Sometimes it is hard to trace a recipe’s origin. Take the Red Velvet Cake. There are many theories; some say it comes from the South, others say it originated in the North. But in actual fact all we really know is that it has been a favorite for decades, not only in the States but also in Canada (it used to be sold in Eaton’s Department Stores). It is a very dramatic looking cake with its unusual bright red color that is sharply contrasted by a creamy white frosting. A Red Velvet Cake is really a Devil’s Food Cake that has red food coloring added to it. John Mariani tells us in his book “The Dictionary of American Food and Drink” that the name ‘Devil’s Food Cake’ is so called “because it is supposedly so rich and delicious that it must, to a moralist, be somewhat sinful.”
If we look beyond the striking appearance of this cake, we will find that it has a mild chocolate flavor with a moist and tender crumb. The mild chocolate flavor comes from adding a small amount of cocoa powder to the batter and the moist and tender crumb is obtained by adding buttermilk. If you are not familiar with buttermilk it has a nice thick creamy texture with a rich tangy buttery taste that makes baked goods tender. Whereas in the past buttermilk was made from the liquid left over after churning butter, it is now commercially made by adding a bacteria to whole, skim, or low fat milk. You can make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of white distilled vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice to 1 cup (240 ml) of milk. Let this mixture stand 5 to 10 minutes before using. Once the cake layers have been baked and cooled, I find it is best to place them in the refrigerator or freezer (for at least an hour) before frosting. This extra step makes the spreading of the frosting a much easier task as a freshly baked cake is quite fragile and when you try to spread the frosting there is a tendency for the cake to tear. Refrigerating or freezing the cake first eliminates this problem.
In fact, you may want to bake the cakes the day before you need them and then you can just place the cakes in the fridge overnight to firm up. The type of frosting used on a Red Velvet Cake can vary. While I have used a Cream Cheese Frosting, other recipes often call for a 7-Minute Frosting or even a White Confectioners Frosting. Recently I found a new cream cheese frosting that I like very much and I have included it here. It still uses cream cheese but it also contains mascarpone cheese, which is an Italian cheese that is thick, buttery-rich, delicately sweet and velvety, ivory-colored cheese produced from cow’s milk. Its texture is similar to that of sour cream. It is sold in plastic 8-ounce tubs and you can usually find it in specialty food stores or look in the deli section of your local grocery store. If you cannot find Mascarpone just use regular cream cheese instead. Besides the cream cheese and mascarpone, this frosting also contains whipped cream so you end up with a flavorful, soft and creamy frosting. The frosting recipe is adapted from ‘The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook’ by John Doherty.
Red Velvet Cake:
2 1/2 cups (250 grams) sifted cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk
2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 1/2 (360 ml) cups heavy whipping cream
1 – 8 ounce (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1 – 8 ounce (227 grams) tub of Mascarpone cheese, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (115 grams) confectioners’ (icing or powdered) sugar, sifted
Red Velvet Cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Butter two – 9 inch (23 cm) round cake pans and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside.
In bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter until soft (about 1-2 minutes). Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
In a measuring cup whisk the buttermilk with the red food coloring. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour.
In a small cup combine the vinegar and baking soda. Allow the mixture to fizz and then quickly fold into the cake batter.
Working quickly, divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, lifting off the pan. Once the cakes have completely cooled, wrap in plastic and place the cake layers in the freezer for at least an hour. (This is done to make filling and frosting the cakes easier.)
Cream Cheese Frosting: