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Red velvet cake - why?

I don't understand why people like red velvet cake so much. Based on my experience and understanding, it's very mildly(if at all) chocolatey and packed full of red dye. Personally I'd rather have a true chocolate cake or a true white or yellow cake. Do people just like it because it is usually frosted with a cream cheese frosting?

Despite it's seeming drawbacks, people seem drawn to it - why?

And yes, I'm kind of a cake snob.

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  1. I think it's pretty good, has a pleasant texture, but I think it's for people who "eat with their eyes".

    On another board I got flack for saying it was for girls, but I'd like to see some stats that prove it's not mostly women eating these things.

    5 Replies
    1. re: SnackHappy

      My experience is limited mostly to 27 years in Nashville, but of all the people - and there were plenty - who spoke of red velvet cake (or "someone's" red velvet cake) in reverent tones, I don't think any of them were men. The closest a man would come would be to mention that his wife or mom made a "pretty good" red velvet cake.

      I think those of us who grew up eating devil's food cake, as opposed to real CHOCOLATE cake, are more than familiar with this when we see it, because that's basically what it is, only with the food coloring added. DF was the only cake my mom knew how to make, usually with Seven Minute icing (egg whites and powdered sugar, mostly), and while I would never lust for this confection I always thought it was okay ... which leaves me being yet another guy who can easily take or leave red velvet cake.

      1. re: Will Owen

        Thank you, Laurel I don't really get it, either. It unnerves me that it is dyed so red that it stains the tablecloth and the tips of my fingers, and really, it's just a not-very-chocolate cake, right? I'm not such a fan of chocolate, so guess that may be one of the reasons it just doesn't thrill me.

      2. re: SnackHappy

        I like it because it is very beautiful and it was the only cake consistently served with cream cheese frosting. As for the cake itself I wouldn't eat it with out cream cheese frosting, but I do enjoy its moist dense texture and light chocolate flavor.
        Believe it or not it is my husband's fav cake, and I make it for him on his birthday.

        When you say its something for "girls" especially coming from a male, such a phrase is seen as derogatory and negative ie "you throw like a girl" "Red velvet is a girl's cake" which may be the reason you caught so much flack on the thread. It also implies that men eschew it not based on its taste but based on the fact that it implies femininity, and femininity= weakness. It might in some ways also imply that women have no sense of taste and only eat it because its pretty, and that definitely would not go over well. Just a couple of ideas of why they may have given you a hard time.

        1. re: SnackHappy

          The only people I know who glaze over and get mushy when RVC is mentioned are men. has something to do, I think, with being Southern, their mamas, their grandmamas....

        2. My understanding is that Red Velvet is a Depression era cake for the most part. They did not use red food dye to color it to start with. The cake had beets in there to color it. So, it did not have a lot of cocoa powder to keep costs down, but the color made it more festive and the beet veggies made it more moist.

          I've also heard that Waldorf=Astoria created the cake, but I'm pretty sure that it dates before that and to the South. Perhaps someone just took the idea to the hotel at some point.

          That's just word of mouth that I'm drawing on, but my great grandmother was a Mississippi riverboat cook/chef before she married my great grandfather.

          I've had a lot of pretty bad Red Velvet cakes and a few really fabulous ones. If you ever get a really good one, then I think you'd like it.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              That article is interesting. It does seem to support some of my word of mouth info on the cake. They mention the W=A and also mention the beets. It sounds like there are a lot of variations. The best ones I've had have been home cooked by local ladies.

            2. Why?

              Aside from what was previously mentioned that originally Red Velvet was made with beet juice during the Great Depression, there's another reason.

              We tend to eat with our eyes first, and our mouths second.

              The red dye that you refer to so condescendingly make the cake appeal to people at a very visually visceral level.

              The same cake made with "Pea Soup" green would not evoke the same type of appetite-inducing emotions in people.

              It's the same reason why people prefer red roses, as opposed to say Pea Soup Green roses.

              8 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Good point. Aesthetically pleasing and it's got cream cheese icing. I know it's also a sentimental favorite here in parts of the South.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  My sons made it with green food coloring once when they were in middle school. Guess what? It hardly got eaten. In a family that loves red velvet cake. Plus they made it in a sheet cake pan. It was all wrong.

                  1. re: jmcarthur8

                    We did a little bit better than that: my dad had an idea to do an Italian flag themed cake for some holiday, so there was one red layer, one green layer, plus the white frosting. It was pretty striking, and it all got eaten. Then again, it was the only time we made it that way. Red Velvet is a classic, this thing was a gimmick ;)

                  2. re: ipsedixit

                    "We tend to eat with our eyes first, and our mouths second."

