Exploring the Red Velvet

Before I even get into the Red Velvet cake, check out that logo! Isn't it great! Can you just see us conquering Meringue Mountain!

No, I'm not that kind of creative! The artist behind this amazing logo is Ximena, who's blog Lobstersquad, regularly has her picture on it! And we were so lucky that she did this for us!

You are amazing Ximena!

(and now back to our regularly scheduled cake.....)

The Red Velvet cake, a Southern tradition, a frugal housewife's staple recipe. It's a red chocolate cake. Nothing fancy there. Though the cake being red causes a few eye openers.

And it was this month's voted upon choice for the Daring Bakers.

I actually made two of them. Two completely different recipes, not just two cakes.

Like Morven, the first cake I made was provided by Peabody. (Morven has been kind enough to link to the history of the cake, so if you are curious, follow her link!) And like Morven, I did not use the nuts in the icing, though not because I can't get pecans or walnuts, but because those are among the nuts that are not allowed to enter my home (due to allergies.) I've never been a fan of nuts in my baking anyways, always picked the pecans off my pecan pie before I ate it.

The cake bakes up just fine, it is the icing that is a bit odd. I've never heard of a cream cheese icing that started by melting the cream cheese and butter together, so it's no surprise that despite reading the recipe five or six times, I still almost missed that part of the instructions.

I don't think I'd do it like that again though - my icing ended up being thin, which made it very difficult to spread on the cake and between the layers and a nightmare to try and smooth along the sides. And it didn't taste any different than a cream cheese icing where the ingredients are creamed together rather than melted. Oh well, live and learn!

I must say - that cake was red! And boring. I don't know what I expected, but I expected more. Interesting thing to note, however, was that in a mixed crowd of people trying it, all the men loved it. The women found it bland, nothing special. I wonder if it had to do with the level of chocolate flavor - all the women there like their chocolate, like it alot! This cake wasn't overwhelmingly anything, let alone chocolate, so we found it dull. Then men, they like their cake, but aren't as chocolate crazy as the rest of us. And they loved the cake!

One thing to note - if you have time, let this cake sit overnight. The chocolate flavor is much, much stronger (which isn't saying that much) the next day. Still not strong, but better.

So I made my cake a bit early, brought it to a friends party to serve. Thought I was done with the cake, with only my blog post to complete.

Then I learned that the Red Velvet cake had been a staple from my grandmother's kitchen, so much so that even my mother used to make it alot when I was a child. Well then why the heck did I make some other recipe!?!

My grandmother's recipe would be the frugal housewife's version, rather than the traditional Southern. There were no nuts in the ingredients list, it used Crisco as the fat in the cake, and instead of cream cheese and butter in the icing, it used flour and margarine. Yes, I said margarine and flour. And since my grandmother said that's what she did, those are what I used.

The frosting recipe called for 1 cup of milk, mixed with 5 tablespoons of flour, made into a paste and cooked until thick. Before I even got this far, I got an email from my mother (later confirmed by my grandmother) that she always used buttermilk in the frosting, to give it tang. Since the flour and milk were replacing cream cheese, that made sense to me, so I mixed them together, cooked them, and put them into mixer bowl to cool. Actually, I did this three times!

The first batch had a small error, called a human error. The one that happens when an ingredient misses being listed in the recipe. In this case it was the margarine. I mixed and I mixed that first batch and it just would not work! Well that happens when you are missing an ingredient! A quick phone call later and I was on to batch number two! (During that phone call, I also found out the transcribing had missed a full teaspoon of the red food coloring, so this cake is not nearly as red as the other one.)

The second batch worked much better, the thickened milk and flour, beaten together with the margarine, icing sugar and vanilla. It never did get fluffy, but it looked like an icing! And tasted like vanilla. Strong, strong vanilla. Oops. I used my new vanilla from Mexico, which is strong, and it overwhelmed the icing!

Let's try this again! And this time, remember this is the frugal housewife's cake, not the professional baker's cake. What frugal housewife would have anything else but artificial vanilla extract? I know that's what my grandmother always used.

Just to be sure, I did a taste test with my children, giving them each some of both icings. They loved them both, but they also agreed that the icing made with the pure vanilla was much sweeter, almost too sweet. So we used the last and final batch of icing!

This icing is not as smooth as the cream cheese, it almost looks like it has broken, and a full day in the fridge later and it still has not hardened or set. So it is a good thing that I did not make another 3 layered cake and try to frost the layers, top and sides, but instead went with my grandmother's bundt pan, which I inherited last summer.

I have to say, I have this magical, almost religious, belief that any recipe my grandmother gives me will turn out perfectly and taste amazing. This cake really tested me. Again, I didn't find it anything amazing, I actually barely touched my slice of it. However my children devoured it, offered to eat each other's pieces and looked sad when I put it away. I plan to deliver some to my neighbour today, so will have to wait and see what she thinks.

(My 4 year old just came and sat beside me as I type this, saw the picture and asked if he could have some again today. Oh and his stuffed monkey would like some too because she has never had a Red Velvet cake before and needs to try it, so two pieces please!)

And there you have it, two completely different Red Velvet cakes.

