This chocolate red velvet cake is light and velvety. With a fabulous fine crumb and tangy cream cheese frosting, it's pretty as a picture and looks as good as it tastes!
Frequently asked questions
What is red velvet cake?
Red velvet cake is a red-colored cake that ranges from a mild reddish-brown color to fire-engine crimson red.
What flavor is red velvet cake?
Red velvet cake is like a subtle chocolate cake crossed with a vanilla cake on steroids. Its usually made with buttermilk which gives it a slightly tangy taste, which is enhanced by the cream cheese frosting it's often made with.
Is a red velvet cake just a chocolate cake?
No red velvet cake is not just chocolate cake. Red velvet cake usually only contains about three tablespoons of cocoa powder, significantly less than chocolate cake. It also contains more vanilla and acidic ingredients such as buttermilk which gives it a more tangy flavor.
Who invented red velvet cake?
There are a few theories about the origin of this now much-loved cake. One is that it came about in the USA in World War II. Due to rationing ingredients such as chocolate and cocoa were hard to get hold of so red velvet cake may have come about because it uses cocoa instead of chocolate, and less of it. The reddish color may have been originally created by combining the natural, raw cocoa powder with acidic ingredients such as vinegar and buttermilk, giving a natural although far more muted reddish-brown color.
Separate from this beetroot juice was sometimes also used to color and moisten cakes due to limited other ingredients, creating a natural red color coupled with beet flavoring, interesting! Even before this time 'velvet' cakes had been around for some time, the name was a fancy way of referring to a cake with a finer crumb that was more 'velvety' in texture.
The brightly red-colored cake we are more familiar with is generally credited to Mr. Adams and his wife from Adam Extract. The story goes he and his wife had a red velvet cake made with beets at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Apparently they saw an opportunity to sell more food extracts by replacing the beets with red food coloring and other extracts such as vanilla. And even then, the red velvet cake served at the Waldorf Astoria was a version of one of these beet-colored cakes floating around during World War II. Adam's recipe was published with an ermine or French-style butter roux icing. Its light and fluffy but can be time-consuming to prepare and was later replaced with the simpler, tangy cream cheese frosting we are more familiar with.
The cake remained a constant presence in home kitchens for years but didn't take off until the movie Steel Magnolias, which included an impressive red velvet armadillo-shaped cake. It gained massive popularity in the early 2000s, spawning everything from red velvet cupcakes, lattes, pop tarts and donuts to candles, body spray and lip balms.
Regardless of its origins this brightly colored cake has cemented its place on menus and kitchens around the world. This is my version and I hope you love it as much as I do.
Natural cocoa powder: this recipe uses natural cocoa powder and not Dutch-processed. In theory the natural cocoa powder reactions with the other ingredients in the cake produce the red color, however in reality the color is provided by the food coloring.
Red food color: is needed to get that bright fire engine red color we all know and love.
Vanilla extract: sometimes also called vanilla essence, depending on where you live. You can use either, or imitation vanilla essence, depending on your preference and budget.
Plain flour: is best in this recipe. You can also use all-purpose flour. It's important to use flour that does not have any rising agents as we will be adding our own in the right amounts to help this cake rise.
Corn flour: also known as corn starch and can be labeled as wheaten cornflour or corn (maize). The cornflour makes the cake crumb softer and makes for a lighter, velvety cake.
Baking soda: also known as bicarbonate soda or bicarb. This is NOT the same as baking powder and you can not substitute this.
Milk (not pictured): full cream milk is best for this recipe. I rarely have buttermilk in the house but it's so easy to make your own with milk and a little lemon juice. You could use buttermilk instead if you prefer.
Butter: unsalted butter is best or your risk your cake being too salty. It's important your butter is a room temperature before you start baking so your batter comes together and your cake rises.
Vegetable oil: adds some much-needed fats to this cake and helps keep the crumb nice a fine. You can try substituting with similar oils such as peanut or canola.
Eggs: I use large eggs in this recipe, approx. 55 gms each with shells before cracking.
Cream cheese: full fat cream cheese is best for this recipe for that classic creamy cream cheese frosting taste.
Powdered sugar: also called icing sugar, it's used in the cream cheese frosting for this cake.
Lemons: a dash of lemon juice helps balance the sweetness of the cream cheese and is used to make the homemade buttermilk. Fresh is best, I don't recommend bottled lemon juice.
