Guilty Pleasures: Red Velvet Cake

I wanted to make a special dessert for Valentine’s Day.  Considering my current Texas surrounds, a proper tribute would surely require a Red Velvet Cake.

Admittedly, it took me a while to warm to the notion that a cake with only the slightest whisper of chocolate could be anything more than a shirt-tale relative to a chocolate cake.  But Southerners take their desserts seriously, and this one holds a soft spot in their collective hearts.

There is considerable legend and myth surrounding the origins of Red Velvet Cake but many of them lead back to the 1920’s and to New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the highest fount of its acclaim.  In the 70’s when red food coloring fell out of fashion, so did this cake―since a whopping amount of red dye is required to create the chocolate allure.  Truth be known, there is very little chocolate in this dessert; only a smidgen of cocoa is included.

At first you might think that the lack of chocolate would make this cake less fattening, but that is hardly the case.  Instead, we begin by whipping a very generous quantity of oil (1½cups) and 1½ cups granulated sugar together.  The addition of cake flour, baking soda, and buttermilk―along with some serious beating― all aid in providing texture and rising capacity to the layers.  In fact, the cake layers are so generous that each can be sliced in half when cool.IMG_1241 sliced red velvet

The recipe here is from Martha Stewart’s Cakes cookbook, but it comes by way of an on-line challenge in the early days of the Daring Bakers, which attracted many of the best bakers on the web.  They continue to create great renditions of old favorites but have since established their own website, which is now by membership only.  If you are a serious baker, check out The Daring Kitchen.

When it comes to frosting a Red Velvet Cake, hard core Southerners would surely protest using anything except a cream cheese frosting, which can be found in any reliable cookbook.  However, curiosity got the best of me and I opted for this unusual frosting, also attributed to the Waldorf-Astoria.  It is just as quirky as the cake.  Begin by heating a base of flour and milk until thick.  Once is it cooled, butter and sugar are whipped until light and then added to the base, then whipped until fluffy.  It holds extremely well and somehow manages to taste just like whipped cream.

Because split layers will require additional frosting, I chose to go light on the frosting and to further embellish the Valentine’s spree with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a few lightly sweetened fresh strawberries.  The perfect finale.

Red Velvet Cake

From Martha Stewart’s Cakes cookbook


  •   2 1/2     cups cake flour
  •      1/4      cup cocoa powder
  •   1 1/2      tsp. baking soda
  •   1              tsp. salt
  •   1 1/2      cups granulated sugar
  •   1 1/2      cups flavorless oil
  •   2              large eggs
  •   2              tbsp. red food coloring (one 1-ounce bottle)
  •   1              tsp. pure vanilla extract
  •   1              cup buttermilk
  •   2              tsp. vinegar, white or apple cider


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.   Generously butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans.  Line and or sprinkle with flour, and tap out the excess. Set your pans aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together cake flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside your dry ingredients.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the sugar and oil on medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add food coloring and vanilla, and beat until well combined.  Add flour mixture, alternating with buttermilk, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add vinegar to batter, and beat for 10 seconds.
  4. Evenly divide the batter between your prepared pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from the pans, and return to the rack to cool completely.

Waldorf Astoria Frosting

  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar (I used confectioners’ sugar)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup butter
  1.  In small pan, slowly add milk to flour, to avoid lumps. Cook flour and milk until very thick, stirring constantly.  Cool completely.
  2. Cream sugar, butter and vanilla until fluffy.  Add to cooked mixture.  Beat, high speed, until very fluffy.

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