When I say I love Red Velvet Cake, I feel like I need to be more specific because there are so many different recipes that what I’m thinking of may not be much like what comes to your mind. This is one of those recipes people have really corrupted over the years, calling almost any baked good with some red food coloring “red velvet.” Done right, this cake is a completely different experience than when it’s done wrong.
Red velvet cake should be lightly sweet and lightly chocolatey (so lightly that it’s hard to identify the cocoa flavor) and very moist. The icing should also be lightly sweet, not coated with coconut shavings or powdered sugar, with either a light buttery flavor or a slight tang from cream cheese (like carrot cake frosting).
Red Velvet Cake Recipe
I do a single-layer red velvet cake for two reasons. First, it tastes better. Layers need too much icing, and the sickening-sweet-rich icing overwhelms the delicate cake flavor. Second, I’m lazy, and it’s easier. While most people think you need to be fancy and so a layer cake, classy old-school Southern restaurants know: a single layer red velvet cake is fabulous.
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
- 1 cup (evaporated cane juice or plain white) sugar (use 1 1/2 cups if you’re using food coloring instead of beet juice – see below)
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened, unprocessed light cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 ounces beet juice (it doesn’t add a beet flavor, and it gives the cake a beautiful color, but if you prefer, you can use 2 ounces of red food coloring instead)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Make sure all your ingredients are room temperature before you start.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl.
- Mix the beet juice and cocoa powder together in a smaller bowl until it forms a thin, smooth paste.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy.
- Beat an egg in next, and then the other egg.
- Beat in the vanilla extract and the cocoa paste.
- Add a third of your flour mix to this mixture and beat it well.
- Beat in half the buttermilk, followed by another third of the flour mixture, and then the rest of the buttermilk.
- Finally, beat in the last third of the flour mixture.
- Mix vinegar and baking soda together in a small bowl (it’ll fizz, so don’t use too small a bowl).
- Add this vinegar mix to your cake batter and stir well.
- Pour the mixture into a cake pan and bake it for about 20 minutes. If you can pat the top and it springs back up, it’s done.
- Let it cool before frosting.
Note that all the sweetness in the cake is coming from a cup of sugar and some beet juice, and the icing – which is where a lot of recipes get too sweet – should be only lightly sweet.
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cook the flour and milk together over medium heat until the mixture thickens. While that cools, cream your butter and sugar until it gets fluffy. Combine that with the cooled flour mixture and add the vanilla extract.
That gives you a light, buttery icing instead of the usual cream cheese carrot cake icing a lot of people use (cream cheese distracts from the flavor of the cake).
Traditionally, you don’t decorate the cake in any way. You just have this pretty white smooth cake, and if you serve it to someone else, the red interior is a complete, delicious surprise. If you really want to add a sprinkle of something to it, I suggest cocoa powder. I would not add any sweetness to it. Some people add coconut shavings, but I think that clashes with the other flavors. Some people add nuts, and that works pretty well. But really, it’s best just as it is.