Red Velvet Cake Made Easy, by Beverly Hicks Burch

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Red Velvet Cake Made Easy

By Beverly Hicks Burch

There is a cake in the South that is almost mythical. This legendary cake is baked and served on almost all special occasions…especially Christmas, family occasions, holidays, social functions…you name it. If there is an occasion, then it’s good enough a reason to bake a Red Velvet Cake.

The origin of the Red Velvet Cake is enigmatic. No one can put an exact point of ancestry to this perennial favorite.

This cake has been a favorite in my family for years. I can recall making it from scratch as far back as the 1980’s. It is a cake my Aunt LaRue has been known to make at the drop of the hat…and been loved for doing so.

There is no small effort in making a Red Velvet Cake from scratch. The recipe usually includes buttermilk, vinegar, a smidgen of cocoa, red food coloring…and time. How you top it off or ice it is debatable. The recipe I have is for a roux type cooked/boiled type icing. I know…sounds funky, but it’s really creamy and yummy. Many times the icing is a cream cheese icing…with or without nut…your choice.

Now, believe it or not, before Tall and Handsome married me and came back South he had never heard of a Red Velvet Cake. *Gasp* Unthinkable! No true Steel Magnolia could think of passing this life without delighting the taste buds of her beloved with a Southern delight like the Red Velvet Cake. It just had to be…at least once at this Christmas was the right time.

Now this BamaSteelMagnolia™ learned a long time ago there are more ways than one to skin the proverbial rabbit. I had decided to make this delight for Christmas, but given the season and the fact that T & H would be home for some extra time at Christmas and I wanted to spend time with him and not pots and pans. Somewhere socked away in my memory, I recalled a quicker version of the Red Velvet Cake.

You see years ago I purchased a cookbook called The Cake Doctor, by Anne Byrne. If you don’t have this cookbook, grab it up! Within the covers was a recipe of Quick Red Velvet Cake and Ms Byrne’s insight into her quest for the history and origin of the cake.

It seems she did a search through many of her Southern cookbooks including her Junior League cookbooks and found nothing until she thumbed through a cookbook called Tennessee Tables. (Could this be more exciting for an East Tennessee born gal like me?!)

This cookbook had been published by the Junior League of Knoxville in 1982 and included a recipe for a Red Velvet Cake on page 204. The recipe was from Regas Restaurant and had been a specialty at the restaurant. It was supposedly served to Liberace when he came to town in 1970.

Thinking she had hit pay dirt, Ms Byrne called Louise Durman, food editor at the Knoxville News-Sentinel at the time. She was hoping she had discovered the point of origin of the cake.

Well, strike one and maybe strike out. All she could be told was that people in East Tennessee loved the cake (big surprise) and had been known to make Green Velvet Cakes at Christmas and Big Orange Cakes to coincide with University of Tennessee football games (go Vols!).

Now, coincidentally, own my own while living a little further South down in Birmingham, I had made a “Green Velvet Cake” more out of necessity than out of purpose. I had run out of red food coloring and all I had on hand was green food coloring. You see, the food coloring has no effect on the taste of the cake whatsoever…just the look. I would give you a little warning here though…green food coloring may affect your…ummm for lack of a better word digestive emissions…

Ms Byrne also had heard the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City might be the creator of the Red Velvet Cake recipe, but when she called the chef there, he informed her the hotel could not take credit for the cake.

My sneaking suspicion is a creative little Steel Magnolia in some sleepy little Southern town needed a cake to take to a function. And, wanting to “wow” and wanting to be a tad of a rebel she decided to pour a whole bottle of red food coloring into her cake batter to set tongues a wagging…instead, she created a tradition.

As usual, I took the recipe in the book and “Bev-ized” it. The adaptations I made to this recipe were to use low fat products to reduce calories and fat. So without further adieu…here is Red Velvet Cake Made Easy:

Red Velvet Cake Made Easy

1 box German Chocolate cake mix with pudding

1 cup low fat sour cream

½ cup water

½ cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)

1 – 1 ounce bottle red food coloring

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans. Be sure to shake out excess flour.

2. Add cake mix, low fat sour cream, water, oil food coloring, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Mix with an electric mixer for one minute on low speed. Increase the speed to medium and beat 2 – 3 more minutes, scrapping down the sides.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and place in the preheated oven. Bake 28 – 30 minutes or until the cake springs bake when lightly touched (or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean).

4. Cool pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool a further 30 minutes.

5. Ice with Cream Cheese Frosting. Keep in the refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 8 oz. package reduced fat cream cheese, softened

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

3 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds.

2. Add sugar a little bit at a time, blending well after each addition. After all sugar is added mix for one minute.

3. Add vanilla, increase speed to medium and mix for one minute or until icing is fluffy.


© 2009 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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