How to make chocolate red velvet cake
To make the cake:
Preheat your oven to 365°F (185°C/165°C fan-forced). Grease and line 2 x 8-inch cake tins with butter and flour.
Add the lemon juice to the milk and allow it to sit for five minutes to make buttermilk.
Put the room temperature butter in a large bowl with the sugar and beat with electric hand beaters or in a stand mixer until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition.
Sift the cocoa powder into the butter mix and add the red food color and vanilla extract. Mix well. Add the oil and mix well.
Add the flour, cornflour, salt and baking powder to a sifter and sift in about half to the cake mix. Add about half the milk and mix well. Sift in the rest of the flour mix and milk and mix well.
Divide the mix evenly between the two prepared cake tins and bake for 30 mins or until
Allow to cool completely before assembling and icing the cake.
To make the cream cheese frosting and assemble the cake.
Add the room temperature cream cheese and butter for the frosting, vanilla to a bowl and mix until creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat well. Add the lemon juice and beat until soft and fluffy.
Hot tip: its important to make sure the butter is quite soft, otherwise it won't incorporate into the cream cheese and your frosting will go grainy. If you are unsure you can microwave it Very Briefly to make sure its soft but not melting when you add it to the cream cheese.
Trim the domed tops from the cakes a little. Keep the discards and blitz into crumbs in a food processor or break up with your hands. You can flip over the cake that goes on top so you have a nice flat top.
Cover the top of your first cake with cream cheese frosting. Add the second layer of cake and repeat again. Spread the sides of the cake with frosting. I like to scrap mine gently down to the cake for a semi-naked look, but you can cover the sides completely if you prefer. Gently sprinkle a circle of pretty red crumbs around the top of the edge of your cake and you're done!
Note it's quite hard to prevent some of the crumbs from sticking to the sides of the cake and around the bottom. It's up to you how much you want to fiddle with the cake to clean up the crumbs on the side. I find a sprinkle of crumbs around the bottom of the cake plate looks good and is easier than cleaning up all those crumbs!
How to serve
To serve pop onto a plate, slice and enjoy! Perfect for morning or afternoon tea or Valentine's day. Delicious!
How to store
This cake is best eaten fresh on the days it's made. You can store it in a covered container in the fridge for up to three days.
Have you made this recipe? Tell me how it went in the comments below and tag me on instagram so I can see your delicious creations! @keep_calm_and_eat_icecream
Looking for more yummy dessert recipes?
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Chocolate Red Velvet Cake
- 2 x 8 inch cake tins
- Electric hand beaters or stand mixer
For the cake
- 1 stick (½ cup/115gms) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (250gms) white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
- 1 and ½ tablespoons red food colour
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups (300gms) plain flour
- ¼ cup (40gms) corn flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup (250mls) milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cream cheese frosting
- 2 x 8 ounce tubs (450gms) full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
- ½ stick (¼ cup/60gms) unsalted butter
- 3 cups (480gms) powdered sugar (icing sugar)
- 3 tablespoons (45mls) fresh lemon juice
To make the cakes
- Pre-heat your oven to 365°F (185°C/165°C fan forced). Grease and line 2 x 8 inch cake tins with butter and flour.
- Add the lemon juice to the milk and allow to sit for five minutes to make the butter milk.
- Put the butter in a large bowl with the sugar and beat till creamed and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition.
- Sift in the cocoa powder. Add the red food colouring and vanilla and mix well. Add the oil and mix in.
- Add the flour, corn flour, salt and baking powder to a sifter and sift in about half to the cake mix. Add about half the milk and mix. Sift in the rest of the flour mix and milk and mix in.
- Divide the mix evently between the two prepared cake tins and bake for 30 mins or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
- Allow to cool completely before assemling and icing the cake.
To make the cream cheese frosting and assemble the cake.
- Add the room temperature cream cheese and butter for the frosting, lemon juice and vanilla to a bowl and mix until creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat well untill soft and fluffy.
- Trim the domed tops from the cakes a little. Keep the discards and blitz into crumbs with your hands or in a food processor. For a flat toped cake you can flip the top layer over.
- Cover the top of your first cake with cream cheese frosting. Add the second layer of cake and repeat again. Spread the sides of the cake with frosting. Sprinkle a circle of pretty red crumbs around the top of the edge of your cake and you're done!
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