In recent decades, the name “red velvet cake” has been applied to almost any vaguely red cake. Many of these impostors taste nothing like the real thing. Below is my favorite version – it’s based on the most original old recipes I could find. A true, classic Red Velvet cake recipe, the way restaurants in the South used to make it.
Red Velvet cake should be lightly sweet and lightly chocolatey (so light 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 buttercream icing – by far my preference – or a cream cheese icing. If you’ve never tried a red velvet cake recipe with buttercream, you really should. Cream cheese dominates the cake’s flavor, in my humble opinion, while buttercream complements it.
You’ll be surprised that the recipe calls for beet juice. But the cake was invented before food coloring was, and you can certainly use food coloring instead. The beet juice doesn’t add flavor to the cake – just sweetness. Much of your grocery store sugar is made from beets in the US.
Red Velvet Cake Recipe
My preference for a Red Velvet cake recipe is a single-layer. First, it tastes better. Layers need too much icing, and even buttercream icing overwhelms the delicate cake flavors when you use that much. Second, I’m lazy, and it’s easier. While most people think you need to be fancy and make a layer cake, classy old-school Southern restaurants know: a single layer red velvet cake is fabulous.
But you can make this recipe in layers if you want. Just repeat the steps for each layer.
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.
The Buttercream Icing
- 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.