Your Red Velvet Cake Is All Wrong Up Here, Y'All


red velvet cake
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

desserts, recipes, traditions


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I totally agree! I'm from the South and have yet to come across decent RV here in the city!


Yuck!  All that red coloring makes me itchy just looking at it.  Eating it would surely give me hives.

mommypip mommypip

I never got what the point of this cake is. Why would someone get all excited over a dyed cake? Maybe I will start making blue dyed cakes and call them blue suede.....

Adria... AdrianaCooks

Paula Deen has the blue suede cake covered:

nonmember avatar mir

Red Velvet cake came from WWII when chocolate was rationed. They put the little bit of chocolate for flavor and the red food coloring to make it look nice.

DebaLa DebaLa

Hmm, mir ^^^, WWII? Interesting timing too, this cake article may be yet another Veterans Day article, but with more sugar-coating.

I DO love the original recipe and history. Probably will still end up doctoring up the mix, tho. I've been tempted to sneak in a little potato flour to retain more moisture, and to give it more tooth. Then I can add the cocoa, vinegar and sub out some of the oil for the buttermilk to honor the original with its richer flavor. The box version alone is, well, pretty... and boring,


Also, ladies, I'm on the lookout for concave-bottomed round cake pans. Do they exist? It would sure solve the middle bump problem without having to do a leveling slice off the top, or risk becoming diabetic with compensating frosting. Would someone invent said pan, please? Thank you!


Moriba Jackson

I. . . . thought it was a Georgia/Alabama fight over the origins of Red Velvet cake. And that the red symbolized the red Clay of the area. And Absolutely!!! a must on the PeCans because that's what we do down South.

Now that that's resolved. . . . What do you think of Hummingbird and carrot cake?

Wholefoods does a nice carrot cake, but the missing pecans and raisins and butter cream icing is really getting me down.
And only the magnolia bakery does Hummingbird, but I'm not so sure about the over whelming banana flavor.

APeve... APeveteaux

Has she had the Harlem Cake Man's Red Velvet? I grew up in the south'ish with homemade red velvet and he's got it down.

FYI  - he's not in Harlem anymore, he's in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn. Well worth the trip!

Marwill Marwill

I've read articles and recipes written by many folks from the South who insist that a true Red Velvet cake NEVER has cream cheese frosting.  Just like many other dishes, different regions do it differently.  There is no ONE right way.

Dede Miller

Red Velvet Cake is my favorite! I have never made it though.

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