Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cake: From mix twist to confectionary classic

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For some, food becomes strangely more appealing when turned an unlikely color. This phenomenon has proved itself on candy  in bakery cases, ice cream shops and on candy shelves for decades.

The Red Velvet sensation has recently pushed beyond cake and into new realms. It’s now not uncommon to see Red Velvet versions of cookies, scones, even whoopie pies and pancakes all trying to sport the southern tradition in their own unique way.

After we launched our long-awaited King Arthur Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix, our kitchen put it to the test using it to make traditional favorites like pineapple upside down, orange spice, and pumpkin cakes. Since the world seems to be going Red Velvet crazy, I thought I’d create this option and add it to the collection.

It seemed simple enough – just add a teasing amount of chocolate to the yellow cake base, make it nuclear red, and send it to the screaming masses.

Though whatever you do, don’t send your Red Velvet cake to PJ, who can hardly bear to even type the words on her keyboard. She’ll pass, thank you.

The flavor. What is it? I’ve heard it described as flat, bland, neither here nor there. I, for one, have felt differently since tasting cakes that contain our Red Velvet Cake Flavor. Finally, Red Velvet cake has the chance to identify with a flavor form, even if exactly what that flavor is remains a mystery.

This product carries a bright, candy-like citrus tone that can easily resemble something you’d find at a carnival – the candy coating on an apple, or the sticky essence in the fibers of cotton candy. It’s not orange, lime, or cherry, but can be likened to the leftover dust from a Smarties® wrapper or the flavor that emerges when you chew on a mouthful of Skittles® – all flavor varieties at once. I had to eat many drops of the flavoring in order to produce this description. Yes, my mouth was bright red and yes, my kids made fun of me.

The basics for this project are:  One box of King Arthur Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix; one preheated and accurate 350°F oven, and two 8″ round or 9″ round cake pans with only the bottoms greased.

Greasing the sides will discourage the cake from rising as it won’t have anything to cling to (similar to the laws of an angel food cake). And we all know that anything gluten-free needs all the help it can get in order to grow upward.

Cross your fingers in hopes that you don’t have to make the cake three times to reach success. I did bring home my errors, though, and my children did not discriminate.

Here is one of my mistakes.  I blame buttermilk and over-mixing for this Red Velvet chewing gum.  This might work well if we were trying to develop a comfy yoga mat, but cake, it certainly was not.

So, please forgive me, you diehard Red Velvet groupies from the South. I tried to honor tradition and use the wonderful tangy and full-of-fat buttermilk, but it weighed this thing down like sandbags on a hot air balloon.

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Empty the contents of one box of our gluten free yellow cake mix into a large bowl, sift in 1/4 cup cocoa powder and whisk them together. I chose the Bensdorp cocoa because of its rich flavor. I was attempting to release this poor, tired Southern staple from the stigma that’s been attached to it, and give more depth to the flavor.

Just as a note of interest, the Bensdorp cocoa is packaged in our facility and therefore is not a certified gluten-free item.

Here’s the 1/2 cup softened butter by itself. I omitted the oil to compensate for the extra fat that will be introduced with the cocoa powder. Other than the fat alteration and the addition of the Red Velvet Cake Flavor, this rendition of the mix follows the box directions pretty closely.

I love to break the rules in baking, to be honest. It pushes my creativity and forces me to learn new things, even if my results are sometimes compromised.

I’ve reached an understanding, when baking with my family, that things may be measured somewhat incorrectly, we may have a piece or two of eggshell in the cookie, and the finished product may bear an abstract look once in a while.  It’s during such baking adventures with my kids that I continue to open to more experimentation.

I’ve entertained the idea of writing a book of kitchen confessions about my tendency to go astray, but for now, I will mostly mind my manners.

Blend half of the dry mix into the butter on low speed until you have a crumbly consistency…

…then add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 12 to 14 seconds between each addition on medium-low speed.

Don’t forget to scrape the bowl well between egg #2 and egg #3. Even I’m not willing to break the bowl-scraping rule.

Once the eggs are emulsified, add 1/3 of the milk…

…and alternate with 1/3 of the dry mixture, blending on medium-low speed for about 7 seconds in between additions. Scrape the bowl a few times during this process.

Add the 2 tablespoons of Red Velvet Cake Flavor and watch the batter catch on fire…

…and glow like a summer sunset.

Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cakes feel firm to the touch.

While the cakes are baking and hopefully rising like a good cake should, you can do the dishes and clean all of the red out of your mixing bowl so you can use it for the frosting.

When the cakes are done, their internal temperature should read 212°F, which I have found to be the gospel number on gluten-free cake doneness. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool for about 10 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the pan and turning them out onto a rack.

You can go ahead and make the frosting while the cakes finish cooling.