Be sure to check out all the Red Velvet Cakes made by my fellow Daring Baker's! Knowing the ladies, you are sure to see some amazing cakes, and have some great reading!

Red Velvet Cake
Serves 12 to 14

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp white vinegar
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 3 TBSP cocoa powder
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
5/8 ounce bottle red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350F
Cream the eggs, sugar, oil and vinegar
Sift the cake flour, baking soda, and cocoa together
Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients while beating
Slowly add the buttermilk
While still beating, add the vanilla and the food coloring
Pour into three 8-inch layer pans and bake for about 25 minutes
(I used 9" pans and they only took 15 minutes each)
Press lightly; if the layers are spongy, then the cake is done

Frost the cooled layers, assemble and frost the top and sides

Red Velvet Cake Frosting
1 (8 ounce/250g) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (125g)
1 (1 pound/500g) box confectioners sugar
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream cheese and butter and melt over very low heat
Add the sugar, pecans and vanilla and mix well
If the frosting becomes too thick, add a little milk
Frost one 8-inch or 9-inch layer cake.

My Grandmother's Red Velvet Cake (this is how she read it to me, from her handwritten copy)

Waldorf Red Velvet Cake

½ cup Crisco shortening
1 ½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
3 tsp red colouring
¼ cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 ½ cups sifted cake flour
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp baking soda

Bake in 2 pans 8X8 @ 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes


1 cup of milk/buttermilk
5 tbsp flour—make paste
Cook until real thick—cool real cool
½ cup margarine
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Beat until fluffy


Anonymous said...

You made two velvet cakes, Jenny. Wow. I like how your were very tenacious in getting your grandmother's recipe right. I think baking from family traditions is very heartwarming and personal.

Anonymous said...

I think the top one especially looks amazing! Think it is so great that you tried out your grandmother's recipe - I always love doing family recipes, but am sometimes a bit shocked by the ingredients they list... my grandma did a lot of baking using potatoes :-(...

Helene said...

I am glad I am not the only one who tried 2 recipes!
They both look great and I am really happy you decided to share your grandmother's recipe. Passing things like this from generation to generation makes me feel good...

Brilynn said...

I can't believe you made 2 of them! And 3 batches of icing! You've got patience.

Alpineberry Mary said...

Great job Jenny! You're a real trooper to make 2 cakes and multiple batches of icing. Recipes from grandmothers always have the secret ingredients of nostalgia and love.

Anonymous said...


What an interesting journey you took on the road to the Red Velvet Cake! I loved reading about your experience trying your grandmother's cake, even though it sounds like you experienced some issues.

I think your cake looks wonderful and I think that the perspective your children have is a good one. Sometimes we are too critical of ourselves.

Well done!

Lis said...

Did I miss something in DB comments? Is this the other cake you were talking about? Cuz I'm amazed you made 2! hehee

I gotta tell ya though, I really like the color of your Grandma's cake - it's quite pretty.

And you are way more patient that I am, honey. I would have whipped that bowl of frosting across my kitchen so fast!! lol

Both of your cakes look wonderful! Good job!


Lis said...

Did I miss something in DB comments? Is this the other cake you were talking about? Cuz I'm amazed you made 2! hehee

I gotta tell ya though, I really like the color of your Grandma's cake - it's quite pretty.

And you are way more patient that I am, honey. I would have whipped that bowl of frosting across my kitchen so fast!! lol

Both of your cakes look wonderful! Good job!


Cheryl said...

Well, you know when the stuffed monkey wants it, you have hit the big time. I love both. I am really gonna have to try this.

Morven said...

The top cake looks spectacular and I'm delighted to hear that you also made your grandmother's cake. Tradition is such a wonderful thing. To bad you didn't really care for the cakes.

Peabody said...

I'm surprised your icing was so thin. I didn't have that at all. Sorry about your grandma's recipe. It could be worse. You could of had my grandmother who can't cook at all.

Canadian Baker said...

Wow two cakes! You really are a Daring Baker - they look great!

Valentina said...

Oh, my God!that is serious baking. Well planned baking. I did make peabody's recipe this time - in the past I did make the Magnolia recipe - from their 1st book. Unfotunatelly it was a while ago and I do not remember much apart from the red colour. I have to say that this time I did get scared with how red my cake turned out. Unlike you I had pecan in the icing - had never had pecan in icing before, Loved it. I am a big fan of pecans mind you.

Elle said...

Both cakes look great, but the recipe from your grandmother has the benefit of family ties...and the stuffed monkey may even eat a piece. Hats off to you for keeping going with the 3 batches of icing. Wish that you had not been disappointed with the results. Sometimes the process is the only reward I guess.

breadchick said...

Wow! I love the story about your frugal housewife's red velvet cake (and the fact that your daughter's monkey needed a slice as well made it even better). I like the bundt pan version of your cake! I will have to try that next time I make one of these.

Unknown said...

Great looking cakes. I think it is so cute that your little one wanted cake for the doll as well! Hope he got to try some as well.

Anuhea said...

awww, your kids sound so cute! Don't worry, it looked yummy in the picture.

Pilar - Lechuza said...

Theese two red velvet cakes are looking very good indeed! The results are worth the effort.

Kisses from Spain