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Retro Red Velvet Cake

A red velvet cake is a cake with a dark red, bright red or red-brown color. It is traditionally prepared as a layer cake with cream cheese or cooked roux icing. The reddish color is achieved by adding red food coloring.


Here are some facts about Red Velvet Cake you will find interesting!  A little known fact about Red Velvet Cake is, in the 1920’s, the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York put this much sought-after taste treat on its menu. Legend has it, the cake actually originated in the hotel’s kitchen. There have since emerged many variations to the recipe.  The “Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake” recipe contains shortening, white sugar, eggs, vanilla flavoring, butter flavoring, red food coloring, cocoa, sifted cake flour, buttermilk, salt, vinegar and soda. The frosting recipe calls for cooking flour, salt, milk, shortening, white sugar, vanilla flavoring and butter flavoring.

Mysterious Attraction

Why this mysterious attraction? Red velvet cake doesn’t appeal to chocoholics who say the light taste of cocoa — about two tablespoons per cake — doesn’t satisfy their cravings. And some purists dismiss red velvet because the only way to get that bright color is through one or two bottles of artificial coloring. Even some cake connoisseurs say the vanilla flavor is boring, and red velvet is loved only for its shocking good looks, and as a vehicle for enjoying cream cheese frosting.


Some people love red velvet, but others wonder what is it, exactly? Velvet cakes date back to the late 1800s, when there was a tendency to give “nice and smooth names” to things. Velvet had simply come to denote any cake with an especially fine crumb, while red referred to “reddish brown sugar”.

When the Adams Extract Company advertised its food coloring would produce the “reddest Red Velvet cake ever seen” and gave cooks a free recipe with every purchase, red velvet “became a sensation.” It’s the look of red velvet that really draws us to it. Now the red color, rather than a fine crumb, became the defining property of the velvet cake. Turning something bright red is fascinating.

Characteristics of the Cake

Beyond red velvet’s shocking color, the cake is usually extremely moist, as many recipes call for using buttermilk and vinegar. Those two unexpected ingredients react with the baking soda to create the cake’s fine, tender crumb. The vinegar — an acid — reacts with the baking soda — an alkaline — to release carbon dioxide gas in the form of bubbles that expand and cause the batter to rise in the pan while baking. In red velvet cake, the baking soda reacts with vinegar to expand the cake while it bakes in the oven, and generally there is no need for baking powder. Recipes may include both vinegar and another acidic liquid such as buttermilk or sour milk, or just the vinegar and baking soda. Likewise, some recipes may call for baking powder as well.


There are many variations to the Red Velvet Cake recipe. Some recipes contain cocoa, while others do not. Some recipes call for cream cheese frosting while others use a creamy white frosting. No matter which recipe you choose, you’re going to be instructed to add one or two, one-ounce bottles of red food coloring to the batter. (Of course, the cakes which contain two ounces of food coloring are going to be the reddest.)

Grabbing Attention

Bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores seduce us with red-colored cakes, cookies and ice cream, while food magazines and blogs lure us with recipes for cheesecakes, brownies, scones, crepes, pancakes and fudge. Using a simple red velvet batter makes all baked goods festive!

Home cooks love cakes with an unusual story or a “secret ingredient.” Wacky cake, tomato soup cake and mayonnaise cake are just a few of the unusual cakes we all have in our recipe files, so it’s no wonder we embraced the delicious and colorful red velvet cake.

Red velvet baked goods have “the wow” factor people are seeking. The red color and the contrasting white frosting, is what draws people. It works well for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, July 4th and just about any other holiday or special occasion. The color of love never looked–or tasted–so good.  Enjoy!


  • The Unknown History of Red Velvet Cake.
  • Wikipedia®,

Red Velvet Cake on plate with fork

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Extension Educator:
Vicki Hayman – (307) 746-3531

University of Wyoming Extension

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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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