What, no pecans?A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nicole Taylor did a segment on real Southern red velvet cake on her foodie radio show, Hot Grease. Nicole is a Southern girl, born and raised in Georgia, and she has some pretty strong opinions about authentic red velvet cake. She searched New York City for the real thing and came to the stunning conclusion that red velvet here is just wrong, wrong, wrong!
Well, if the culinary capital of the nation can't get it right, does anyone north of the Mason-Dixon get it right? And what are we doing wrong? What exactly goes into the quintessential red velvet cake?
A red velvet cake is a devil's food cake (not a chocolate cake) with red food coloring and cream cheese frosting. Legend has it that the cake was actually born in the North, at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. But there's no question that regardless of its origins, it has become a Southern specialty.
Perhaps it's because acids in the vinegar, baking soda, buttermilk, and even the cocoa give cake a slight red tint that bakers first thought to crank up that red with food coloring, but some bakers out there seem to think all they need is red batter and white frosting to make red velvet cake. Not so, says Nicole, who has eight rules for red velvet cake:
1. The cake must have some cocoa, but not too much because it is not a chocolate cake.
2. The cake must have red food coloring; beet juice does not add the right kind of red.
3. The cake must have cream cheese frosting.
4. There should be pecans. (This was news to me.)
5. You must use high-quality ingredients including White Lily flour, a southern specialty flour.
6. The cake must be made in small (family-sized) batches; massed-produced batter just doesn't cut it. Sorry large-scale bakeries.
7. You must use a hand-held electric mixer, not a stand mixer.
I've looked around for a recipe that qualifies and was surprised to see how few recipes include pecans. Sarah Moulton's recipe and Paula Deen's recipe both do. Oddly enough, White Lily flour has a red velvet cake recipe that seems to fall far short of the idea. No pecans, no cream cheese frosting, and all that Crisco -- why I never! Oh no, Nicole is shaking her head. "Red velvet cake batter needs vegetable oil, not butter or shortening. Oil yields a very moist cake."
Have you found the perfect red velvet cake?
Image via bronclune/Flickr