Red Velvet Cake

I only know about red velvet cake because of Oprah. I know she LOVES it. I think she requested red velvet for her 50th birthday cake, and Paula Deen’s been on the Oprah show making it. I’d never tried it in my life. It’s huge in America’s South, and lots of people growing up in the South grew up with red velvet cake.

I’ve actually never seen red velvet cake in Singapore growing up, or in Australia. So I’ve always been really curious about what it tastes like. Initially, I was put off by the vivid red colour. I know it makes it beautifully eye catching, but that vivid red screams ‘artificial!’ to me. But, when my dear friend A rang me from a supermarket in Singapore a couple of weeks ago asking for some advice as she was planning to bake a red velvet cake for her sister’s 21st, my interest was re-ignited. After a really hilarious conversation about buttermilk not being butter mixed with milk, A reported that a bungle with measurements (weight vs. volume) resulted in a disappointing cake. And I got a brilliant idea- a baking date over Skype! Let me give you some background: A and I have known each other since we were 13. And she has provided me with many entertaining (for me) stories of her kitchen tragedies. But I love her to death, so I was looking forward to a giggly, girly, baking date (don’t you just LOVE Skype?) We didn’t get to do our baking date in the end, but I went ahead and made the red velvet anyway so that I could let A know how I went.

First of all, when I looked at the recipe, I nearly fainted when I did the measurement conversion for the red food colouring. I had bought 1 bottle of Queen red food colouring in the standard 20ml. And the recipe actually called for… wait for it…. over 400ml of food colouring!!! I nearly flipped… And refused to do anything of the sort, cos the concentration of food colouring does vary with brand. So, I decided to go ahead and use my instincts with the colouring. First, I mixed the cocoa powder with the food colouring. I think I ended up using about 10ml.

Adding the red cocoa mix to creamed butter and sugar makes it a lovely, brilliant red.

And you can continue to add drops of food colouring if you think the batter isn’t red enough. This is my final batter before I spooned the lush red mix into my cake tins. I just baked it all at once and then sliced into 3 layers after it was baked. If you have 2 or 3 tins of the same size, I think it’s a better idea to bake the layers separately rather than slicing them later because the cake is quite crumb-y, and as you will see in the later pictures, the crumbs got into the icing layers more than I would have liked.

Assemble the layers with the cream cheese frosting after the cake has cooled. I absolutely love cream cheese, and this particular frosting is much lighter and fluffier than my usual cream cheese frosting because of the butter. I added the sugar according to taste, and the flavour of the frosting is really delicious with the vanilla.

So you can see the crumbs getting into my layers :( This cake definitely needs to be crumb coated, cos the outside should be a pristine white, hiding the surprise scarlet brilliance underneath.

And when you cut it, surprise!! You can make 2, 3 or even 4 layers. I think at least 3 layers is the way to go to, as the contrasting white and red is just beautiful, and more layers just bring out the stark contrast even more. It’s very difficult to describe the taste of red velvet cake.  The texture of the dense-ish sponge is beautiful, with a hint of chocolately flavour and rounded off with the lush cream cheese. Whatever it is, it WORKS! My brother ate 1/4 of the cake in one sitting, and I definitely will make this again, once I source some natural red food colouring. I’m thinking of getting some beet colouring from a health food store, but if anyone has any other tried and tested suggestions, please let me know!

Red Velvet Cake

adapted from pinch my salt

2 ½  cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons dutch process cocoa powder (unsweetened)

2 oz. red food coloring (please play around with this- I used 10ml of liquid food colouring)

115g unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½  cups sugar

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (I always use a substitute: 1 tsp white vinegar to 1 cup milk, let stand for 5 min)

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans or three 8-inch round cake pans.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.  In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a paste without lumps; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste, scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go.  Add one third of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the buttermilk. Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.

4. Make sure you have cake pans buttered, floured, and nearby.  In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda.  Yes, it will fizz!  Add it to the cake batter and stir well to combine.  Working quickly, divide batter evenly between the cake pans and place them in a preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check early, cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

5. Cool the cakes in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. To remove the cakes from the pan, place a wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert, then gently lift the pan.  Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting. Frost with buttercream or cream cheese icing (recipe below).

Recipe Notes: * Wear an apron and be careful with the red food coloring to avoid staining something!  As you’re mixing the cake batter, use a spatula to scrape down the bowl frequently throughout the entire process.

Cream Cheese Frosting

500g cream cheese (2 packages), softened
115g unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch of salt

With an electric mixer, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Turn mixer to low speed and blend in powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract.  Turn mixer on high and beat until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.  If refrigerated, the frosting will need to be brought to room temperature before using (after frosting softens up, beat with mixer until smooth).

Recipe Notes: If you prefer a sweeter and/or stiffer frosting, more powdered sugar can be added (up to four cups). But remember, the more sugar you add, the less you’ll be able to taste the tangy cream cheese!

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  • A.

    Dear Honey,
    It says alot when a friend calls from another country seeking baking advice. You are THE go-to person on baking enquiries in my book. Honest. :)

    Though my cake did not look as awesome as yours (oh, I blame this on my questionable baking skills), it did taste fantastic so big THANK YOU again!

    I'll never mistake buttermilk for butter + milk ever again. ;)

  • betty

    oh i LOVE red velvet !

  • honeyandsoy

    This was the first red velvet we’ve ever tried, but we love it too!

  • honeyandsoy

    Hahahahaha I didn’t mean to publicly shame you! But if it means that it worked, then… :) Kidding!

  • Mariya

    this looks great! i love red velvet cake, thanks for sharing the recipe. Also I really like your blog, the pictures are simply amazing!

  • Vanillsa85

    Heylo, i remember reading in some magazines that they use beet juice or something. =)

  • Star Witch

    Could you use 2 9inch pans for this or two 8 inch pans?

  • Natasha 1990

    Hi, Just wondering if by powdered sugar you mean icing sugar? Or is this something completely different?