Red velvet cake is as much a Southern tradition as fried chicken, pot likker, and cornbread. So when the idea for red velvet “Valentine’s Day” cake came up, it was a given that we would be eating the cake at our weekly office lunch.
In our community, this three layer cake is traditionally topped with a cream cheese icing – although I have seen it with buttercream, chocolate, as well as with a combination cream cheese and chocolate icing. I prefer the subtle tang in the cream cheese version, with or without the commonly used addition of chopped pecans or shredded coconut. We’ve added an Alabama Chanin touch of homemade pink sprinkles in our Facets stencil pattern cut to fit perfectly over our cake.
We’ve made cakes before that were decorated with one of our stencils, including a pumpkin cheesecake dusted with cinnamon in our Climbing Daisy stencil and a layered ginger cake with powdered sugar in our Bloomers stencil pattern.
A local baker, Sugarbakers, made the cake and the sprinkles for us. At a recent holiday get together I overheard someone ask a family member, “Did you make this?” “Yes,” she answered, “I made the decision to dial the number to the right bakery.” (Think Dolly Parton’s voice from Steel Magnolias.)
The sprinkles recipe is clearly written and easy to follow. The homemade version of these decorations adds just a bit of sweetness to the finished dessert, sans preservatives and without tasting waxy or manufactured. I love this added touch of homemade for my finicky (sweet toothed) eater. Make extra to keep on hand for up-and-coming decorating projects.
There are really hundreds of recipes for Red Velvet cake, but try this recipe from Nancie McDermott of Chapel Hill, North Carolina on page 238-239 of The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook. It’s a good one. Tried and true.
“According to Nancie McDermott, the flavor of a red velvet cake is as important as the color. Everyone knows about the red food coloring, Nancie says, but that distinctive flavor owes to “the unusual combination of vinegar, buttermilk, and cocoa.”
Some folks argue that the original recipe was developed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. And they may be right. But by way of our penchant for velvet – think Scarlett’s green dress, think black-velvet Elvis – and our heavy hand with food coloring, we Southerners have made this recipe our own.”
Makes 1 nine-inch layer cake
2 1/2 c. All-purpose flour
1/2 t. Salt
1 t. Vanilla extract
1 c. Buttermilk
2 T. Cocoa
1 (1-ounce) bottle (2 T.) red food coloring
1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 c. Granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 t. Baking soda
1 T. Apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 T. (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 lb. 3 2/3 c. Confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 t. Vanilla extract
To make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350℉. Grease 2 nine-inch round cake pans generously and line them with parchment circles. Grease the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.
Stir together the flour and salt in a medium bowl with a fork; set aside. In a separate small bowl, stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. In another small bowl, combine the cocoa and the red food coloring and mash them together with a fork to make a thick, smooth paste.
Beat the butter in a large bowl with a mixer at low speed until creamy and soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat well for 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl now and then. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each one, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy, and smooth. Scrape the cocoa paste into the batter and beat to mix it in evenly.
Add about a third of the flour mixture and then about half of the buttermilk, beating the batter with a mixer at low speed and mixing only enough to make the flour or liquid disappear into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the buttermilk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.
In a separate small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar and stir well. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to quickly mix this last mixture into the red batter, folding it in gently by hand.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. Bake until the layers spring back when touched lightly in the center and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 15 minutes. Then turn them out onto the racks, remove the parchment circles, and turn the top sides up to cool completely.
To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter in a bowl with a mixer on medium speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until the frosting is fluffy and smooth, stopping once or twice to scrape down the bowl and mix everything well. Use at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
To assemble the cake: Place 1 layer, top side down, on a cake stand or a serving plate. Spread frosting on the layer. Place the second layer, top side up, on top. Frost the sides and then the top of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more to help the frosting set.