Sep 2, 2009

Red Velvety Birthdays

I just had a birthday and that got me thinking about Red Velvet Cake. Every year...for many grandpa made a Red Velvet Cake for my birthday. Even when I was away at college, grandpa made sure to have one for me when I came home. Red Velvet Cake is a popular cake in the South and is often saved for special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas). The origin of the cake is often debated. Some say the Red Velvet Cake has ties to the Waldorf Astoria (Google for the story...similar to the Mrs. Fields cookie story). But all good little Southerners know that this can’t possibly be true. The Red Velvet Cake is our cake.

Anyway, back to grandpa. My grandpa loved being the go-to guy. Need a lawn chair? Grandpa found one in someone’s trash and re-webbed it. Here you go. Need a kitchen garbage can? Grandpa knows how to make ‘em...with fancy scrolled cut outs too. My mom and all my aunts each have one. Need a street car replica? Well, good ole grandpa can make that too. He was a carpenter, by the way. And I’ve lost the street car that he made for me. I swear I left it behind when I moved, but my mom swears that it’s hers. Need a Red Velvet Cake? Grandpa’s got you covered. He’s got “the best red velvet cake you ever tasted.” That’s what he said about a lot of what he cooked. Hmmm...he may have stretched things a little.

But not about the cake. Grandpa’s Red Velvet Cake is the best I’ve ever tasted. Because it was my cake. He rarely made it except for my birthday. I was the only granddaughter for 18 years, so he spoiled me. With food. As was his way.

His version of Red Velvet Cake is moist and dense with a hint of cocoa. And deeply red. After he died, my grandma found his recipe for Red Velvet Cake and sent copies to me and my sister-in-law. So I can still have Red Velvet Cake on my birthday.

The trouble is, grandpa played when he cooked. He even played when he baked, not afraid to experiment, scoffing at exact measurements..."You don't need to do all that!" is what he would say. While the cake portion of this recipe is the real deal, I’ve had to resort to a different icing. Grandpa used a traditional cooked flour icing, or a roux icing. (See? You thought I was exaggerating. We use roux in everything here.) When I made the icing portion of grandpa’s recipe, I knew right away that he’d fiddled around with it and never wrote down what he did. It wasn’t quite the same. So, I just use a standard cream cheese icing, also an acceptable icing for Red Velvet Cake.

I like to eat this cake chilled...right out the icebox. It’s easier to cut that way too. Some swear by pecans either pressed into the sides or decorating the top of the cake. I can go either way on that...sides, top, none at all. I’m flexible. I do like the cake to be 3 layers. I think that’s fairly traditional and it’s what grandpa did.

The cake portion of the recipe is not in the format I prefer, but that's how grandpa wrote it.
Grandpa’s Red Velvet Cake
from Ms enPlace

Cream: ½ cup Crisco, 1½ cup sugar, and 2 eggs together for 4-5 minutes

Sift 3 times: 2 cups flour, 1 Tbsp Cocoa

Add flour mixture to creamed mixture along with 1 cup buttermilk

Then add 1 tsp vanilla extract and 2 oz. red food coloring

Beat well and fold in 1 tsp of Arm and Hammer baking soda dissolved in 1 Tbsp vinegar

Bake in 2 8 inch pans greased and floured at 350 for 30-40 minutes OR 3 8 inch pans for 20-25 minutes.

Cool on rack before frosting

Basic Buttercream Cream Cheese Icing
1 1/3 sticks softened butter
10 oz. softened cream cheese
1 lb powdered (confectioners) sugar
may need milk to thin
pecans, if desired

Place butter and cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Mix to break up any lumps. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth and creamy. If the icing is too thick, add a small amount of milk and mix well. continue adding milk, small amounts at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Frost cake and decorate with pecans, if desired.

Mise en place for the cake. Icing will come later.

Start by creaming the shortening, eggs, and sugar. Cream for 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

Sift flour and cocoa powder together 3 times. Trust me, do it thrice. There's still unincorporated cocoa powder after sifting once (2nd picture) and even after sifting twice (3rd picture).

Mix the flour mixture into the creamed mixture, along with the buttermilk. Oh, dang. I always grab a bowl that's too small.


Add the vanilla and red food coloring. Who do I have to kill for some red velvet cake?!!
By the way wipe up any spills right away. The food coloring may stain.

Now for the fun part. Dissolve 1 tsp baking soda in 1 T white vinegar. Good for making volcanoes, clearing out drains, and helping red velvet cakes rise. Now, don't fool around. Do this quickly. From here on out work as fast as possible to get the cake in the oven.

Quickly fold the vinegar mixture into the batter.

Quickly pour batter into 2 or 3 prepared round cake pans (greased and floured--or use cocoa powder).

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven. If using 2 pans, bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. For 3 pans, bake for about 20-25 minutes, or use the toothpick deal. Check out this color!

After the layers cool, make the icing and assemble. Here's the mise en place for the icing. This is double the amount of powdered sugar needed. Also, I add a little milk to thin out the icing, making it easier to spread. Pecans are optional.

I like to get the butter and cream cheese going before adding the powdered sugar.

Place one cake layer down and frost. Another layer down and frost that too.

Place the third layer on top and frost it. Frost the sides as well. Decorate with pecans if you'd like. They can be sprinkled over the top, pressed into the sides of the cake, or both. I think I would benefit from a cake decorating class.

And a photography class. My birthday wish? A cup of coffee. And my street car replica back.


  1. I loved reading this post! Happy Belated Birthday to you! Mine was on the 30th. No way the waldorf can get credit for Red Velvet cake. It is totally a southern stape and definitely delicious! Your cake looks very pretty and red : ) Great post, especially about your grandpa. Sounds like a great guy!!

  2. Thanks, Kim. Happy Birthday to you too...a little late! Grandpa had his moments of greatness ;)


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