                    But for me, red velvet cake does not look appetizing. It just looks "too red" to be food. It turns me off.

                    I'm with the OP on this; I think it appeals mostly to women.

                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      "But for me, red velvet cake does not look appetizing. It just looks "too red" to be food. It turns me off. "

                      Same here. It looks blatantly unnatural and is therefore unappetizing to me.

                      1. re: ttoommyy

                        I'm with the OP on this; I think it appeals mostly to women.
                        not this woman! and yes, the artificial color is an immediate turn-off for me.

                        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          This. The red color freaks me out and I don't know why anyone (man or woman) would eat something JUST because it looks pretty. I haven't ever had one that was worth eating over another type of cake.

                          1. re: LaureltQ

                            "I don't know why anyone (man or woman) would eat something JUST because it looks pretty."

                            That's a great point, LaureltQ. Now that you point this out, I really don't like "pretty" food. I want my food to look like food and have colors that are associated with food. The bright red of RVC is not something you'd find naturally in a lot of other foods we eat (strawberry jam comes to mind, but that red is natural).

                    2. I came late to red velvet, but come I have. I am not particularly fond of chocolate or sweet cakes, so this cake with its subtle flavor, moist tang and tender crumb is a perfect dessert for me. The shocking color gives the cake added dramatic appeal, but that's not as large a factor as the combination of cake and cream cheese frosting.

                      1. I'm with you, and I have southern roots. I never enjoyed it as a kid, and I'm sure I had some very good ones, and I don't see the point of it now. If I want chocolate cake, I'll eat chocolate cake.

                        1. ITA. Makes no sense and does not taste like anything except vaguely sweet.

                          1 Reply
                          1. I was like you. I couldn't understand it. It wasn't good tasting at all why not just have a great chocolate cake??

                            Well, having had a few top tier RVC's lately I can now wrap my head around it. Quite honestly, a good one is quite good. Don't get me wrong, I'll take a chocolate death cake any day but it's nice for a change and it does look good as people above have mentioned.


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Davwud

                              Davwud, since you are also in TO, but with a Southern wife, where are you having the top tier ones? Cream cheese icing or other?

                              I don't get the appeal of sorta-chocolate cake either, but I am tempted to try the highly rated, seemingly authentic recipe posted on CH and discussed again below, with the cooked icing. I like cream cheese icing okay, I think it goes particularly well with Carrot Cake, but I don't love it. So I'm not interested in a cake that is just an excuse to eat cream cheese icing.

                              1. re: julesrules

                                One place was G's Country Kitchen in Huntsville. Not traditional in presentation it was darned tasty.

                                I can't remember where the other place was but it was recently. It too was made sheet style but tasty.


                            2. My old red velvet cake recipe from a Southern lady I knew 40 years ago didn't have a cream cheese frosting, it had a cooked frosting, so that's what I've always used.
                              It seems that RVC is thought of as a chocolate cake with food coloring, but it's actually a buttermilk and cocoa cake (with food coloring). When I make it with non-dutched cocoa, and cake flour instead of AP, it is heavenly. I've never thought of it as a chocolate cake, myself. It has a unique flavor when it is made right.. which it rarely is. As many times as I've tried RVC since I moved to Georgia, I've never had one at a restaurant or bakery that is as good as the old recipe.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: jmcarthur8


                                Most recipes I see are so bastardized... it's no wonder someone asks Why? ...

                                For me the question is...Why Not??? ~~ What's next? ~ Fried green tomatoes? Pecan Pie? Grits??

                                1. re: Uncle Bob

                                  My mom used to make me one as my birthday cake from as far back as the early 70s, so I'm assuming her recipe was fairly old-school. I agree that damn near every version I have had over these past decades, that isn't hers, really does leave a lot to be desired. When it's good there is something about that texture and tanginess of the cake in contrast to the frosting that is pretty unique, especially once you get accustomed to it.

                                  I really do have to get my hands on that recipe- every commercial version out there seems to be from a different universe.

                                  1. re: TongoRad

                                    Here's one that is very close to my recipe, including the frosting. I like your description of the texture and tanginess - it's that indescribable sweet glow - not chocolate - almost savory that makes it so good.


                                    1. re: jmcarthur8

                                      Thanks a lot, I'm going to copy it and see if I can get my mom to bring her recipe along for Father's Day- then we can compare the two. Heck, it would be really great to compare the two cakes themselves but I doubt I could make that happen. One step at a time, though...

                                  2. re: Uncle Bob

                                    "What's next? ~ Fried green tomatoes? Pecan Pie? Grits??"

                                    Of course not...all of those things have unique flavors. To me, RVC has no unique quality to it other than the color. The taste is not unique at all. If blindfolded, would people know they were eating RVC? Probably not.

