It is said that the red velvet cakes were first made during the World War II. At first, the color of the cake used to come from the cocoa powder which when used along with the buttermilk and baking soda used to give out a deep rich color. During this time, this cake was called cocoa velvet cakes, red cocoa cakes, etc. After a while, in one of the experiments, beetroot juice was added to the cake batter to bring out the red color. The Adam’s extract company and the Waldorf Astoria hotel are the two entities who claim to have made the first ever red velvet cake. Therefore, the red velvet cake is also known as Waldorf Astoria cake.
The first mention of red velvet cake in a cook book was in 1943 in “The Joy of Cooking” written by Irma S Rombauer. Although, the red velvet cakes have been around since 1900s, they came into prominence in past two decades. Suddenly, there has been a surge of demand for red velvet cakes and cupcakes in the baking market.
What is a Red Velvet Cake/Cupcake
In simple words, red velvet cake/cupcake is the vanilla sponge cakes with cocoa powder added to the flour. Also added are Apple Cider Vinegar, buttermilk, baking soda, and of course the red food color. Let’s see how all these ingredients play a role making that perfect red velvet cake.
Cocoa Powder – The cocoa powder gives that rich and intense chocolate flavor to the cake. Cocoa powder makes the cake nice and soft as the ingredients present in it breaks down the flour. Also, the natural cocoa powder although acidic, makes the cake flour flat. Therefore, whenever the recipe calls for cocoa powder, it is mixed with buttermilk and baking soda, which helps the cake flour rise.
Apple Cider Vinegar – In the initial days when beetroot juice was used to give red color to the cake, the cake color used to turn out blue due to the alkaline nature of beetroot juice. To counteract this, the beetroot juice was mixed with apple cider vinegar to make it acidic. These days, when we use food color instead of beetroot juice, we still use vinegar to make baking soda active and to make sure the cake is risen properly.
Buttermilk – Buttermilk provides the acidic base to help the baking soda (soda bi-carbonate) and vinegar react and make the red velvet cakes and cupcakes rise. The acidity in buttermilk tenderizes the gluten of the cake flour and provides soft texture to the cakes. Buttermilk also provides a soft tangy flavor to the cakes and cupcakes.
Baking Soda – Baking soda is a leavening agent and becomes active when mixed with acidic ingredients like buttermilk and vinegar. It’s purpose is to give the cake extra power to rise. Also, the red-velvet cake has cocoa powder which makes the batter soft and flat. To help the cake flour with cocoa powder rise, we add baking soda in combination with buttermilk and vinegar.
Red Food Color – My suggestion will be to use the gel or paste color for the red velvet cake. The gel or paste colors are highly concentrated and have corn syrup or glycerin base. They provide rich and vibrant color to the cakes or cupcakes. As the liquid color contains water, it may dilute the color concentrate and affect the end result. The powdered food color may react differently when mixed with cake batter and may not give the accurate red color of the red velvet cake.
I hope, now that you know all about the main ingredients of the red velvet cake, you will enjoy making your red velvet cake or cupcake even more.