Very Special Red Velvet Cake

Special Occasions Call for Special Cakes

A birthday came calling last week, a very special one, one marking a milestone of importance. Not mine mind you, I don't think I have ever baked myself a birthday cake. This day was to say hello to an occasion worthy of a favorite cake and the cake of choice, well, you've already gotten a look at that.

There are many special cakes to mark such a day: Yellow Cake with Fudge Icing, German Chocolate, Carrot with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting, Caramel Cake, Lane Cake, Coconut, Very Chocolate with Creamy Chocolate Icing, Hummingbird, Lady Baltimore, on and on... what's yours?

Now, as I made this cake, I pondered its origin. Y'all should know by now I rarely let sleeping dogs lie. I vaguely remembered an urban legend of the cake coming from the Waldorf-Astoria in New York from around the 1920's. It was the tale of a guest billed for the Waldorf cake recipe much like the famous cookie recipe was to the Neiman Marcus fraud. Much like the cookie, the red velvet cake also goes by many names; the Waldorf-Astoria cake, the $300 cake, so on, so on. Later, as the cake cooled on the counter, I really started searching and discovered the cake began its notoriety much earlier, in the late 1800's by a family-owned food colorings and extracts entrepreneur. You see, housewives during the Great Depression had no desire for extracts much less food colorings. Thus, to boost interest and sales, displays throughout the South and the Midwest showcased large, full-color photos of the reddest-of-red chocolate cake ever imagined. Of course, free recipes for the cake were handed out with every purchase of John Adams' butter and vanilla extracts along with two bottles of red food coloring. And as they say, the rest is history.

Now, for this special cake, I used my grandmother's recipe from our family cookbook, Grits to Guacamole, changing only the way the cake is made, not the ingredients in the cake. And I used her Cream Cheese Icing as a filling and to frost the sides. And, because the birthday guest is really into chocolate, I added a ganache to each layer. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cake

3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 ounces red food color
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons soda

Be sure to have butter, eggs and buttermilk at room temperature.

Grease three 8-inch cake pans. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour the bottom (parchment paper) and sides. Tap out any excess flour; put aside.

Position oven rack in center and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, salt and cocoa in a bowl and put aside. In mixer, cream butter with sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. On low speed, add in the food color and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and blend on low.

Mix the buttermilk, vinegar and soda together. On low speed, add alternately the dry ingredients with the buttermilk mixture. Scrape down the sides with a spatula insuring a smooth and will blended batter.

Divide the batter into the three pans evening out the top. Place in the oven and bake about 30 minutes or until center of each test done. Do not overcook. Remove to a rack and allow cooling for 1 hour. Invert onto the rack and cool completely before frosting or adding a filling. (Be sure to remove parchment paper.)


Frost with Cream Cheese Icing below or an older, southern birthday cake frosting known as a vanilla cream icing and made with sweet milk, sugar, flour, butter and/or shortening.

Note: Many times I have, like my grandmother, sliced each layer in half making a 6-layer cake. If you do, be sure to increase your frosting or filling.

Cream Cheese Icing
Increase this recipe 1 1/2 times if you want to frost the top layer.

1 stick margarine
1 -8 oz cream cheese, softened
16 oz confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 to 1 teaspoon liqueur (I like Southern Comfort) -optional
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Cream the margarine with the cream cheese. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth and then add the vanilla extract and liqueur. Add to layers and/or frost sides; sprinkle with pecans.

For the much more decadent version, add the chocolate ganache to each layer before assembly.

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup heavy cream
1 -16 oz good quality semisweet chocolate chips

In a double boiler or bowl over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate into the cream. Whisk to blend completely. Remove from heat source and allow cooling just a bit. Pour ganache onto each layer forming an even puddle and with the back of a spoon, push it to the edge but do not allow it to run down the sides. Allow the ganache to set completely, about an hour, before continuing with frosting the cake.

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  1. It makes me smile to see this as your cake choice to celebrate something special. My grandpa made a red velvet cake for my birthday every year. Even when I was away at college, he made sure to have a cake when I came home for a weekend visit. Layers of ganache give the special factor an even bigger boost. And it makes the cake look pretty darn cool too!

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