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By Bake Club


Don’t be fooled by bright red cakes with a slapped-on label that reads ‘red velvet cake’ – it doesn’t just take a dash of red food colouring to make a red velvet cake! A proper red velvet cake tastes as decadent as it sounds, the cocoa undertones against the cream cheese frosting is divine. For a true experience I would always recommend buying red velvet cake from a reputable bakery, because there really is no taste like it when done properly.

Red velvet cake has almost become a brand in its own right. You can buy red velvet cake candles, body wash, perfume, soap, lip balm as well as the more edible red velvet cookies, Oreos, cupcakes, donuts, pop tarts and, obviously, actual red velvet cakes. In New York there is even a bakery that sells red velvet encrusted chicken, but even we think that’s a step too far – have your chicken first and then have red velvet for dessert, we say!

There are many different types of velvet cake that date back to the 19th century, including lemon velvet cake. The cake is so named because of its unique texture, created from the reaction between its ingredients: buttermilk and baking soda/vinegar. The cake known as the ‘red velvet cake’ didn’t originally include food colouring. Instead the name was derived from the ‘red sugar,’ which was the name for brown sugar back then, and the fact that when the cocoa powder and buttermilk mixed together the batter had a reddish hue. Nowadays, cocoa powder is usually treated with an alkalizing agent to modify its colour and mute its flavour, a procedure known as Dutch process. This means that most cocoa powder doesn’t give off the same reddish tinge desired for a red velvet cake. The cake is typically topped with roux or ermine icing, which is light and fluffy but quite time-consuming to make. Instead, cream cheese frosting is often used for ease and tastes just as good.

In the 1920s red velvet cake was served at the fashionable Waldorf Astoria in New York, which claims to be part of the reason for its popularity. The Waldorf Astoria’s restaurant served red velvet cake that had been coloured with beetroot juice, a common ingredient used during the war to add colour and moisture to cakes. Adams Extract Company is credited with bringing the ‘red’ to red velvet cake. During the Great Depression, after dining at the Waldorf Astoria and tucking into a not-so-red red velvet cake, Mr Adams had a light-bulb moment: red food colou ring. The red food colouring could add oomph to the cakes’ colour and also make him quite a lot of money. The Adams’ went door-to-door selling red food colouring and gave out ‘original’ red velvet recipes, which were essentially old red velvet recipes with a splash of red dye. Despite its gimmicky introduction into the popular culture hemisphere, red velvet cake can be made without red food colouring – although we believe it adds a little something extra! You can buy untreated cocoa powder as well, for a completely authentic feel.

Red velvet cake is an extremely popular flavour and is always appreciated at Bake Club HQ. It has become a tradition to buy a luxurious red velvet cake from Hummingbird Bakery for a very important Bake Club HQ member, Caroline’s, birthday. You can click here to watch the vlog and read the interview with the lovely Hummingbird Bakery. 

Find out how to make a red velvet cake for Valentine’s Day here. Share your own red velvet cakes with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.