through a fine mesh sieve in the end but didn’t know what the goal was to begin with.


In the end I ended up with a red velvet cake. It was ok but it left me wanting. If you have read any of my other food posts you know this only encourages me to try try again so today I have been doing more refined searches on line looking for answers to my problems. I have found some VERY helpful information.


Frist I started off with googling the name of the icing. That lead me to reading his post I found this very helpful and a recipe that will be my next attempt. Then because I was stumped with some of the descriptions to how the frosting is made I googled again and looked for videos. I am a visual learner so seeing some one else make it I could understand what needed to be achieved. This lead me to Sandi Smith’s post for Ermine Icing. After watching this I know a few things that went wrong.

Now armed with more information and more recipes and tips I am excited for the next time I am going to tackle the illusive Red Velvet Cake.



2 thoughts on “An American Classic, The Red Velvet Cake…

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and discoveries! The recipe I use only calls for oil too, but I think you could substitute some of it for butter (maybe half and half) without sacrificing moisture and tenderness. The roux icing really does work better with this cake than the cream cheese in my opinion, I love cream cheese icing, but it’s too tangy for the delicate flavor of red velvet, and I find that that’s all you can taste!
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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