My family is constantly working on the ultimate “purge.” Let me clarify, we clean out our closets monthly, donating what is not needed, and do our best to keep the house clutter free. I’d like to claim I’m “the best” at this task, and I think Brian would attest to that. No clutter – I do, however, own a ridiculous amount of kitchen “necessities,” an ungodly collection of clothing, and an uncertain number of shoes.
Anyway, as my mother was cleaning out things from her own kitchen cabinets, she came across her Grandma Rose’s Red Velvet Cake recipe – this would be my great grandmother’s recipe. She asked me if I’d like it (and a whole bunch of others) – and of course I screamed “YES!” (Well, actually this conversation took place over text messaging, but you understand my enthusiasm). I was thrilled to have a little bit of handwritten history coming my way and the challenge of a red velvet cake.
The Early Years Velvet cakes had been made since the 1800s. Recipes called for the use of cocoa to soften flour and make finer texture cakes. This smoother texture gave these cakes the name Velvet cakes. A Mahogany cake also was popular which incorporate cocoa and coffee (its cousin being Devil’s Food Cake). By the early 1900s recipes surfaced for cocoa velvet cakes, red cocoa cakes, and other variations. One of the most prominent mentions of Red Velvet cake came in 1943 in Irma S. Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking” (yes – the book that inspired Julia Child’s career). While Ms. Rombauer was not a fan and made note of this in her book, it was one of the first nationalized mentions of the Red Velvet cake. Food Rations During World War II When items ideal for baking (specifically sugar and butter) were rationed during World War II, some bakers began adding beets or beet juice to their cakes. This was done for a variety of reasons. The red from the beet juice made the cakes more appealing, and the beets also acted as a filler and kept the cakes moist. Some red velvet recipes do actually call for beets, but there is no clear correlation between beets and Red Velvet cake, but rather just one theory on the cake’s origins.Introduction to The American Diet The Adams Extract company attributes itself to making the “original” Red Velvet cake in the 1920s. Currently you can buy the mix from the company in its vintage packaging. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City also claims it is the birthplace of the Red Velvet cake, with it being a popular menu item in the 1950s. Some argue that the Red Velvet cake started in the south. While there is no one clear answer, we do know that something between the 1920s and the 1950s, Red Velvet became popularized in the United States.
I always wondered why the cake was red…now I know!
Of course, being me, I had to alter the recipe just a tad. I wanted a little more richness, stickiness, strawberry-ness, I suppose. So, I added a few layers of sweet strawberry preserves in between each cake layer. It turned out wonderfully well.
Oh, and I learned one more thing about myself during this Red Velvet process: I despise food coloring. It does not suit me nor my white kitchen well.
Red Velvet Strawberry Layer Cake
Red Cake: vegetable oil for the pans (and parchment paper) 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 cups sugar 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. fine salt 1/4 cup cocoa powder 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature 2 large eggs, at room temperature 2 Tbs. red food coloring (1 ounce) 1 tsp. white distilled vinegar 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup strawberry preserves
Cream Cheese Frosting* (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil and flour three 9 by 1 1/2-inch round cake pans.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.
Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.
Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.
Frost the cake: Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Slather about 1/2 of the strawberry preserves over the layer. Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer begin to frost the cake with the *Cream Cheese Frosting. You know the drill.
In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using.