Friday, May 8, 2009

'Authentic' Red Velvet Cake

This was my first big-time experiment. I was hosting a High Tea for my girlfriends for my birthday and decided now was the time to give this a go. I had been wanting to try it ever since Ouisa uttered those immortal words 'it looks like roadkill' in Steel Magnolia's.

I wanted to find the most authentic recipe I could so I did lots of googling and reading and funnily enough it seems every Southern mom or grandma has a version, all of which I have no doubt qualify as authentic. So, it was not as easy as I thought. I did find that most recipes purporting to be authentic used shortening, not butter so I decided to give such a recipe a go. I have to say that I think this does really make a difference, particularly to the texture.

The credit for this goes to RSteve from a professional chef forum - Chef Talk. Thank you, whereever you are! RSteve says to use shortening not butter, as butter has too much water content - this maybe why the texture is different from a normal chocolate/butter cake.

Red Velvet Cake
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (Copha is the closest in Australia - make sure its softened but not melted!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 1/2 cups sugar
60 grams red food coloring
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda sprinkled over 1 tbsp. vinegar

Prepare 2 x 23cm/9inch round tins. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.

Sift flour, salt & cocoa together. Add to the mix alternately with buttermilk. Beat after each addition.

Stir in baking soda and vinegar mixture. Add food colour (be careful here, I wasn't and you'd be amazed where red coloured cake mix can end up).

Bake for 30 minutes.

I actually made one large cake in a 20cm pan. Obviously I cooked it longer, but it still came out great. I used two of the little bottles of food colouring, which was still short but gave it good colour. An extra bottle would probably make it REALLY red, and good gels or powders would probably also make a more vibrant red. Regardless, I was happy with the redness factor for my first go. I cooled it in the tin and covered it overnight ready to be iced on the day.

Now, almost as conflicting as an authentic red velvet recipe, is what icing to use. Cream cheese is the consensus, but many Southeners claim a kind of boiled icing is the traditional type to use. Many also put a coating of pecan nuts on the finished cake as well. I felt the boiled icing was too much work, so opted for a cream cheese one. I used the recipe from the Crabapple Bakery cookbook.

I cut the cake in half and levelled the top - always a good idea, mainly because it gives the cook a chance to sample their efforts ;) . Here is what it looked like when I sliced it in half.

Nice swirled effect hey! Sorry about the bad lighting. So, a good layer of icing in the middle, place the second layer on and then ice with the remainder. I had tinted mine slightly, to look a bit girly, but here is the finished result

And upon digging in:

Yummmmmm!!! Don't expect your usual chocolate cake, the texture and flavour is different from anything else I have had before. Its chocolatey, but not a chocolate cake. It looked like it should be dry, but it was really quite moist. You NEED the cream cheese frosting, it cuts through the denseness of the cake and makes the experience complete.
I will be making this again.
Next up... the most perfect butter cake EVER


  1. Oh yes I remember that scene in Steel Magnolias! It was the first I ever heard of red velvet cake and started an obsession. This looks great!

  2. Thanks! Sounds like Steel Magnolia's has a lot to answer for...

  3. oooh yummy! I really really need to try this :)