Alright busy bakers, let's dive right into my ultimate guide to red velvet cake! I wanted to take a moment to explore the intriguing history and unique qualities of red velvet cake but also celebrate its connection to Juneteenth – a time to commemorate resilience, freedom, and unity.
As an African American woman, many of my foodie experiences have been grounded in my ancestors' heritage. I was really interested in learning about one of my most favorite desserts. Also, let's just be honest, everybody can't make THE red velvet cake. They can make it LOOK like red velvet, but when you bite into many versions of this classic treat, it's often dry, or the icing isn't quite right. Y'all know what I'm talking about. My task today is to make YOU the go-to person for the red velvet cake for years to come.
I've tested so many recipes, and I've found the one that hits on all levels with a few tweaks. I'll post the link to the original recipe so you can try it out can compare notes.
Alright, let's get ready to uncover the secrets of baking the perfect red velvet cake and discover what makes it truly special.
Unraveling the Mystery: The Origins and Significance of Red Velvet Cake, Rooted in Juneteenth History
Red velvet cake has a fascinating history, shrouded in mystery. Its origins trace back to the 19th century, and it gained popularity during times of celebration and joy. Interestingly, red velvet cake has a deep connection to Juneteenth – a day that honors the emancipation of enslaved African Americans (June 19, 1865). The red velvet cake's vibrant red color symbolizes power, sacrifice, and transformation, making it a fitting dessert for Juneteenth celebrations.
Essential Ingredients and Equipment:
The star ingredients include buttermilk, cocoa powder, vinegar, and red coloring. This is what creates the unique flavor profile that sets red velvet cake apart. Without these key items, it ain't red velvet cake. Our ancestors made this recipe with humble ingredients so you don't need anything to fancy. In fact, they would often achieve the red hue by using beetroot (which has its own distinct flavor). Now, I recommend using red gel food coloring and cocoa powder with a natural red hue to it. In terms of equipment, you'll need standard baking tools like mixing bowls, a whisk, and cake pans or muffin tins.
The Difference between Chocolate Cake and Red Velvet Cake
While both chocolate cake and red velvet cake share similarities, they also have distinct characteristics. Red velvet cake, with its subtle hint of cocoa, boasts a tanginess from buttermilk and vinegar that differentiates it from a traditional chocolate cake. What truly sets red velvet cake apart is its eye-catching red or reddish-brown color, which is achieved through the interaction between cocoa and the cake's acidic ingredients. This is honestly where people go wrong with red velvet cake- YOU DON'T FOLLOW THE RECIPE.
Baking is a science and in particular with the ratio to cocoa powder, which, if you add too much, can dry out your cake AND if you add the wrong type of cocoa powder, it can react in a weird way with the other acids in your ingredients (buttermilk, vinegar, and baking soda). This can make your cake dense and not the light, moist yuuuum cake you are craving again and again. Bottom line, stick to the recipe and you'll be almost guaranteed success.
Mastering the Perfect Red Velvet Cake Recipe
Hands down the best version of this recipe I have found on the internet is from Divas Can Cook Blog. You can check out her full recipe there. I made her recipe and found it to be simply delightful. I made a few small modifications to the recipe, which you'll see in my version here, including changing the type of cocoa powder and decreasing the amount of sugar in the icing (don't worry, it's the perfect balance of sweet but not too sweet).
Here are my biggest tips are:
- Make sure your eggs and buttermilk are at room temp.
- Make sure you have an oven thermometer so you know the temperature of your oven and adjust it accordingly
- Always check your cake/cupcakes about 5 min before the time in the recipe so you don't overbake them.
- Don't overmix your batter.
Cream Cheese Frosting: The Ideal Companion
No red velvet cake is complete without its perfect partner – cream cheese frosting. The tangy cream cheese beautifully complements the subtle cocoa flavor of the cake, creating a harmonious and indulgent combination. The icing is simple cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. I've adjusted the recipe to put a little bit less powder sugar in a smaller quantity. You can also double the recipe if you need to or decrease the powdered sugar even more; just add a little less butter to maintain the structure.
