This is Mama Carmela’s cherished recipe for Red Velvet Cake with Heritage frosting. Perfection takes a bit of time, but this is an easy to follow, classic, Southern cake, made with love and tastes outrageous; well worth the little bit of extra effort! It is incredibly delicious with cream cheese or cooked heritage frosting—my choice and Mama’s too 🙂
A little history; James Beard’s 1972 reference, American Cookery, describes three red velvet cakes varying in the amounts of shortening and butter, also vegetable oil. All used red food coloring, but the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin in cocoa and keeps the cake moist, light and fluffy. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name “red velvet” as well as “Devil’s food” and similar names for chocolate cakes.
When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beet juices to enhance the color of their cakes. Beets are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture. Adams Extract, a Texas company, is credited with bringing the red velvet cake to kitchens across America during the time of the Great Depression by being one of the first to sell red food coloring and other flavor extracts with the use of point-of-sale posters and tear-off recipe cards. The cake and its original recipe are well known in the United States from New York City’s famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which has also given the cake the name Waldorf-Astoria cake. However, it is widely considered a Southern recipe. Traditionally, the cake is iced with a French-style butter roux icing (also called ermine or heritage icing), which is very light and fluffy but time-consuming to prepare. Cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting are variations which have increased in popularity.
In recent years, red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes have become increasingly popular in the US and many European countries. A resurgence in the popularity of this cake is attributed by some to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias which included a red velvet groom’s cake made in the shape of an armadillo. Remember the massacre cake cutting scene? Classic, just like this amazing cake. Serves: 12
½ cup butter, melted & cooled
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 ounces red food coloring
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ¼ cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three (8inch) cake pans with nonstick baking spray or by thoroughly greasing and flouring. Set aside.
- Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa powder and add to the mixture. Add salt and flour with buttermilk and vanilla. Alternately add soda and vinegar; Lightly blend, don’t beat
- Evenly distribute into cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool cake thoroughly before frosting.
Chef’s Notes: Freeze unfrosted cake layers for about 30 minutes to reduce crumbs while frosting. Also, apply a thin layer of frosting to semi-frosted cake, pop back in the freezer for another 30 minutes and apply finished frosting. Magic! And no little red dots in the creamy white frosting! 🙂
HERITAGE FROSTING RECIPE
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup butter or vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cook flour and milk on low heat until very, very thick. Cool completely before moving forward with the recipe. Cream sugar and butter and vanilla until fluffy. Add to completely cooled flour and milk mixture. Using a paddle attachment, mix on high speed with an electric mixer until the mixture is the consistency of whipped cream. Spread the frosting on completely cooled cakes or other desserts.
Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.