70. Red Velvet Cake (Accept No Substitutes)

16 Feb

Photo by Sharyn Morrow
Flickr Creative Commons

It might surprise y’all that I’ve EVER met a cake I didn’t like, but it’s true. And before you call me a blasphemer and start extolling the virtues of this traditional Southern delicacy, allow me to explain:

I grew up eating a fair amount of red velvet cake, seeing as it turns up everywhere from church socials to meetings of the Local Heathens Society. (Yes, I just made that up, but it sounds like just the sort of group somebody ought to start.)

Barring the occasional groom’s cake, most red velvets I sampled were homemade, probably using somebody’s grandmother’s hand-me-down recipe. Or in a pinch, consulting the recipe book of the (name of town) First Baptist Church. (Yes, these actually exist. I’ll go into more detail in a future post, so stay tuned.) So for the first 24 years of my life I LOVED red velvet cake. Then I moved to Southern California, and later, Seattle.

I’m here to tell you that there is not one good red velvet cake to be found in either of those places, or anywhere in between. I reckon you probably won’t find decent red velvet cake west of Texas or north of Virginia, but I haven’t conducted scientific research. And don’t intend to.

Yummy? Probably.
Red Velvet? No.
Photo by awhiskandaspoon
Flickr Creative Commons

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. If so, someone ought to sic the folks with the white jacket on me, because I cannot resist trying red velvet cake whenever I encounter it here. And I am ALWAYS at best disappointed, at worst disgusted. Even when I purchase said cake from bakeries/cupcakeries I know and trust. This means you, Cupcake Royale (disappointed) and Macrina Bakery (disgusted. Couldn’t even finish Macrina’s version. And I have NEVER disposed of a half-eaten cupcake. To be fair, I had never before disposed of any half-eaten Macrina item. They make AWESOME cookies, cakes, breads, pastries, etc. Which is why I was so shocked at the quality, or lack thereof, of their red velvet cake.)

So I used my friend Linda’s Golden Globes/craft-making party as an excuse to attempt my own red velvet cupcakes. I spent a fair (ok, indecent) amount of time comparing recipes, trying to determine what might be wrong about Yankee velvet cake, so that I didn’t end up disappointing myself (or–as Southerners say–myOWNself).

After the cupcakes were baked and cooled and properly frosted, I tasted one. Hallelujah! I now know at least one place to get honest-to-goodness Southern red velvet cake in Seattle.

My ought-to-be-patented
recipe filing system

I used this recipe for the cake (But used 3 tablespoons of cocoa instead of the chintzy 1 teaspoon the recipe calls for. Actually, I probably used close to 4 T, adding a bit at a time till the batter tasted right.)

I frosted the cupcakes with:

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1 stick butter (softened)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ t salt

Directions: Use the mixing appliance of your choice to cream butter and cream cheese with powdered sugar. (On low at first so you don’t sugar coat the entire kitchen). When sugar is incorporated, switch mixer into high gear. If you are mixing by hand, stop. Go to your nearest mart store and pick up a hand mixer, already.

Add vanilla and beat until the frosting reaches your ideal spreading consistency. If too dry, add a splash of milk. If too wet, add more powdered sugar.

Finally, add salt and beat some more. (See why I told you to get yourself a mixer?) I add additional salt a pinch at a time till the frosting loses that hurt-your-teeth-sweet quality.

Frost and enjoy! Save the beaters and near-empty bowl for someone you love who loves to lick the frosting. You love yourself, right?

Sadly, I didn’t photograph my pretty, delicious cupcakes, as I was running late (shocker!). I guess I’ll have to bake them again…

Everyone enjoyed the cupcakes, and I was most impressed when my friend Julie (who’s from Texas and presumably knows red velvet cake) went for seconds.

I was picking up a sandwich the other night and noticed a fetching-looking red velvet cake (complete with Valentine’s themed heart on top). I’m happy to report that I was not lured in. Maybe I’m learning from my mistakes, after all.

Also, if you’d like a more in depth analysis on RVC, check out the taste test conducted by The Bake More blogger.

Do you have a go-to recipe for red velvet cake? Or know of a good place to buy a tasty premade one?

18 Responses to “70. Red Velvet Cake (Accept No Substitutes)”

  1. ♥Minh February 16, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    LOL I never noticed that “my own self” could be a Southernism. Do other people not say that? Sheesh! 🙂

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      people in seattle definitely do not!

  2. 2blu2btru February 16, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I’ve never had RVC. Since I’m allergic to chocolate (and we aren’t sure if it’s the cocoa or not), I can’t even try it. My BF loves it (his folks are from Alabama). My family loves it. People at work bring it for the office. It’s never, ever far. Too right you are about this one!

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

      oh, i can’t imagine how tortured i’d feel allergic to chocolate and confronted with RVC at every turn. that’s just not fair!!

      since the recipe i used only calls for 1 tsp of cocoa, you could probably leave it out and have a vanilla red velvet cake.

  3. lilzbear February 16, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I’ve never met a red velvet cake I didn’t like…but now I will try out this recipe to see what I’ve been missing!

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      i should have noted that while i almost always substitute butter for the oil in recipes, i used oil for the RVC. i think it makes the cake more moist.

  4. reneemason February 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm #


  5. delightfuleccentric February 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    (a) myOWNself. I don’t think I’ve ever used it myself, but I know the phrase (although I had forgotten it until I read it).
    (b) Personally, not a RVC fan.
    (c) I know you said it will be a future post, but I LOVELOVELOVE church/Junior League/community cookbooks. They are, by far, the best around. There’s a reason these recipes have been passed down generation to generation.

    • girloutofdixie February 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      i’m looking forward to doing a post about those cookbooks, because i love them, too!

      i spent far too much time as a child reading cookbooks. you would think that i might have actually learned to cook, but no. i prefer baking, seeing as i have difficulty with time management.

  6. Marla February 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    Red Velvet Cake is my cake of choice for my birthday. BUT, it must be made with a specific recipe, including a frosting recipe that does not include cream cheese!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

      Oh, yes, I forgot to mention the cream cheese vs. non-cream cheese frosting debate!

  7. Leslie Mackie February 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    I’m so sorry you had a bad Red velvet cup cake from us at Macrina Bakery. My guess is the frosting was off. That is a problem we have had a few times. Our red velvet is customer driven. I too don’t care for the lack of flavor and over the top color that many come to expect. I have been experimenting with natural red food coloring and powdered beets…but haven’t found the best solution yet. The cake comes out mauve in color. This article is just the motivation we need to crack the red velvet nut.

    Please come back and test our red velvet in a few weeks. From your description of favorite flavors, I think you will find ours a good old southern rendition!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

      Thanks for your note! Seeing as I usually love all things Macrina, I’ll be happy to try your new version of RVC!

  8. cupofkris February 21, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    It is also because we use a little bit of “Shortnin” when flouring the cake pans 🙂 helps in the baking process to provide a richer flavor this Care package list keeps getting longer haha!!

    • girloutofdixie February 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      At the risk of losing Dixie cred, I haven’t used shortening in years. I usually coat pans with butter, but have been known to use one of those aerosol spray cans in a pinch. But never the “butter-flavored” variety.


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