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Red Velvet Cake

by Bethany (follow)
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We’ve all heard of the Red Velvet cake, but how much to do we really know about it?

One popular urban myth suggests that the cake first surfaced at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, and proliferated when the recipe was circulated by a curious customer who hadn’t a $350 bill when asking for the recipe.

red velvet cake
Image courtesy of Jeff Anderson @ Flickr

The truth is, the Red Velvet Cake was created by the food colouring company Adams Extracts during the Great Depression. During this time, there were severe food shortages and cuts to luxuries such as food colouring and extracts, so Adams Extracts devised a cake that used butter and food dye to create a cake with a brilliant scarlet hue. The recipe was handed out for free and caught on quickly to become one of the most popular cakes of the era.

So what exactly distinguishes this cake from its other chocolatey compatriots?

At first glance, you would think it’s the obvious red colour, and that is a fair assumption.

Even without adding the colouring options, the cake has a subtle red tinge. This is a result of chemical reactions from combining acidic vinegar, or buttermilk, with anthocyanins, a natural pigment found inside cocoa. However, because of the cocoa, the cake appears more brown than red, hence why colouring was included in the recipe.

Three-layered red velvet cake with strawberries, blueberries, and a cream cheese frosting.
Three-layered red velvet cake with blueberries, strawberries, and a cream cheese frosting.

The eye-catching scarlet is generally achieved through food dye. Beetroots have also been used as a substitute, but it produces an earthier, darker red, and serves to retain more moisture in the cake itself.

What really differentiates this “velvet” cake from “non-velvet” cakes is the texture. Velvet cakes are smooth and moist, and melt on the tongue, rather than light and fluffy like most other cakes. It contains cocoa, similar to the Devil’s Food Cake, but on a much lighter scale; and sports a cream cheese or roux frosting. Whichever angle you look from, Red Velvet Cakes cry luxury.

There are many different takes on the traditional Red Velvet Recipe, and it’s really up to the baker (or the taster) to decide which they prefer. You can go the traditional route with Adams’ Original Red Velvet Recipe, or try something a little more contemporary. Or maybe you’d like to try your hand at other velvet cakes of different colours and flavours. The choice is yours!

Which do you prefer?

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