What Makes Red Velvet Cake Special
Red velvet cake holds a special place in my heart. Its velvety texture, the balance of flavors, and the striking red hue make it a standout dessert. But red velvet cake goes beyond its visual appeal. It carries cultural and emotional significance, representing celebrations and the resilience of individuals who have fought for freedom throughout history. Baking and savoring a red velvet cake is a way to honor and remember those moments and individuals.
Tips for Storing and Serving
Once a red velvet cake has been iced, it can typically remain at room temperature for a short period, usually around 2 to 3 hours. Cream cheese frosting, which is commonly used to frost red velvet cake, contains perishable ingredients like cream cheese and butter. Therefore, it is important to take proper precautions to ensure food safety. Basically, take your precious cake out when it's time to come to room temp, but don't let it sit outside for the entire event. Keeping it covered also keeps it moist. No one wants dry red velvet cake.
Red velvet cake can be refrigerated for up to 4 to 5 days without compromising its quality. Just ensure that it is brought back to room temperature before serving to enjoy its full flavor and texture.
Alternatively, if you need to extend the storage period, you can freeze the red velvet cake without the frosting. Wrap the individual cake layers tightly in plastic wrap and place them in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. The cake can be frozen for up to 2 to 3 months. Thaw the frozen cake in the refrigerator overnight before bringing it to room temperature and serving.
Remember, frosting and decorations are best added closer to the serving time, so it's advisable to prepare and add them just before serving the red velvet cake for the freshest presentation.
So there you have it. You are now the red velvet expert. Try my recipe, and let me know in the comments what your family and friends think!
The Best Red Velvet Cupcakes
The recipe is modified from the Divas Can Cook Recipe which is amazing. I made a few adjustments for cupcakes since I make things to share easily with others. Changing up the type of cocoa powder may seem minor but it made a big difference in the texture of the cake along with the color and decreasing the quantity, and of icing and amount of powdered sugar was an adjustment that works well if you want a sweet but not too sweet icing. It gives the cream cheese a bit of a lemon hint it even though there is no lemon in it. This is a recipe you'll make for years to come.
1cup (144g) all-purpose flour
1 cup (200g) granulated white sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon unsweetened, rouge cocoa powder
½ cup vegetable oil or canola
1 large egg (54g) (room temp)
½ cup of buttermilk (room temp)
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3-6 teaspoons (½ to 1 oz) red food coloring (gel) more or less depending on the shade of red you want.
¼ cup plain hot coffee, fresh brewed
½ teaspoon white distilled vinegar
2 (8oz packages) of room temperature, softened cream cheese
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temp
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1 ½ cups of powdered sugar
Cream Cheese Frosting
Baking the cupcakes
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Line your muffin tins with cupcake liners or baking cups. Set aside
In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients flour, Sugar, baking soda, baking powder, rouge cocoa powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate large bowl combine your wet ingredients, vegetable oil, buttermilk, vanilla, egg, red food coloring (1 teaspoon at a time) until desired color
Stir in the coffee and white vinegar
Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing after each addition, just until combined. (Batter will be thin)
Use an ice cream scoop and the batter evenly into your cupcake liners-no more than ¾ full
Bake in the middle rack for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not overbake as the cake will continue to cook as it cools. Check your cupcakes at 12 minutes for doneness.
Take your cupcakes out of the muffin tin within 2-3 min of removing them from the oven as they will continue to cook if you don’t.
Pipe Frosting when completely cooled or store in ziplock back until ready to use.
Cream Cheese Frosting
In a large bowl cream together cream cheese and butter and vanilla with a hand or stand mixer
Gradually mix in powdered sugar.½ cup at a time until desired sweetness.
Place frosting in a large piping bag with the desired tip. Let frosting set in the fridge for a few hours to firm up if needed.
Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Will need to let it come to slightly cooler than room temperature to manipulate and/or pipe easily.
Pro tip: You can always add coloring you can't take it away so add one teaspoon of red gel food coloring at a time and stop when you like the color. Too much red food coloring can alter the taste of the recipe.
Pro Tip: Make sure you use a neutral oil that is not expired or rancid. This recipe has oil in that if it is not a good quality oil you can taste it in your final product-which can be unpleasant. So give your oil a quick smell test before you use it.