Why It Works

  • Non-obligatory food coloring produces the hallmark daring burgundy colour of a traditional crimson velvet cake—no beets, pomegranate juice, or freeze-dried fruit required.
  •  A beneficiant quantity of cocoa powder provides sturdy taste in addition to a wealthy, darkish colour.
  • Acidic buttermilk lends the cake a light tanginess, and produces a young, velvety crumb, and—because it reacts with the recipe’s baking soda—fluffy lightness.

With its signature crimson hue and swoops of downy white frosting, the crimson velvet cake is an iconic American dessert. However when commercially produced or comprised of a boxed combine, it has the tendency to be overbaked and bone-dry, with a saccharine taste that lacks complexity and a garish hue that calls to thoughts a self-conscious teenager armed with an enormous bottle of hair dye. Nevertheless, step right into a bakery that takes its craft significantly, and also you’ll discover {that a} correctly made crimson velvet cake could be a factor of magnificence: layers of moist scarlet cake flavored with bittersweet cocoa and tangy buttermilk stacked with thick, tart, and buttery cream cheese frosting, every chew as lush as…effectively, velvet. Consider it extra like Lucille Ball’s crimson hair—the vivid colour serves solely to boost the charisma of a star that already has lots going for it.

With cautious consideration paid to the components and technique used, anybody could make a crimson velvet cake that’s a feast for each the eyes and the style buds. The star components of crimson velvet cake—pure cocoa powder, buttermilk, and baking soda—assist to leaven the cake, however are additionally accountable for the chemical response that first gave the cake its iconic colour. Just a few drops of crimson meals coloring assist to additional improve the pure colour of the cake, making certain a crumb that’s inarguably crimson. Buttermilk and brown sugar retains the cake moist, whereas creaming the butter at room temperature helps to aerate the batter, leading to a high quality, tender cake. 

If the considered assembling and adorning a layered crimson velvet cake feels too daunting, haven’t any concern. We’ve included an choice for cupcakes, too—that are simpler to brighten and simply as scrumptious.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee


Why the Pink: The Story of Pink Velvet Cake’s Origins

In her award-winning cookbook BraveTart, former Critical Eats editor Stella Parks paperwork the evolution of the crimson velvet cake and traces the origins of the dessert to the wedding of two different fashionable sweets from the late 1800s—the velvet cake and the satan’s cake. These recipes formally merged in title and components when a recipe for “Velvet Cocoa Cake” was revealed in a 1911 concern of Ohio’s Elyria Chronicle. Just a few issues distinguished this cake that stay on in right now’s crimson velvet cake. 

Essentially the most notable is the usage of a combination of pure cocoa powder and buttermilk within the batter. In contrast to the Dutch-process cocoa powder most bakers depend on right now, pure cocoa powder comprises increased ranges of anthocyanins, water-soluble pigments accountable for the reddish-purple hues in vegetables and fruit. As cookbook writer and Critical Eats contributor Nik Sharma wrote in his information to pomegranate molasses, “when blended into an acidic resolution like lime juice or vinegar, [anthocyanins] flip crimson.” The mixture of acidic buttermilk and cocoa powder produced a batter with a reddish hue, albeit one nearer to mahogany than crimson.

Quickly after the introduction of the buttermilk/cocoa powder combo, maroon muffins like “Pink Chocolate Cake” and “Pink Satan’s Meals” have been exhibiting up in newspapers and cookbooks throughout the nation, and by the Nineteen Forties, the crimson velvet cake was effectively established within the American baking repertoire; it even appeared within the 1943 version of Irma S. Rombauer’s iconic Pleasure of Cooking. And whereas not a crimson velvet cake in title, the chocolate satan’s meals cake tinted crimson with dye in Freda DeKnight’s 1948 Date With a Dish: A Cook dinner Guide of American Negro Recipes sounds identical to one.

As for the “crimson” within the title, Stella means that as some recipes included proportionally extra buttermilk and fewer chocolate, utilizing “crimson” merely distinguished the cake from the “inky-black crumb of a correct satan’s meals.” Many readers of these recipes, nonetheless, have been disenchanted after they weren’t capable of create the crimson colour of the cake promised by the title. 

“Presumably annoyed with outcomes that didn’t stay as much as the hype,” writes Stella, “Lynn Chambers popularized doctoring buttermilk-cocoa muffins with a teaspoon of crimson dye in her syndicated kitchen column in 1942.” Across the identical time, Texas-based Adams Extract Firm started selling their dyes with a recipe for mahogany cake coloured with crimson dye. 

Nowadays, crimson velvet cake has turn out to be some of the iconic American desserts. Notably, it’s a vital a part of many Juneteenth celebrations right now, as the colour crimson is symbolic of Black resilience and sacrifice. “I do assume that’s one of many the explanation why crimson velvet cake is now a meals that individuals now affiliate with the Juneteenth vacation,” Nicole A. Taylor, writer of Watermelon and Pink Birds, tells GastroObscura. Although the dessert wasn’t a part of the celebration in its early days, it rapidly turned part of the Juneteenth desk as individuals considered extra crimson meals to incorporate of their celebrations of the vacation.

Along with Juneteenth, crimson velvet cake is great for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and birthdays, however in fact there’s no want to attend for a selected vacation to make this fabulous cake.

Critical Eats / Debbie Wee


The Key Strategies to Making Pink Velvet Cake

The recipe that follows is the results of rounds of testing and tweaking to supply what I imagine is the best crimson velvet cake: one with an expensive, velvety crumb that’s flavored with brown sugar, buttermilk, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Whereas not obligatory, a couple of drops of meals coloring lend the cake an undeniably vibrant shade of scarlet. I thought of utilizing extra “pure” colorants like beets, pomegranate juice, and freeze-dried crimson fruits for the crimson colour, however every of these choices provides flavors that aren’t typical for a traditional crimson velvet cake. I feel it is high quality to easily lean on meals coloring for that colour, to the diploma attaining a very crimson tone is necessary to you; it is probably not, by which case, be at liberty to go away the meals coloring out. 

One of many keys to attaining the right crumb lies within the selection of cocoa powder. You’ll wish to use pure cocoa powder and never Dutch processed; the upper acidity in pure cocoa reacts with the cake’s baking soda and buttermilk to correctly leaven the cake. Pure cocoa can be lighter in colour than Dutch processed cocoa, making it simpler for the crimson to indicate via the chocolate’s brown.

The temperature of your components is essential, too. Butter is most pliable at room temperature, making it excellent for aerating your muffins when beating it with sugar till fluffy. Watch out to not overmix as soon as your flour is added, although, as overbeating the batter will develop an excessive amount of gluten and make the cake robust.

As for frosting, my private choice is to boost the buttermilk tang of the cake with a cream cheese frosting, however there’s an extended historical past of topping velvet muffins with starch-thickened Ermine frosting, so I’ve included that as an choice as effectively.



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