One of my favorite birthday traditions practiced by my mother that I have carried on with my children is the birthday dinner request. Usually this means that the person having a birthday may choose their favorite meal on their birthday. Some years I requested crabmeat casserole. Other years it was homemade fried chicken or chicken tetrazzini. No matter what the meal was, I could count on a Doberge cake from Gambinos or a homemade red velvet cake. In fact, one year my mother was in the hospital for my birthday and could not bake a cake for me. She asked my aunt to bake it for me. Imagine my reaction when my aunt asked me if I cared if it was green velvet cake or red velvet cake because she had green food coloring but no red!
This red, chocolate concoction has been served at my house for as long as I can remember, but most of my friends were strangers to it until they ate it at my house. Red velvet cake was so unknown that I once served it at a dinner and someone asked if it was peppermint. When I explained that it was chocolate, the man did not believe me…until he saw everyone else enjoying it. When everyone else was almost finished, he decided to try it. He exclaimed, “This is chocolate!” as if it were some eureka moment. Yes, this cake is chocolate. So what if it’s red?
This cake has recently been blogged about quite a bit…and it seems that some are a little tired of the hype. Stella Parks, of Gilt Taste suggests that her experience with red velvet cake has been less than positive. So, she invented her own version. I want to try it but its such a family favorite that it would seem a sacrilege. Instead of red food coloring she uses red wine to add color to her cake. Now, that is one change I might be willing to try. Given my family’s affinity for red wine, they might even go for it.
I suspect that the groom’s cake from the film Steel Magnolias may have contributed to its identification with, “all things southern.” There are tons of posts all over the Internet with recipes for a, “bleeding armadillo” cake. I am in no way tempted to follow that yellow brick road.
The red velvet cake I grew up with did not have a cream cheese frosting like many of the recent red velvet cakes I have encountered. It had a cooked milk icing that was so buttery and sweet that I can still sometimes taste it when I think about it. To this day, I prefer the recipe that my mom has always made, although I will eat one with the cream cheese icing if it is offered.
Red velvet cake was such a tradition in our house that it became a part of the bedtime stories our father would spin for us. When I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time I would not go to bed for fear of the Wicked Witch of the West. So that I would go to sleep, my father told me a story to give me some courage. The story was so good that I, and later, my sisters would often request a, “Mean Old Witch” story before bed. As you might expect, the story ALWAYS began with:
“Once upon a time, there was a meeean oooold WITCH, and she lived in the deeeep, dark forest. One time, (insert name of listener here) was on her way to visit her Memere (our grandmother) in New Orleans and….”
The mean old witch would always try to get us and we would always foil her plan with red velvet cake and silver bells (Hershey’s kisses.)
So, at risk of contributing to the southern cliche, I feel that I must share this recipe because it has saved my life enumerable times and has been a part of my home life. After all, there is no place like home.
- 1/2 cup shortening
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 oz red food coloring
- 2 Tablespoons cocoa
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups flour sifted twice before measuring
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 Tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter and flour two 8-inch baking pans.
- In a medium bowl, cream together shortening and sugar with a mixer.
- Add eggs to batter.
- Put aside the above mixture.
- In a small bowl add the cocoa. Stir in the food coloring to make a paste.
- Add the cocoa/food coloring paste to the shortening mixture.
- In a separate bowl sift together flour and salt.
- Alternatively with the cup of buttermilk, add flour and salt mixture in small amounts to the red shortening/ egg mixture until the batter is thoroughly mixed.
- Dissolve 1 Tablespoon of baking soda with 1 Tablespoon of vinegar and fold in to batter. Make sure that the ingredients are well combined.
- Divide the batter between the two cake pans.
- Bake until done. (Around 35 minutes.)
- Allow the layers to cool before removing them from the cake pan. Spread frosting -- recipe to follow.
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- 2 sticks butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In the top of a double boiler add the flour.
- Whisk the milk into the flour.
- Cook the mixture over a double boiler until it thickens.
- Allow the milk/flour mixture to cool, being careful to stir it often so that it doesn't develop a film on top.
- In a medium bowl cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer until fluffy.
- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Add the cooled flour/milk mixture.
- Mix until of spreading consistency.
- Spread the icing on red velvet cake!