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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Red Velvet 101

One of the questions I hear the most at the shoppe is what is Red Velvet? What flavour is it and why is it red?

Red Velvet is a type of cake with southern origins from the 20's, ranging in colour from bright red to brownish red. The reddish-brown color of the cake originally was from a reaction of the cocoa powder with an acidic ingredient usually buttermilk, While cocoa powder contains anthocyanins (red vegetable pigments) they are only red in the presence of acids.

If you have ever made red velvet without colour you will understand that this natural process does not produce a very appetizing colour. Hence red food coloring is often added now in the form of a paste for a more dramatic effect. I believe that the red food dye also contributes to the distinct flavour of the cake.

Red Velvet is usually always paired with some version of a cream cheese icing or frosting. But I once read about an illusive tail that back in the 30's it was actually layered and iced with a icing made of flour named Ermine. After doing more research I have learned that Ermine frosting is basically a boiled milk icing, sometimes referred to as “Butter Roux”, although that is not technically correct, since it is not based on a roux. Ermine frosting is simply a different method of making a Butter Cream using the gluten in flour and casein in milk to create a suspension, instead of the albumen in egg whites like Swiss and Italian Butter Cream or an emulsion like the egg yolks in a French Butter Cream… This is all a little technical but I feel its important to understand the roots of the very popular cake. I have yet to try making this type of icing. I understand it does not require refrigeration and has a very smooth, soft and creamy texture.

I'm not sure how we got from this icing to the now loved cream cheese icing that is usually paired with red velvet but my suspicions are that the tang in cream cheese is perfectly paired with this acidic somewhat bland cake. I feel that red velvet cake is just the white sandwhich bread for peanut butter sandwiches. Pair red velvet with a plain vanilla icing or butter Creme and you will understand its just not the same without the cream cheese icing or frosting.


Important dates for Red Velvet Cake
1989: Steel Magnolias grey armadillo groom’s cake with a deep blood red center
2002: Official Wedding Cake of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s lavish wedding
2007: The Wedding Cake Shoppe adds Red Velvet to their wedding cake and cupcake menu
2010: Red Velvet becomes as popular as Vanilla cake, the most traditional flavour to date*

*Vanilla will always be the yummiest flavour ever discovered to me.

The last thing I wanted to include here is the alternative to adding red food colour to the batter to intensify the red colour of the cocoa powder. Most people have asked me if you can get the same results with beet juice. The answer to this is, no. Adding beet juice will make the cake a darker purplish colour and will make the cake taste a little like, beets. Adding beet puree seems like the best way to add the most intense amount of colour, but you may as well call it beet velvet. Don't get me wrong, I love beets. I'm just a purist. So keep it simple-no colour or colour but save the veggies for carrot cake.

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