Red Velvet cake is a type of rich and sweet chocolate cake with a distinctive dark, bright, or reddish-brown color most popular in the Southern United States.
It was discovered that the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn cocoa a reddish-brown color.
This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet".
Common ingredients in different recipes include buttermilk, butter, flour, cocoa powder, and often either beets or red food coloring.
Why beets? While foods were rationed during World War II, some bakers used boiled grated beets to enhance the color of their cakes and boiled beets or beet baby food can still be found in some recipes today.
When more-alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa became widely
available, its use caused the color to be less pronounced so, red
dye was probably incorporated into recipes in
order to replicate the earlier color.
The most typical frosting for a Red Velvet cake is a butter roux icing, but cream cheese buttercream frostings are also popular.
A couple of urban legends surround the ever-popular Red Velvet Cakes:
#1: Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York
Legend has it that a woman asked for the recipe for the red cake she was served at the hotel restaurant.
When she found out that she had been billed $100 (sometimes reported as $250) for the recipe, she became indignant and spread the recipe to all her friends as a chain letter.
#2: Eaton's of Canada
In the 1940s and 1950s, Red Velvet cake was a distinguishing dessert in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton's department store chain in Canada.
Because Eaton's promoted the recipe as "exclusive", with employees who knew the recipe sworn to secrecy, many patrons mistakenly believed the cake was invented by Lady Flora McCrea Eaton, the department store's matriarch.
Truth be known, the recipe likely originated in the southern United States.
Trivia: The 1989 film Steel Magnolias, in which the groom's cake is a Red Velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo, is partly responsible for a resurgence in the popularity of this cake.
Important Note: Traditionalists believe that these cakes must contain cocoa, although recipes are available that do not contain any chocolate flavoring. (Perish the thought!)