HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
What's your latest food quest?

I don't "get" Red Velvet Cake

Salty_Loves_Sweet Aug 7, 2009 01:31 PM

Maybe it started with Oprah ( but I won't EVEN go there). Or, did it start with Sprinkles? But, it seems that very recently everyone's in love with Red Velvet Cake. I don't get it.

I had never had this cake and thought it was something speical. I happened to mention this to a friend and yesterday, she brought me a slice of it. It tasted like cake, and not an especially good one, and had cream chees frosting. But, what I absolutley DETESTED was the red food coloring. Is there a reason for this? After having two bites, I noticed my tongue and gums were RED. I rinsed my mouth twice and when I got home brushed my teeth and it was still red. This morning my mouth was back to normal, but the red still showed itself upon exiting - if you know what I mean.

I looked up various recipes and while proportions vary, most had 2 ounces, 1/4 cup!!!! of red food coloring. YUCK

What am I missing here? I'll take plain pound cake over this anyday!

  1. j
    Jitterbug Aug 14, 2009 01:20 PM

    I like red velvet cake. I guess I don't see what is not to like about it, if it is made from a good recipe. It is a nice cake with a light cocoa flavor and I've never made it with so much food coloring that it colored my teeth. Just a tablespoon of it.

    As for the red, well, normally I'm not big on artificial coloring. BUT I just made this red velvet cake recipe for my son's two year old birthday party: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
    It was just so cute and festive, and the red looked nice with the blueberries and raspberries (which happen to be my son's favorite fruits!) It wasn't a fluorescent red either, but a rich brown red. Very festive and summery. And that bit of red food coloring was nothing to what I see on most children's birthday cakes!

    1. cuccubear Aug 14, 2009 09:33 AM

      I have never met a Red Velvet Cake that I liked, and it is the only cake that I’ll pass on at office b-day parties. It’s the flavor and texture I dislike, and aside from that...what’s left?

      Plain pound cake it is for me too.

      1. Boccone Dolce Aug 14, 2009 03:37 AM

        It's never my first choice, I will have a taste of someone else's but I won't commit to a full slice. First time I ate it was at a restaurant where they cut huge, mile high slabs of it for the table to share. I saw 'red' for a day after that... blech.

        1. a
          Anne Aug 13, 2009 12:32 PM

          I think the real question here is: why red? Does the red food coloring add ANYTHING to the taste or texture of the cake? Would it be equally good made with blue coloring---or even an eqivalent amount of plain water?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Anne
            KaimukiMan Aug 13, 2009 12:47 PM

            as pointed out above in a couple of posts, when you use a cocoa powder that is not dutch process, the combination of the chocolate and the vinegar produces a reddish brown color. As almost all the commonly availiable coco powders are now dutch process, the chemical reaction is greatly diminished, leaving a rather unatractive grey-brown cake. Presumably in order to get the 'original' color back, people put in red food coloring, and lots of it.

            1. re: Anne
              taiwanesesmalleats Aug 14, 2009 09:25 AM

              Milk in Mid-City Los Angeles offers a blue velvet cake.

              1. re: taiwanesesmalleats
                mollyomormon Aug 14, 2009 04:19 PM

                I love the idea but man, was Milk's version tooth-achingly sweet...

                1. re: taiwanesesmalleats
                  DrGaellon Mar 26, 2011 05:52 AM

                  I understood that Milk's blue velvet was a blueberry cake, not cocoa.

              2. Uncle Bob Aug 12, 2009 04:12 PM


                1. t
                  Takat Aug 12, 2009 03:58 PM

                  If I could ever taste REAL red velvet cake, maybe it would be special or something. All I know is that the first I ever had it was at a guy's birthday party and the color kind of grossed me out. I didn't (and still don't) understand the need to dye cake that color...


                  1. b
                    billacakes Aug 12, 2009 03:41 PM

                    Adding on to schrutefarms...back in the day when the cake was first developed, the quality of the cocoa powder was so poor that when mixed with the vinegar caused the oxidation (like rusting) that made the cake reddish in color. Southerners like their traditions, so even though the quality of cocoa has improved, the red has remained. Sadly, too many commercial bakeries take it too far in appearance and not in taste and texture!

                    A velvet cake should be like velvet, hence the name. It should have a good crumb, be moist and soft, and almost melt on the palate. The cocoa flavor should be subtle and by God, it shouldn't stain your mouth red! I never use that much red and I've been known to make my velvet cakes different colors other than red to suit the occasion. You shouldn't have to use that much food coloring if you are using super concentrated colors (like Americolor); a few drops'll do the trick and you won't be seeing and um...you know...RED.

                    Tradition says red velvet should always have cream cheese frosting. It's that extra luxurious touch on the cake that is meant to be a special treat (because cocoa wasn't exactly widely available all those years ago). Find a recipe and give it a try. If you hate the red so much, leave it out. This cake is ultimately about taste and texture! I hope you'll give it a try and change your mind!

                    PS For y'all that said you'd like to try making it from scratch, feel free to ping me and I'll send you my recipe. It's not difficult at all and it comes out very yummy!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: billacakes
                      DrGaellon Mar 26, 2011 05:51 AM

                      It's not a quality issue. Natural cocoa powder is reddish and quite acidic, which affects both the flavor and texture of the final product. It has become very hard to find in the US since the advent of alkalinized, or "Dutched", cocoa, which is much darker brown, tastes more "chocolatey" and is neutral in pH (which affects rise and texture). However, Dutched cocoa doesn't give the red color, so traditionalists started adding red food color.