I used the recipe for Cream Cheese Frosting (not opting for the chunky version with nuts and candied ginger) from our Web site, which starts with 6 tablespoons of soft butter and 1 package (8 ounces) soft cream cheese. Beat the two together until they’re light and fluffy.

Add 3 1/2 to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar gradually (about 1/2 cup at a time) and beat until smooth. Don’t forget to stop the mixer during sugar installments… or oh, what a mess and yet another reason for my children to laugh at my expense.

You may or may not need to add the full amount of milk, so only mix in one spoonful at a time and then reassess the situation. You’ll need between 2 and 4 tablespoons.

Vanilla. One teaspoon (give or take). Stir it in.

I have an abusive problem with extracts. It’s not what you think. I just always think I need more than the recipe tells me, so I “accidentally” get a case of the shakes when I pour whatever it is into the spoon and dribble a little extra into my creation. This is part of my rule-breaking curse.

This frosting recipe yields a rich, spreadable, perfectly textured finish for the cake.

I hope our gluten-free following can now feel part of the Red Velvet trend revival that seems to be occurring in our world of pastries and confections. Enjoy a slice of Southern past and present and, if you dare, think of other possible Red Velvet foods that may await us.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cake.

Print just the recipe.

Amy Trage
About

Amy Trage is a native of Vermont where she spent much of her childhood skiing and training for the equestrian event circuit. With a strong desire to pursue food writing, Amy took her English degree from Saint Anselm College to the New England Culinary Institute ...

comments

  1. "Paul from Ohio"

    Ooooooo, Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, question: Can non-GF’ers enjoy this cake? Sure looooooooooks good enough to want right now! Great fun writing, serious good thoughts, wonderful ACTION photos (love the drops of milk and the almost too full spoonful of it), and I feel the same way you do when it comes to Extacts, 1 tsp? Nah, let’s add a dribble more! Love to visit your blogs – keep ‘em coming! Hugz
    Thanks, Paul! Of course, non-gf folks can dig in to this one too! I really appreciate your kind comments. Hope all is well and spring-like in Ohio. ~Amy

    Reply
  2. omaria

    I am with PJ. That cake looks poisonous to me. I cannot stand any baked good or icing with those bright colors. Birthday cake with blue or green icing ? Not in my house. LOL.
    India Tree makes natural food coloring. The dyes are not as vibrant, but they will tint a cake batter or frosting nicely. I have used them for dyeing easter eggs also. ~Amy

    Reply
  3. lauried

    I also agree with PJ. Why would you want to put so much unnatural food coloring in your food? (I’m making an assumption about KA’s Red Velvet Flavor, because ingredients aren’t listed.) But people do love it–and gluten-free is always appreciated.
    You can always use beet juice to tint the cake if you wish to avoid food dyes. ~Amy

    Reply
  4. chinchillalover

    I HATE red velvet and TOTALLY agree with PJ.BUT my GF brother has been BEGGING me to make him some gluten free, so this recipe is kinda perfectly timed.I just would like to know, can I make some without the red velvet flavor and just use food coloring(I don’t believe that whooey about making kids hyper).

    Sure, just plain food color will tone down the flavor somewhat, but will certainly yield that signature red color – PJH

    Reply
  5. "Deanna Jones"

    This looks absolutely awesome…love all the pics BUT where is the baker and her adorable kids??
    I’ll have to sneak some photos of them in sometime soon, it’s hard to capture those three on camera as you well know!! Thanks for reading my blog, Dee! ~Amy

    Reply
  6. gaitedgirl

    Nice job Amy!! Looks so yummily (yes, I just made that word up lol) delicious! I do love red velvet cake and even though I’m from the South (NC), I’m not one of those die-hard fans like some people (I’m sneaking a look at my mom now…. ) so I’m all for mixing things up a bit! Nice job on post and my thanks for posting snippets of your mishaps. Its nice to see y’all are just regular bakers like the rest of us who sometimes fail miserably :) Keep up the great posts Amy!!! :)
    Thanks so much! Glad to receive props from a true Southern native. ~Amy

    Reply
  7. Kathi

    I’m one of those people with multiple allergens and food sensitivities so I’m always looking for ways to devise how I can still make something without a lot of the normal staples. Right now, I’m working at how I can eliminate all sweeteners from baked goods and get a reasonable finished product.

    I try to substitute fresh fruits (or dried fruits as long as they are unsweetened) as my “sweetened source” and then mix all of the stuff up (no gluten, dairy, soy, caffeine, salt, or no natural or artificial sweeteners). I’ve come up with some pretty decent stuff from a food processor when it’s not baked but no attempts yet at a baked good has worked to my satisfaction.

    My safe ingredients are gluten free flours, eggs, fresh fruits and veges, beans and tree nuts. I really like working with almond flour the most I’ve found out. But I still haven’t quite figured out a good end result with eggs, applesauce (or bananas, dates, apricots etc)

    I’m sure there’s others out there that would like this information also since I get requests all the time for ideas from my website (www.allergyfreeandsugarfreesnacks.com) so any help would be appreciated.

