It’s no secret, we’ve got a big foodie crush on red velvet. Bakeries, restaurants and grocery stores seduce us with these deep-colored cakes, cookies and gelato, while food magazines and blogs lure us with recipes for brownies, crepes and fudge. (You’ll find one recipe below at left and several more at the end of this page.)
But this is a 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 a good pour 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. Dramatic and artificial — perhaps it’s no wonder red velvet has been called the Lady Gaga of layer cakes.
“A chocolate cake that’s red? A lot of people think it’s gimmicky,” admitted Megan Faulkner-Brown, owner of the local Sweet Tooth Fairy bakeshops, where thousands of red velvet cake bites will be sold for Valentine’s day.
“Some people love red velvet,” she said. But others wonder what is it, exactly?
Smooth history •Velvet cakes date back to the late 1800s, when there was a tendency to give “nice and smooth names” to things, wrote Stella Parks in The Unknown History of Red Velvet Cake, a 2011 essay published on giltaste.com.
“Velvet had simply come to denote any cake with an especially fine crumb, while red referred to “red sugar” or, in modern parlance, “brown sugar,’ ” according to the article. But when the Adams Extract Company — in a savvy bit of marketing — advertised that 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.”
Nostalgia is one reason for red velvet’s new-found popularity, said Vincent Esposito, the chef/owner of Spin Cafe in Heber City, who will serve customers red-velvet gelato on Feb. 14.
“People are sentimental,” he said. “I find that with a lot of foods. Chicken Parmesan, veal scallopini, stuff that my Dad made in his restaurant when I was a kid.”
It’s got the look • But let’s be honest, it’s the look of red velvet that really draws us to it. “Turning something bright red is fascinating and exciting and curious,” Esposito said.
Laura Powell, of the local RealMomKitchen.com blog and cookbook, say red-velvet baked goods have “the wow” factor that home cooks are seeking.
“The color of the cake and the contrasting white frosting, that’s what draws people in,” said Powell, who posted a different red-velvet treat recipe on her blog every day last week, including red-velvet fudge, red-velvet crepes and red-velvet cookies. She also has links for red-velvet cupcakes and red-velvet Rice Krispie treats.
“I love how holiday oriented it is,” she said. “It works well for Valentines Day, July 4 and Christmas.”
It also works as a novelty cake — for those who remember the armadillo-shaped groom’s cake in the 1980s film “Steel Magnolias.”
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.
“I like the moisture content, it feels decadent,” said Tami Steggell, the owner of Salt Lake City’s RubySnap bakery, which sells gourmet frozen cookie dough named for World War II pin-up girls. RubySnap’s red velvet cookie dough, called Scarlett, is the February flavor of the month.
Steggell said she initially offered Scarlett only for Valentine’s day, but it was in such demand that she carries the dough in December and July, too.
The flavor is alluring, for three reasons, she said. “It’s classic, simple and heartwarming.”
Red-velvet cake with cream cheese frosting
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
16 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces, softened
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup. Mix cocoa with food coloring in small bowl until a smooth paste forms.
With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary. Add 1⁄3 of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half of buttermilk mixture and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl as necessary and repeat with half of remaining flour mixture, remaining buttermilk mixture, and finally remaining flour mixture. Scrape down bowl, add cocoa mixture, and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using rubber spatula, give batter final stir. Scrape into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool completely, at least 30 minutes.
For the frosting: With electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Beat in vanilla and salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
When cakes are cooled, spread about 2 cups frosting on one cake layer. Top with second cake layer and spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 3 days.
Servings • 12
Source: America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country magazine
Red Velvet Brownie Conversation Hearts
1 package (family-size) fudge brownie mix
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (1 ounce) bottle red food coloring
8 cups (2 pounds) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Assorted food colors and egg dye
Decorating gel or 1 ounce white baking chocolate
Line a 13 -by-9-inch baking with foil, making sure the foil extends over the sides of the pan. Grease foil. Prepare brownie mix as directed on package with sour cream, eggs and red food color. Spoon batter into foil-lined pan. Bake and cool as directed on package. Lift brownies out of pan and place on a cutting board. Cut with heart-shaped cookie cutters. Place brownies on wire rack set over baking sheet.
For the icing, mix confectioners’ sugar, water and corn syrup in medium saucepan. Cook on medium-low heat until sugar is melted, stirring occasionally. Stir in vanilla. Tint with desired food color. Spoon or pour icing over top and sides of brownies. (If icing becomes too stiff, gently reheat to pouring consistency.) Let stand until icing is set. Use decorating gel to write on brownies. Or melt white chocolate as directed on package. Pour into small resealable plastic bag. Snip off a tiny piece of the corner. Squeeze chocolate through hole in plastic bag to write on brownies.
Servings • 24
Source: McCormick Kitchens
Where to find red velvet treats
Mini’s Cupcakes • 800 S. 14 East (Between Main and State streets), Salt Lake City; 801-363-0608 and 1751 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; 801-746-2208. The Southern Comfort is a red-velvet cupcake, with less red than most. It’s topped with cream cheese frosting and chopped pecans. $2.25 each.
RubySnap • 770 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City; 801-834-6111. Red-velvet cookie dough — aka Scarlett — is the flavor of the month for February. A package of 6, including cream cheese frosting, costs $7.99. Fans can save $2 and get a package for $5.99 at all Harmon’s Grocery stores through Feb. 17.
Spin Cafe • 220 North Main St., Heber City; 435-654-0251. Owners are making a special red gelato just for Valentine’s day.
Sweet Tooth Fairy Bake Shops • various locations throughout the state. Red-velvet cakes bites are available all year long for $1 each; $5 for half-dozen; $10 for dozen
The Sweet Brigadier • This online bakery, based in Park City, makes red-velvet cupcakes for parties and events. Visit thesweetbrigadier.com
Tuile Bakery • 863 E. 700 South, Salt Lake City; 801-883-9741. The bakery’s triple-layer, red-velvet cake covered with cream cheese frosting, is super-moist and rich. $36 for a 6-inch cake; $62 for 9-inch.
Red velvet cream-filled cupcakes
21/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 (1 ounce) bottle red food color
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Red colored sugar
1/2 cup white sugar crystals
1/2 teaspoon red food color
Vanilla cream cheese frosting
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.
1 (16 ounce) box confectioners’ sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Beat butter and granulated sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not overbeat. Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2⁄3 full.
Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely.
For the red colored sugar, place sugar in large resealable plastic bag. Add red food color. Seal bag. Knead sugar until the color is evenly distributed. Spread colored sugar on large rimmed baking sheet. Let stand 25 to 30 minutes or until sugar is dried. Store in airtight container.
For the frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth.
To fill and frost, make an indentation in the center of each cupcake using the handle of a wooden spoon or a straw, making sure not to break through bottom of cupcake. Spoon about 3/4 cup frosting into resealable plastic bag. Cut a small piece off one of the bottom corners of bag. Pipe about 1 teaspoon frosting into each cupcake. Spread top of cupcakes with remaining frosting. Sprinkle with colored sugar.
Servings • 30
Source: McCormick Kitchens