The Red Velvet Trend
Red Velvet cake is a very popular item these days. I get asked about red velvet all the time, especially when it comes to tastings for wedding cake. This happens whether the bride and groom like red velvet or not, because chances are someone close to them has urged them to choose red velvet. In the end, it usually does not become the choice. The reasons being the same dilemma I face with red velvet. It’s neither truly vanilla nor chocolate. When it comes down to a wedding cake, the couple usually decides on a true vanilla or chocolate, or both.
My question is: what is red velvet cake? I understand that it is usually a mainstay with southerners since there is a tradition down south. But as far as how it becoming the trendiest cake flavor out there… I don’t have a clue. After reading much about the origins of devil’s food cake and red velvet, my theory is that they have the same root and same origin. I believe somehow the two cakes separate from their origin, by placing emphasis on two different aspects of the cake. The reason devil’s food cake got its name is because of the reddish hue this particular chocolate cake produces. Back in the day, there wasn’t such a thing as dutch-processed cocoa powder, which uses alkali. The old-fashioned cocoa, still produced by companies like Hershey’s and Scharffenberger, has a chemical reaction with the baking soda in the recipe and produces this reddish hue. However, over time, what must have happened is that red coloring might have been added to the cake as dutch-processed cocoa became more popular in order to produce the look folks were used to, while the other school was simply making a chocolate cake.
What to look for in a red velvet cake
A red velvet cake today doesn’t have a true standard, but there are things to look for as with any cake. Look for something very moist and with a delicate or fine crumb. The taste and color are completely subjective as red velvet cake can vary widely from closer to a true chocolate cake to nearly void of cocoa altogether. The amount of cocoa in it will also affect the color as well. The taste will also vary depending on whether vegetable oil or butter was used.
I like to use red gel paste with red velvet. I have tried traditional food coloring as well as powdered food coloring, and the gel paste really gets the most intense color. Out of the different reds that are offered through gel paste, I use the Super Red. Of course, if you use a half cup of cocoa instead of a few tablespoons, you are not going to get an intense red color, but rather a reddish brown. I also use butter instead of oil. Vegetable or canola oil will get you very moist cake, however, taste-wise I feel that the butter definitely makes a difference. I also skim a little on the vinegar used to neutralize the sourness of the buttermilk, because I like a bit of a tang in this cake, as it is not a cake with a very distinct flavor.
The most flavor this cake has to offer is through its cream cheese icing. Not being a huge fan of cream cheese icing, I often use a buttermilk buttercream instead, as it also allows for a white color and stability, which is more ideal for some decorating purposes. However, if using the traditional cream cheese icing, I like to lighten mine up with a bit of citrus. Cream cheese’s flavor can be overbearing and intense. Some like to add whipped cream to the mix to lighten the heaviness up a bit.
In any case, red velvet cake just seems to me like a mysterious trend. Why not just add red 40 to another moist cake? I’d like to know.