Red Velvet Taste Testing

Red velvet cake certainly does invite a lot of curiosity. Considering that I don't really write about recipes too much, I find it ironic that the one cake that I find kind of repulsive because of the food coloring is the one that I've written about the most.

Kristin of Fat Girl Cakes asked if I'd look at the red velvet recipe that she'd been using. It was from a Martha Stewart magazine or web page, which is the first mistake...Her recipes have a reputation for not working, to be nice about it.

Kristin said that the cake baked up fine then fell in the center every time. When I compared it to other red velvet recipes it was obvious that there was too much baking powder in it, which is a common cause of the center falling. It also had a huge amount of oil, which is supposedly what the Cakeman Raven recipe calls for, but compared to the other ingredients it would be way too much fat.

Comments on epicurious.com about other red velvet cakes that used that much oil were generally either "tastes great" to "way too oily." The other recipes that I was looking at only had 1/2 cup of fat, so 1 1/2 cup of oil seemed like overkill.

I didn't even bother to bake the MS recipe, since I could tell it would fall. I changed it and made a different version of it instead. 

The first recipe that I used was my red velvet recipe, which tends to be finicky. It has a nice flavor but it doesn't always have the right texture. It uses cake flour, and the two recipes that I was comparing it to both used AP flour. It also uses butter.

The second one that I looked at was the amended version of the MS recipe, with AP flour switched out for the self-rising flour, and 1 tsp each of baking soda and baking powder plus 1/2 tsp salt added in. I reduced the oil to 1/2 cup. Kristin says that the cake wasn't too oily with 1 1/2 cup, though, so I suppose you could reduce the oil to 1 cup to see if that works.

The third was Kris of Grandma Tillie's Bakery's recipe. Kris had sent me hers when I had told her that my red velvet was temperamental. She said that hers seemed to be no-fail, and that she used it to do carved cakes with great success. It used shortening instead of butter, AP flour instead of cake flour, and had 1/2 tsp salt more than the others did.

After the taste testing, for which I employed my kids (poor things, they suffer so), my recipe and Kris's recipe both took one vote for the best.

The main differences were that mine was a lot softer than Kris's, which used AP flour, and more of it, than mine did. Kris's was also denser. My daughter, who seems to be able to taste things that other people can't (she's impressed me with her tasting ability before) said that Kris's recipe "tastes like the ocean." I found that interesting since it was the recipe that had a tiny bit more salt in it than the others did. She liked the texture of Kris's cake best, and my son liked my recipe best.

Then my husband came home from work and made it a giant toss-up by liking the amended MS recipe the best.

After tasting all of them, I liked the flavor of the recipe that used cake flour and butter the best. The AP flour recipes had a nuttier flavor than I didn't like for red velvet. And since neither of them used butter, I guess that I preferred the flavor that the butter gives the cakes. I also preferred the lighter texture of the cake flour- based recipes over the heavier texture of the AP flour ones.

Taking the things that I liked about the flavor and textures of them all, I came up with the hybrid. It has a good flavor but is still softer than the AP flour versions.

So the hybrid recipe of all of them is this:

2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp red food color (most recipes call for 2 Tbsp, but I reduce it)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the liquid ingredients and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, starting and ending with the dry. Makes two full 7" rounds or two shorter 8" rounds.

Kris's recipe, which is denser, is as follows:

2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz red food color
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
 2 1/2 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350, grease two 9" rounds.

Make a paste of the red food color and cocoa, set aside.

Combine the buttermilk, salt and vanilla, set aside.

Cream the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then stir in the cocoa mixture.

Beat in the buttermilk alternately with the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated.

Stir together baking soda and vinegar, then gently fold into the batter.

Pour the batter into the pans and bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.


Thanks to Kris for letting me print her recipe, which would be good for carving shaped cakes since it's so dense!

My amended version of the MS recipe (and this one shouldn't fall in the center) is:

2 1/2 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 tsp red food color
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable oil, depending on your preference (I used 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs

Mix and bake using the same method as the hybrid recipe above.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA


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

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