Friday, January 22, 2010

Red Velvet Cake-What Is It?

I get a lot of people asking for red velvet cake, and it seems that a lot of bakers around here don't make it. This is understandable, because if you make cakes from mixes, which a lot of larger bakeries do, red velvet cake just isn't right.

Red velvet cake is a buttermilk cake, not really a chocolate cake. It has a little cocoa in it, but not enough to give it a chocolate flavor. The buttermilk is what gives it the distinctive flavor, which I can't even describe because it's unlike any other kind of cake. If you make it from a boxed mix it will probably have powdered buttermilk in it, which doesn't really give the same result as real buttermilk. It just won't be 100% "right."

However, even if you make it from scratch it might be a little "wrong" for one reason. The red color.

My assumption is that when red velvet cake was invented, whenever that was, they used a non-alkalized cocoa, which would have given the cake a reddish color. But only slightly red. (If someone knows something I don't and I'm wrong about this, feel free to correct me. I'm curious about it, actually.)

The way that you get the red color these days is to add an obscene amount of food coloring to the batter. The recipe that I use calls for two tablespoons of red food coloring. If I double the recipe that would be 4 Tbsp, which is a quarter cup of food coloring. That's a lot.

I tend to add less than I'm supposed to because this just seems more than a little nasty to me. You could, theoretically, make a blue velvet or a green velvet cake, it's not really anything other than the food coloring that gives it the color.

On the other hand, you could get the same flavor to the cake without adding any color at all. If you like the flavor but want to avoid the dyes, just have the cake made without the color. I'd be happy to do that, and I wouldn't even get creeped out when I mix the batter. Much nicer...

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

12 comments:

Amanda said...

Wikipedia seems to agree with you.

OFD Consulting LLC said...

Thanks for the insight- my yankee self had never even heard of it before I moved to VA. I now consider myself educated! :)

Valerie Dean said...

Just an FYI from experience.......Tyler wanted a "blue" velvet cake for his second birthday. So, using my grandmother's red velvet recipe (which I'm famous for!), I just subbed the blue coloring for the red. It was a disaster. Don't know if it was because of the buttermilk, vinegar, or whatever......I was left with a sickly shade of greenish blue that made the cake unappealing to everyone!

Kara said...

Ooh, yum, that sounds great, Valerie! Thanks for the warning. It might have been some kind of reaction betweent he color and the acids in the buttermilk, you're right. I've seen people do it before, so maybe different food colorings react differently? I don't know...Maybe I'll make up a batch tomorrow and put a bunch of different colors into it to see what happens.

Kara said...

I just spoke to Valerie and she said that it didn't rise right when she did it with the blue either, so it was probably the acids doing something with the food coloring. I'll report after I try it tomorrow. Red Velvet cake tends to be temperamental, so who knows...

Anonymous said...

Just be careful with blue or green... it can have interesting effects the next day, if you know what I mean.

Kelley Prather said...

I have the same issues with all of that food coloring. I had a client want to try a purple velvet and it turned this awful deep (almost black) shade of purple and all I could think is that there was some sort of chemical thing going on. Looked terrible!

Kara said...

Ha ha, I was thinking the same thing! Yuck.

Jamie said...

Red Velvet is a hot seller here! With caramel meringue BC filling....I don't know why, but it is ordered often! And I'm in love with anything that has buttermilk in it!

Kara said...

I love caramel meringue, I've never used it with the red velvet before, though. I usually pair it with banana cake. I'll try it with the red velvet, it sounds like it would be a good match.

Kara said...

Kelley- Maybe the food coloring is hit or miss, or maybe it has something to do with the balance of ingredients in each recipe, I don't know. I just get grossed out with the amount of color that it takes in the first place.

My 14-yr-old food-vacuum son just looked at the green velvet cake I made this morning and said he's afraid to eat it! If it turns him off, that's saying a lot, he'll eat anything!

BrynnCody said...

The amount of food coloring really freaks me out, too. I've never made a red velvet cake (as I'm new to this whole baking from scratch thing) but when I do, I'm going to us a recipe which includes beets to do the coloring. Healthier and a lot less chemicals.