    Any ideas?

    Gluten free baking relies heavily on the eggs to create the structure of baked goods. We are working hard to develop new GF recipes and knowing the importance of the eggs for success, we haven’t tried the myriad of egg subs as well. Happy GF Baking – Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  8. superreader

    Thanks for the GF cake mix experience. It’ll be a big help as we do our own experiments! FWIW- and as I’m sure you already know- full-fat buttermilk is kind of a modern invention. Traditional left-over-from-butter buttermilk is pretty skim, so soured skim milk is a closer approximation. The reaction between the acidic vinegar & the cocoa does something for the cake- though I’m not remembering what.

    Reply
  9. Max_in_SC

    The “red” in red velvet is supposed to come from the reaction of vinegar with chocolate, the vinegar being a part of the leavening of the cake with baking soda. The final color is more of a rust than red, and why people have started using gallons of food coloring in red velvet in beyond me. Too many artificial colors does make people feel unwell at times.

    For a GF recipe like this, however, the pronounced unnatural color would probably be preferable to distinguish the cake if it was being served among non-GF items on a table or something. I would, however, like to see a recipe that uses the traditional baking soda and vinegar technique.

    Reply
  10. Eric Reidy

    Hey, I really like your post about gluten free cake. Good gluten free cake is very hard to come by and this looks like a very solid recipe.

    Thanks again.

    Cheers,
    Eric Reidy

    Reply
  11. DSS77

    I mixed up this batter and used it to make 24 cupcakes. I had some problems with the recipe and don’t want to review it negatively since I made cupcakes instead of a full cake and may have introduced some “user error” into the equation! The cupcakes turned out gummy and somewhat flat. I used nonstick cooking spray on the muffin cup papers because I tried that for the KAF gluten-free pumpkin muffin recipe and it worked well. After rereading the recipe, though, I see that doing so may have caused the flatness. Also, the exterior crumb of the cupcakes had an unusual flavor, like burnt sugar. I baked them for 18-19 minutes until the centers were firm. Have you tested this recipe in cupcake form? Any suggestions about making great red velvet cupcakes and avoiding the outcome I had today? Thanks!
    Thank you for your feedback. I am sorry that you had trouble with the recipe. Using spray on the papers will yield a flatter cupcake as it will prevent the batter from climbing the sides at full potential as it bakes. The batter may have been over-mixed , which also would have been a cause for a flatter result and a gummy, more dense texture. A stand mixer is recommended for use with out gluten free mixes. We have not yet tested this recipe in cupcake form. It sounds like the cupcakes were baked a little too long or in an oven that was running hot and that is why the outside had a burnt taste. ~Amy

    Reply
  12. lfoy13971

    I’m wondering if you’ve tried using buttermilk powder, in the test kitchen, to get that more tradition flavor?
    I did not test the recipe with buttermilk powder, but I did test it with buttermilk as the liquid and found that it made the cake a little dense and heavy for my taste. If you do experiment with the powder, please let us know how it turns out. ~Amy

    Reply
  13. lfoy13971

    I love the idea of adding to the yellow cake mix to get red velvet but wondered how much cocoa and red velvet flavor, etc I’d need to add to the scratch recipe for gf yellow cake. I’d likely make the single layer recipe and make red velvet cupcakes. Thanks.
    <br. Since the gluten free yellow cake recipe makes about half the yield of the mix, I would cut the cocoa powder and flavoring in half. I hope the outcome is great! ~Amy

    Reply
  14. pchaivre

    Amy, I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments but just wanted to comment on cupcakes I made yesterday. I used the KA recipe using the red velvet emulsion. The taste and after taste was awful! It did not taste like the cake my Mom used to make and all I can describe the flavor as sickening sweet tootsie rolls! I have used their natural flavors before and was not disappointed. I threw out the entire batch.

    We truly apologize for the recipe failure. I see from looking over the blog that we made this as a cake and haven’t tried it as cupcakes. The flavor shouldn’t be that different, only the bake time. 2 tablespoons of the red velvet flavor was tried and tested in the development of this recipe. There must be a secret to the red velvet cake your Mom used to make – we’d love to know it if she has some GF cake success we can pass along to other bakers. Call us at 800-827-6836, cite this post, and we will make this right for you. Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  15. lfoy13971

    I did take a stab at making the cake from scratch without the yellow cake mix and using dried buttermilk powder, adding the powder in with the other dry ingredients. The cake was a little dense, but had a nice flavor that seemed more like the red velvet that grandma used to bake. I suspect I over mixed. That was on the first day, but after an overnight in the fridge in a sealed container it was definitely less moist than i would have expected it to be.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m sure it will help out your fellow bakers. ~ MaryJane

    Reply

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