Red Velvet Cake

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Red Velvet Cake

star rating (21) rate this recipe »
Published prior to 2008

This moist, mildly chocolate cake, much in demand from the 1940s through the 1960s, has had a resurgence in popularity in the past year or so. While most agree on the cake itself–yes, red food coloring is a key element–the frosting is another matter. Some say the traditional frosting was based on a cooked flour-and-water paste, to which sugar and butter are added. Some say only cream cheese frosting will do. Since this is such a ’50s cake, we’ve chosen to offer it with good old-fashioned buttercream icing, the type supermarket cakes are frosted with. If none of these three icing suggestions floats your boat, select your own favorite. The history of this burgundy-colored cake is “shrouded in the mists of time,” as they say. Urban legend has it that the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City charged a customer an outrageous fee when she requested the recipe, and she then typed it into a chain letter (for those of you younger readers, the years-ago equivalent of a mass e-mail), and shared it with a wide audience. Like the $250 Neiman-Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe, there’s no truth to this, though it does seem to make the rounds repeatedly.

1/2 cup (4 ounces, 8 tablespoons) butter
1 1/3 cups (9 3/8 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon gel paste red food color; or 1/4 cup (2 ounces) liquid red food color; or 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Red Velvet Cake Flavor
3 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) Dutch-process cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 1/4 cups (9 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk or low-fat plain (not Greek) yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour two 8" round cake pans. Or lightly grease the pans, line the bottom with parchment rounds, and lightly grease the parchment, too.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar till smooth, then add the eggs one at a time, again beating till smooth. Stir in the food color, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and vinegar. Gently beat in the flour alternately with the buttermilk or yogurt, beginning and ending with the flour. The point is to keep the mixture smooth, which is more easily accomplished if you add the flour and yogurt in portions. Scoop the stiff batter into the pans; wet your fingers, and spread it to cover the bottom of the pans, smoothing the top a bit in the process.

Bake the cakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops feel set and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool for 10 minutes before turning them out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, slice each layer horizontally, to make a total of four layers. Spread each layer with icing, stacking them as you go. We like to show off the lovely contrasting colors of this cake by frosting only the top, not the sides.

Quick Buttercream Frosting
As much as you may eschew using shortening, it’s critical here, as it prevents the frosting from becoming unpleasantly soft in warm weather.

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) non-trans-fat vegetable shortening*
a scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) meringue powder (optional, for a smoother icing that holds its shape a bit better)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon cream cheese flavor
6 cups (24 ounces) confectioners' sugar or glazing sugar
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) milk, or enough to make a spreadable frosting

*Or substitute an additional 1/2 cup butter for the shortening.

Cream together the butter and shortening until fluffy, or beat the butter until fluffy. Beat in the salt, meringue powder, and vanilla. Add the confectioners' or glazing sugar and 3 tablespoons milk, and beat well.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Adjust the consistency of the frosting as needed by adding more sugar or milk. If you're not going to use the frosting right away, keep it at room temperature, covered, to prevent it from developing a crust. Yield: 5 cups frosting.


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  • star rating 11/26/2014
  • Annie from University Place, WA
  • Just made this recipe and baked it in the mini bundt pan from KAF. I topped the baby bundts with piped cream cheese frosting. They are the cutest things ever! And of course, they are yummy! Everybody loves them because they are fun and delicious. The recipe made 24 baby bundts. I cooked them for about 10 minutes in a 350 degree convection oven.
  • 09/27/2014
  • JT from Washington State
  • I love looking at your website! And once again, a relative has a birthday coming up and I'm in charge of the cake. I dislike decorating cakes. What changes would you suggest if I want to turn this into either a sheet cake (13X9 pan) or bundt cake (Nordic Ware's Anniversary pan)? Thanks for making another birthday a special occassion.
    This recipe should fit fine in a 9x13 pan as is. It will bake for about 30-35 minutes at 350. Jon@KAF
  • star rating 05/05/2014
  • rdekoch from KAF Community
  • This recipes is awesome. It's just like the cake my mom made in Texas in the 60s. It's delicious and just like mom. No cake flour needed, not too much cocoa and a slightly tangy buttermilk taste. I love that the included icing recipe isn't cream cheese. The buttercream is a bit too sweet but it's easier than the cooked icing my mom made. Don't get me wrong, I love big city red velvet cakes, too but this makes me feel like a kid again!
  • star rating 03/02/2014
  • Linda from Oakland, CA
  • star rating 02/14/2014
  • Danielle from New Orleans
  • Cake was a hit with my family and it was easy to prepare. I did it with a cream cheese frosting because to me that is the only acceptable frosting for red velvet cake and I used half white whole wheat flour. It was delicious.
  • star rating 02/08/2014
  • neftman17280 from KAF Community
  • I have made this cake twice, and there is no way one could turn it into a four layer cake...the two that I baked, both times, were way too flat. I followed the recipe to a "T", and used King Arthur Cake Enhancer, and wrapped the outside of the layer pans in velcro straps.
    Sorry to hear about the trouble with the layers. We're happy to help troubleshoot, just give us a call. ~ MJ
  • star rating 10/03/2013
  • Audree from KAF Community
  • The cake tasted great! I used 1oz semisweet chocolate instead of the cocoa and added a tablespoon of oil like some of the other reviewers suggested. I made a cream cheese frosting instead of the buttercream they suggested and it tasted amazing! Thanks for the recipe.
  • star rating 07/10/2013
  • Beth from Norfolk
  • The flavor is amazing! This was my first time ever making a red velvet cake and I used the emulsion and added a few tablespoons of oil to help with the moisture. I baked this in a 9x13 pan and would like to note that 18-20mins is the time needed...the edges were dry at 25 mins. I hope this is a hit for the Birthday tonight.
  • star rating 11/22/2012
  • DonnaTurner from Holly Springs, NC
  • Overall, this cake was very good. I used Red Velvet Bakery Emulsion instead of the food coloring, and added a small amount of espresso powder to the cocoa. The cake was very moist and tasted great. Only negative was that it was a tad too dense for my liking.
  • star rating 04/15/2012
  • jadeskiss83 from KAF Community
  • This is a good old fashioned red velvet cake recipe. Followed the recipe with the exception of using sifted cake flour, added one tsp of vanilla, and one tablespoon of oil for moistness. Oh, and reduced the red coloring to one ounce. All around good recipe.
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