                    2. f
                      Foodie in Friedberg Aug 12, 2009 02:36 PM

                      There is good cake and then there is bad cake. Bad cake is bad. Bad red velvet cake is horrible.

                      But good red velvet cake is quite yummy. The bakery that made our wedding cake doesn't usually carry chocolate cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting (which is what we had for our wedding), but when I'm town I usually pick up one of their red velvet cakes with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting. It is almost the color of a chocolate cake, and is almost as delicious!

                      Avoid unnaturally red specimins, but don't give up on red velvet cake!

                      1. t
                        taiwanesesmalleats Aug 12, 2009 02:07 PM

                        For me, it's three things.

                        First is texture. There's something about a good red velvet cake that is different than other cakes. To me, it's like a cross between the light airy-ness of a Chinese sponge cake and the buttery fine crumb of a standard butter cake.

                        Second is the cocoa. I tend not to like chocolate cake because the flavor is overwhelming to me. Most I've had are far too sweet. Good red velvet has a hint of cocoa without it overpowering the flavor of the cake and being just slightly bitter.

                        Third is the frosting. I prefer cream cheese frosting. The smooth, stable cream is both sweet and tangy and a good foil to the light, slightly bitter cake underneath it.

                        As to why it's so gosh darn red, it certainly grabs your attention doesn't it? Whether that's good or bad, to each their own.

                        1. KaimukiMan Aug 12, 2009 12:13 PM

                          there are literally thousands of postings about red velvet cake in chowhound. some on regional boards, some in home cooking, some here in general chowhounding, and some in chains.

                          There are dozens of dozens of variations on the recipe, and hundreds of people who claim to know what the "original" recipe was. Among the controversies are whether cream cheese frosting is the correct topping or not, whether it originated in the south, and if it should be colored with red food coloring or beets/beet juice.

                          I have never had the "real" thing. Just cake mixes that someone stirred a bottle or two of red food coloring in along with a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Nothing special, but not a horrible experience either.

                          Apparently the red color originally came from a mix of the cocoa and the vinegar. As it became harder to find other than dutch process cocoa, the red/red-brown color was much reduced so people started to supplement it with food coloring. Adding beets or other vegetable/fruit based products does affect the flavor.

                          The most popular contender for the "correct' frosting seems to be a boiled or seven-minute frosting. Allegedly a southern dish, a butter cream frosting became too soft so a morre stable boiled frosting was used. Cream cheese frostings are a lot less work and easier for most people, and the cream cheese serves to "stabilize" the softness of buttercream.

                          The amount of chocolate also seems to vary greatly, but in general the idea seems to be to give a hint of chocolate, enough to pique your curiosity, but not scream CHOCOLATE at you.

                          Someday im gonna have to try to make one.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: KaimukiMan
                            fmcoxe6188 Aug 12, 2009 12:50 PM

                            I promise -it isnt that hard to make :-) I made up a batch for a friends birthday and they were delicious-and honestly it was pretty easy. There are just a fair amount of ingredients that all need measuring :-)

                          2. s
                            schrutefarms Aug 12, 2009 11:33 AM

                            I believe beets are also used to make that deep, dark red. I ABSOLUTELY love red velvet cake, but for me, the cake part could be anything-it's the frosting I'm after. Since cream cheese is possibly my #1 favorite food, red velvet cake is a no-brainer. I personally like the frosting to be a bit more on the savory side, maybe even with little chucks of cream cheese bits in it, as if it hasn't been creamed long enough. I really hate it when people put so much sugar in it that it just tastes like buttercream. But like I said, if the cream cheese frosting is made right (for my tastes, at least), then I don't care if it's spread on a throw pillow.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: schrutefarms
                              Comb Technology Aug 14, 2009 02:59 PM

                              It's not beets. I tried to make a red cake with beets and the high temp cooked the color right out. The red color in beets breaks down somewhere below the boiling point of water.

                            2. Full tummy Aug 8, 2009 12:24 PM

                              I, too, don't appreciate the red food colouring, but I have eaten and enjoyed red velvet cake.

                              Bobby Flay did a "Throwdown" recently against "Cake Man Raven", who apparently is famous for his red velvet cakes...

                              Here are CMR and BF's recipes (Bobby Flay's has much less food colouring):


                              I like the idea of Bobby Flay's cake recipe, but I'm not sure which frosting I'd prefer: Raven's has cream cheese, but not Flay's.

                              1. n
                                nearlywild Aug 7, 2009 11:24 PM

                                I don't think the store bought cakes of today are the same as the ones our grandmothers used to make. I've never eaten a homemade Red Velvet cake but I was told that it takes a very long time to make.

                                1. fmcoxe6188 Aug 7, 2009 02:00 PM

                                  The recipes Ive used have called for a decent amount of cocoa powder, which gives a really nice chocolate "idea" almost without being CHOCOLATE if that makes any sense.

                                  Ive found that buying red velvet cake though is really a dissapointment- and exactly what you describe- seems like red cake that is just ultimately annoying when it colors your teeth red. But a well done red velvet is a really delicious treat-if you are really curious-the best I can say is try making it-I bet its 100% better than bought.

                                  In terms of the origins of the red coloring-Im not sure but Im sure someone can help out...

                                  1. a
                                    anakalia Aug 7, 2009 01:42 PM

                                    Yeah, I really don't get it, either. Isn't it just regular cake with food coloring? That's what it always tastes like to me.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: anakalia
                                      Salty_Loves_Sweet Aug 7, 2009 01:53 PM

                                      The recipe also calls for a small amount of chocolate. Anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. I didn't taste chocolate, though

                                    Show Hidden Posts