Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Red velvet cake
A Red velvet cake is a type of rich and sweet chocolate cake which has a distinctive dark red or red-brown color. Common ingredients include buttermilk, butter, flour, cocoa powder, and often either beets or red food coloring. It is most popular in the American South, though known in other regions. The most typical frosting for a red velvet cake is cream cheese icing.
James Beard's book American Cookery1 describes three kinds of red velvet cake varying in the amounts of shortening and butter used. All of them use red food coloring for the color, but it is mentioned that the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn the cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and a long list of similar names for chocolate cakes2.
The use of red dye to make "Red Velvet" cake was probably started after the introduction of the darker cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during World War II, some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food is still found in some red velvet cake recipes. Red velvet cakes seemed to find a home in the south and reached peak popularity in the 1950s - just before a controversy arose about health effects of common food colorings.
The story of red velvet cake is, probably mistakenly, attached to the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City. An early version of the infamous "Neiman-Marcus cookie" legend3 has it that a woman asked for the recipe to the delicious red velvet cake she was served at the hotel restaurant, only to find that she had been billed $100 (or $250) for the recipe. Indignant, she spread it to all her friends as a chain letter . This genre of legend dates to at least the 1940s as a $25 Fudge Cake served to a passenger on a railroad during the days of elegant rail travel.
A recent resurgence in the popularity of this cake might partly be attributed to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias in which the groom's cake (another southern tradition) is a red velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo.
- Beard, James. (1972) American Cookery. (New York: Little, Brown)
- New Jersey Bakers Board of Trade, Inc. It's All Mixed Up! The History and True Facts About Baking Devil's Food Cake. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2004.
- Mikkelson, Barbara. (1999) (Costs a) Fortune Cookie. Retrieved Oct. 10, 2004.
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