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Published on 25 October 2022

The History Of Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake

What is Red Velvet cake?

Red Velvet Cake is a ‘velvety', fluffy and soft cake with a hint of chocolate.

You don't notice it's chocolate until someone points it out which makes it a very intriguing treat. Of course, there is the vivid red colour, which is often achieved with food colouring. But that is not it, a very important part of the Red Velvet Cake experience is the cream cheese as this cake traditionally comes with cream cheese icing, which stands out for its slightly tangy flavour. The combination of these two seems to be what makes the success of Red Velvet Cakes.

Red Velvet Cake often comes in the shape of your average cake but can also take the shape of other desserts, such as cupcakes, truffles, and macarons. And while a chocolate-flavoured, crimson-coloured cake and cream cheese frosting are typically used, some cakes omit chocolate altogether, utilise boiling milk icing (also known as ermine frosting), or even have a white chocolate drizzle added at the end. Red velvet cake is somewhat difficult to categorise.

What is the history of Red Velvet Cake?

So when did this mysterious treat first appear on the plate of cake lovers? Well, like many beloved dishes, there is no set recorded history of Red Velvet Cake. According to some accounts, velvet cakes first appeared in the late 1800s. These cakes were produced with rich ingredients like lots of eggs and almond flour, and they may have resembled pancakes or biscuits rather than the frosted layer cakes we know today. A lot of people attribute its creation to Dutch settlers who obtained a red-coloured cake through a chemical reaction between cocoa powder and other ingredients.

Some also believe the recipe was spread by a vengeful woman who leaked a restaurant’s best cake recipe after they overcharged her for it. Is this true? No could be, no one is really sure. The phrase "red velvet cake" first appeared in print many years ago.

What we know for sure is that red velvet cakes were offered as recipes or menu items in the 1940s and 1950s at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, in Irma S. Rombauer's guidebook The Joy of Cooking, by Adams Extract (one of the original producers of food colouring), and by Eaton's Department Store in Canada.

However, these reddish velvet cakes would probably not resemble the brilliant red cakes that we are familiar with and love today. No, that shade was only made possible by a World War II-era invention called red food colouring.

And it turns out that the American South can play a part in this. John A. Adams, a businessman from Texas who made his living selling food-grade extracts and dyes, was looking for a product he could market in post-World War II America when possibilities for many commodities were constrained by food shortages. Because cocoa was in short supply, the cake's original crimson colour wasn't always possible. For colour, chefs resorted to using beet juice or pureed beets.

Adams made a similar mixture that included red food colouring in an effort to gain market share and possibly ensure his company a reliable source of income. As butter was scarce due to war shortages, the extract company's rendition of red velvet cake also featured vanilla extract and butter flavouring.

So, it seems that the cocoa reaction as well as beets and food-colouring usage are all some part of the truth.

In conclusion

What is undeniable is that red velvet cake has slowly gained popularity in the United States since the 1950s, with the American South leading the way with great fervour. It has progressively won a spot in the canon of traditional American desserts and is now enjoyed all over the world as an all-American treat.

If all this talking about red velvet cake has given you an appetite for a delicious crimson treat, check out our incredibly luscious selection of red velvet delights on our website! Why not try our trusty Red Velvet Crunch Cake for your next party? Or our cute Red Velvet Cupcakes for your next family reunion? Or our sneaky Red Velvet Cookies for a comfy night in? Or our delicious Vegan Red Velvet Cake indulgence to celebrate the Vegan in your life? We offer a plethora of Red Velvet treats on our website, ordered now for next-day delivery in London and within the M25.