History of Red Velvet Cake – Theories and Facts

Posted on January 28, 2019 by Sweet Day Gourmet

Red Velvet Cake History

Born in America

Like many popular recipes, the real Red Velvet Cake’s origins aren’t 100% known. However the history of Red Velvet Cake can be somewhat traced back over the years, thanks to curious people researching some old recipes and cookbooks. Here’s what they found:

The traditional Red Velvet Cake and its original recipe are well known in the USA from the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, which is also known as the Waldorf-Astoria cake. However, it's been widely considered to be a Southern recipe.

The red velvet cake was traditionally iced with a French-style butter roux frosting (also called ermine icing). This frosting is light and fluffy, and extremely time-consuming to prepare. Cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting are mostly used today.

 Red Velvet Beginnings

Velvet cakes have been around since the Victorian Era in the 1800s. During that time velvet cakes were known as very fancy desserts. These recipes used high quality cocoa to soften the ingredients and thus make finer textured cakes. The smooth texture gave Velvet cakes their name; the term "velvet" was a description to let people know that the dessert was soft and velvety. By the early 1900s recipes began to pop up everywhere for cocoa velvet cakes, and other velvet cake variations.

So what happened that would turn a traditional Velvet cake into the popular, bright-colored Red Velvet Cake that we see today?

Red Velvet color theory Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Color Red Theories

  1. The addition of “red” to a chocolate cake emerged due to a chemical reaction of acid in an unsweetened chocolate bar, and non-alkalized cocoa powder when mixed with an acidic liquid like buttermilk with an alkali (baking soda), which creates a reddish color. However, the slightly reddish-dark brown hue is much different from the food coloring-enhanced red velvet that we see today.

  2. Some say that when items for baking (mainly butter and sugar) were rationed during World War II, bakers began adding beet juice to their cakes as a filler (plus it kept the cakes moist). The red color from the beet juice made the cakes seem more appealing, Some red velvet recipes actually call for beet juice, however there is no clear correlation between using beet juice and Red Velvet cake; just one theory on the cake’s color origins.

A Proper Red Velvet Cake

Red velvet cake should be moist, with a tender crumb and light texture. It should have a very slight tang, and not be overly sweet. The cocoa flavor should be vaguely present, but not obvious. An authentic version of Red Velvet cake should contain buttermilk, baking soda, vinegar, and, red food coloring. If you skimp on the food coloring it will result in a pink tint. The more cocoa you use, the browner the tint. If you don’t want to add red food coloring, then make a you can skip it, and simply make a delicious cocoa velvet cake.

If the Red Velvet cake is too difficult for you to perfect, you can try Sweet Day Gourmet Red Velvet Cupcake Mix. We guarantee that it won’t taste like a box mix. It may even be better than the original Waldorf-Astoria version!