                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                      I does have a unique taste and texture, though. Like someone wrote above, it's moist and tangy.

                                      1. re: SnackHappy

                                        "...it's moist and tangy."

                                        So is Devil's food cake.

                                  3. re: jmcarthur8


                                    post please? oh please, oh please

                                    1. re: iL Divo


                                      Traditional Southern Red Velvet Cake

                                      1/2 cup butter
                                      1 1/2 cups sugar
                                      2 eggs
                                      2 heaping Tablespoons cocoa (not Dutched)
                                      2 oz. red food color
                                      2 1/4 cup cake flour
                                      1/2 tsp. salt
                                      1 cup buttermilk
                                      1 tsp. vanilla
                                      1 Tbs. vinegar
                                      1 tsp. baking soda

                                      Cream shortening with sugar, add eggs and beat well. Make a paste of food color and cocoa. Add to creamed mixture, Add alternately buttermilk and sifted flour and salt, then add vanilla. Add soda to vinegar, holding over mixing bowl. Add this, blending instead of beating. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350' in 8" layer pans.

                                      Here's the link to a frosting that is exactly the same as hers:

                                      I'll include it here, too, in case you just want to print this off.

                                      White Cooked Frosting

                                      1 cup milk
                                      1/4 cup all purpose flour
                                      1/2 cup shortening
                                      1/2 cup butter
                                      1 cup white sugar
                                      1 tsp. vanilla

                                      In a small saucepan, combine the milk and flour. Cook over medium high heat until boiling. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
                                      When the milk mixture is cool, add the butter, shortening, sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer for 10 to 12 minutes, scraping the bottom of the bowl occasionally.

                                  4. As with anything else, executed well, it's pretty great, but there are countless examples of just "blah" preparations.

                                    1. Good post.
                                      My sis is a pastry chef and she always advises others not to eat red velvet anything because of the amount of food coloring it requires to make that bright red.
                                      She also said she doesn't understand why people love red velvet cakes as there are no other extra flavoring used to make red velvet.(a bit of cocoa to the reg vanila cake, that's it).

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Monica

                                        That's not really so. As mentioned above, it's a buttermilk cake (from what I know of vanilla cake it's not usually a buttermilk cake). That's what the tangy flavor is. It's not supposed to be some bastardized version of "chocolate light" or something. And true / traditional / old school red velvet was made with beets not some crazy amount of red food coloring, though that is probably the way most (crappy) places make it these days.

                                        1. re: LNG212

                                          Beets would make it red for a reason, plus adding an earthy rich beautiful flavor. I can see that happening and being wonderful more easily than red fod coloring.

                                      2. I don't get red velvet cake either. I don't taste any discenible flavor and I rarely get one that's a good consistency.

                                        I get the appeal of cream cheese frosting. I love that stuff and if I'm going to eat cake as a vehicle for cream cheese frosting, I suppose it's better than carrot cake.

                                        I once had a red velvet cake at a dessert buffet that was deliciously moist and dense and the cream cheese frosting brought that over the edge, but there was still so little flavor!

                                        1. Maybe there's a population subset that likes to poop red. That's the only thing I can think of. It sure isn't the flavor, IMO

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                            Hahaha...I have to agree with many others. The jarring, unnatural look of the cake makes it unappealing. I feel the same way about orange liquid cheese (think stadium nachos). I do eat with my eyes, which is why RVC freaks me out.

                                          2. I had an obligatory slice at a recent office birthday party that someone had made with love from a box mix.

                                            I ended up spitting red for the rest of the afternoon (not sure why as I'm not typically a spitter). I quickly became reasonably well convinced that I had stomach cancer until I remembered the rather garish cake from earlier in the day.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: laststandchili

                                              Good point. It's like those stupid toothpastes that have red in them. Why on Earth would anyone use health care products the color of blood? Spitting red, red in your stool, that's how you tell there's something wrong with you.

                                            2. I'm not a fan of cake in general, and RV has the least appeal to me. The cake itself has very little flavor and the cream cheese icing is often too sweet for my tastes. And this comes from someone who worked in a bakery for 3 years and other restaurants for another 9. I've never had any cake (other than cheesecake) that really excited me. We're getting married in September (finally) and won't be having cake.

                                              1. The idea of that much food colouring in one place really squicks me out! And it's only got a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in it for the 'chocolate' so it's just not worth it. If you want the cream cheese frosting, put it on a carrot cake!

                                                1. Until I went back to over the road trucking, I was pretty much the official birthday cake baker for my wife's office. The Director of Residential Life always wanted a red velvet cake for his birthday because that was what his mother always made for him. It was a link to happy childhood memories for him.