Everyone’s tried it, and everyone loves it – or hates it. There doesn’t seem to be much in between. But what even is Red Velvet cake? And why is this technicolor torte a thing in the first place?
The combination of vivid red and pristine white icing is certainly striking inside a bakery case, but I’ve never been able to point to red velvet cake’s exact flavor. It’s… well… chocolate? Plus frosting?
We’ve got answers, via The Takeout.
The “velvet” part of the name, and the texture of the cake itself, comes from it Victorian roots.
There was a “velvet cake” with a smooth, soft crumb, as well as a “dense and fudgy” chocolate cake made with egg yolks. Parks claimed that around 1911, the two recipes converged and a “velvet cocoa cake” was born.
The “red” part is a little more involved. Adams Flavors, Foods, and Ingredients (a company that made food coloring, among other things) heavily promoted their recipe through the 40’s and 50’s and made it a part of pop culture forever. But even before that, Red Velvet cake was a thing. It was just a reddish brown or rust colored rather than vivid scarlet.
Traditionally, red velvet cake had a buttermilk or vinegar component that activated with the baking soda to make it super fluffy or velvety. Plus the cocoa powder wasn’t alkalized, so that would turn it a reddish-brown color when those combined.
It’s likely that someone decided to play up the effect with a few drops of food coloring, and a trend began! And still, people seem to have strong opinions about Red Velvet cake. Why does it remain popular after all these years?
“If we went back in a time machine and made yellow velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, we’d be all about that cake. Red velvet cake is just a vessel for the cream cheese frosting, which is just what people want.”