Red Velvet Cake

Last week a New York Times article bemoaned the fate of Red Velvet, which, like so many other American products, got twisted and turned and commercialized beyond repair and has been reproduced in so many gimmicky ways — red velvet candles, red velvet body mist, and so on — that it has become preposterous. We’ve all seen this happen before. When something, anything is popular, there are going to be those who want to cash in on it in ways never intended. They can sell it, but of course we don’t have to buy it. And if we don’t buy it, they will stop selling it and we can move on. But that doesn’t mean that the original product was outlandish. There is a reason that Red Velvet Cake has endured. People love how it tastes. It has a miraculously soft texture. In its article, the New York Times, while ridiculing the commercialization, deemed Red Velvet Cake a classic. Truth to tell, I never understood the wow in the whole red velvet cake thing. To me the versions I tasted seemed as if they couldn’t make up their minds about whether to be a vanilla cake with too much color and too-little cocoa to make a flavor difference or a devil’s-food cake. But after experimenting somewhat with recipes, I came up with one that’s mighty good! So, now I get it. It isn’t vanilla cake. Or devil’s-food. Or chocolate cake. It’s its own thing. A classic. Here’s the recipe, plus a recipe for frosting that’s way less sweet than most: Red Velvet Cake 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/3 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch process) 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups sugar 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil 3 large eggs, at room temperature 1 ounce red food coloring mixed with 6 tablespoons water 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1-1/4 cups plain yogurt 2 teaspoons baking soda 2 teaspoons white vinegar Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 3 9-inch cake pans. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Beat the sugar and vegetable oil together at medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the food coloring mixture and vanilla extract and stir the ingredients at low speed until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the yogurt, beating the ingredients after each addition. Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl, pour it into the batter and blend it in thoroughly. Spoon the batter equally among the cake pans. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool for about 10 minutes, then insert them onto a cake rack to cool completely. Before serving, frost the cake. Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature 1/2 cup butter at room temperature 2 cups confectioner sugar 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel Beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and lemon peel together at low-medium speed until smooth, creamy and well blended. Makes 10-12 servings

Last week a New York Times article bemoaned the fate of Red Velvet, which, like so many other American products, got twisted and turned and commercialized beyond repair and has been reproduced in so many gimmicky ways — red velvet candles, red velvet body mist, and so on — that it has become preposterous.

We’ve all seen this happen before. When something, anything is popular, there are going to be those who want to cash in on it in ways never intended.

They can sell it, but of course we don’t have to buy it. And if we don’t buy it, they will stop selling it and we can move on.

But that doesn’t mean that the original product was outlandish. There is a reason that Red Velvet Cake has endured. People love how it tastes. It has a miraculously soft texture. In its article, the New York Times, while ridiculing the commercialization, deemed Red Velvet Cake a classic.

Truth to tell, I never understood the wow in the whole red velvet cake thing. To me the versions I tasted seemed as if they couldn’t make up their minds about whether to be a vanilla cake with too much color and too-little cocoa to make a flavor difference or a devil’s-food cake.

But after experimenting somewhat with recipes, I came up with one that’s mighty good! So, now I get it. It isn’t vanilla cake. Or devil’s-food. Or chocolate cake. It’s its own thing. A classic. Here’s the recipe, plus a recipe for frosting that’s way less sweet than most:

Red Velvet Cake

3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ounce red food coloring mixed with 6 tablespoons water
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups plain yogurt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons white vinegar
Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 3 9-inch cake pans. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl and set aside. Beat the sugar and vegetable oil together at medium speed for 1-2 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the food coloring mixture and vanilla extract and stir the ingredients at low speed until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the yogurt, beating the ingredients after each addition. Mix the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl, pour it into the batter and blend it in thoroughly. Spoon the batter equally among the cake pans. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool for about 10 minutes, then insert them onto a cake rack to cool completely. Before serving, frost the cake.

Lemon-Cream Cheese Frosting

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
1/2 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups confectioner sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon peel


Beat the cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and lemon peel together at low-medium speed until smooth, creamy and well blended.

Makes 10-12 servings