8 essentials for authentic red velvet cake

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nicole Taylor did a segment on real Southern red velvet cake on her foodie radio show, Hot Grease. Nicole is a Southern girl, born and raised in Georgia, and she has some pretty strong opinions about authentic red velvet cake. She searched for the real thing in New York City and came to the stunning conclusion that red velvet here is just wrong, wrong, wrong!

Well, if the culinary capital of the nation can't get it right, does anyone north of the Mason-Dixon get it right? And what's getting lost in translation? What exactly goes into the quintessential red velvet cake?

Although red velvet cake has a mild chocolate flavor, it is not, by definition, a chocolate cake. Rather, it's a devil's food cake that's made with cocoa, white vinegar, baking soda, and buttermilk. The deep red color comes from red food dye, and the cake is traditionally iced in rich cream cheese frosting. Legend has it that the cake was actually born in the North, at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. But there's no question that regardless of its origins, it has become a Southern specialty.

Some bakers out there seem to think all they need is red batter and white frosting to make red velvet cake. Not so, says Nicole, who has eight rules for the truly authentic red velvet cake:

1. The cake must have some cocoa, but not too much because it is not a chocolate cake.

2. The cake must have red food coloring; beet juice does not add the right kind of red.

3. The cake must have cream cheese frosting.

4. There should be pecans. (This was news to me.)

5. You must use high-quality ingredients, including White Lily flour, a Southern specialty flour.

6. Precise measurements and meticulous attention to detail are key for this cake; therefore, it must be made in small, easy-to handle, family-sized batches. (Mass-produced batter just doesn't cut it. Sorry, large-scale bakeries.)

7. You must use a hand-held electric mixer, not a stand mixer: Larger machines can over-mix the batter, which sometimes prevents the cake from rising properly.

8. Red velvet cake batter needs vegetable oil, not butter or shortening. Oil yields a very moist cake.

I've looked around for a recipe and was thrilled to discover this one, which incorporates all eight essentials for the perfect red velvet cake.

Paula Deen's Red Velvet Cupcakes from Food Network

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • Chopped pecans and fresh raspberries or strawberries, for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Garnish with chopped pecans, fresh raspberry or strawberry, or sprinkles.

Have you found the perfect red velvet cake?

Image via bronclune/Flickr

Written by Adriana Velez for CafeMom's blog, The Stir.

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