Red Velvet Cake: A Southern Tradition

Remember the  wedding reception scene in the movie Steel Magnolias in which the groom’s aunt shows off a red velvet groom’s cake shaped like an armadillo, swathed in gray icing? “I can do almost any shape except for a snake,” she says. “I don’t have the counter space.”

The armadillo shape and the unfortunate gray icing may be quirky, but Southern brides have a long tradition of choosing this luscious chocolate cake with cream cheese icing for the big day. Here in the South, red velvet cake is often served as the showy finish on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or at any dinner requiring a special dessert. Since the advent of the cupcake craze, red velvet cupcakes have become all the rage. This summer, on vacation in a small funky beach town on the Gulf coast, I had a sumptuous red velvet cupcake to top off a dinner of shrimp gumbo and cornbread. Perfect ending to the day.

No one is sure just how this Southern delight evolved. Recipes for a version of a butter cake similar to red velvet, but without the color, appeared in cookbooks as far back  as 1896. Some say it was an invention of the WW 2 era in which sugar-strapped cooks substituted sugar beets for the real thing. But since sugar beets are white and not red, this seems unlikely. Regardless, it’s absolutely delicious. Here’s a recipe for the cupcake version. Enjoy!

Preheat oven to 350. Line  2— 12 cup muffin pans with cupcake papers.

In a medium bowl, sift together: 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour ( I use Gold medal) 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, and 1 and 1/2 tsp cocoa powder. Set aside.  In another bowl, beat together: 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable oil ( Crisco is a good one) 1 cup buttermilk, 2 eggs at room temperature, 2 tbsp red food coloring, 1 tsp white vinegar and  1 tsp pure vanilla extract ( not imitation vanilla) until thoroughly mixed. Then sift  the dry ingredients into the wet ones and mix until smooth.  Divide the batter evenly into the prepared tins, filling each one about 2/3 full. Bake 10 minutes, turn the pans, and bake for another 10-12 minutes, until the cakes test done. Remove from oven and cool completely. Make the cream cheese frosting by beating 2- 8 ounce packages of softened cream cheese, 2 sticks of softened butter, and one tsp vanilla till smooth. Slowly add 4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar until incorporated. Continue beating the frosting till  light and fluffy.  Frost each cupcake. If you like,  add garnishes such as chopped pecans, jelly beans, or fresh berries.

Do you have a family tradition involving this delicious cake? Leave a comment and share your story.

6 thoughts on “Red Velvet Cake: A Southern Tradition

  1. Angelyn Williams

    I have been making a Red Velvet cake for 47 years! I have 2 daughters and I always make them a Red Velvet cake for their birthdays! One is in February and the other is in December! They would be shocked if I didn’t make the cake for them. I haven’t tried the cupcakes but I think i will have to do that soon.

    1. dorothy Post author

      Wow,, Angelyn. That’s a lot of red velvet cakes! Is your recipe similar to mine? I’m always interested in how other Southern bakers make it. thanks for stopping by “Inside Story.”

  2. Pingback: From Carrie Daly’s Farm Kitchen : Strawberry Wedding Cake « Jessica Keller

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