Good to know: Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet gain popularity in the last decades . I did some research on it’s history, science and the downside of digesting red food coloring. There are a couple of stories when it turns to who created the first recipe.

 

History

 

#1

Cooks in the 1800s used almond flour, cocoa or cornstarch to soften the protein in flour and make finer-textured cakes that were then, with a Victorian flair, named velvet. All of this led to the mahogany cake, with its mix of buttermilk, vinegar, cocoa powder and coffee, and its cousin, the devil’s food cake. (I will post more info on this recipes soon.)

 

#2

In 1943, Irma S. Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking” (the book that inspired Julia Child) featured a Red Velvet cake recipe While Ms. Rombauer was not a fan and made note of this in her book, it was one of the first nationalized mentions of the Red Velvet cake.

 

#3

When sugar and butter were rationed during World War II, some bakers began adding beets or beet juice to their cakes. The red from the beet juice made the cakes more appealing, and the beets also acted as a filler and kept the cakes moist. Some red velvet recipes do actually call for beets, but there is no clear correlation between beets and Red Velvet cake, but rather just one theory on the cake’s origins.

 

#4

The Adams Extract company attributes itself to making the “original” Red Velvet cake in the 1920s. Currently you can buy the mix from the company in its vintage packaging.

 

#5

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City also claims it is the birthplace of the Red Velvet cake, with it being a popular menu item in the 1950s.

 

#6

Some argue that the Red Velvet cake started in Southern United States. While there is no one clear answer, we do know that something between the 1920s and the 1950s, Red Velvet became popularized in the United States.

 

Science

The answer is anthocyanin.

Anthocyanin is a reddish-purple antioxidant that is found in food you eat every day. It makes pomegranates red, cabbage magenta and even wine burgundy. Anthocyanin is special because it is pH sensitive–that is, it reacts to acids and bases. In a neutral environment, it’s purple, but in the presence of a base, it turns more blue-green, and in the presence of an acid, it turns more red-purple.

Most cocoa available in the groceries stores is known as Dutch process cocoa. The thing is natural coca is fairly acidic. When it is processed, the acid is reduced while creating a rich brown color. It is the acid in the natural cocoa that reacts to the buttermilk creating a reddish hue. Because natural cocoa isn’t as widely available, bakers opt instead to use Dutch process cocoa and add food coloring to give the cakes their color.

Take a look at this awesome post showing and testing the variations of red velvet recipes. Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Taste-Off: 8 Cakes, 25 Testers, 1 Winner

 

BEWARE OF RED FOOD COLORING

This is very important! The red doesn’t give the cake a nice flavor, unless there is a psychological effect that makes pretty cake taste better. Artificial food dyes- red in particular- have been linked to various health defects such as hyperactivity in children. Cakeland does not recommend this type of flavor for children festivities. I will soon post more info on the red food coloring production.

References:

NY Times, CheesecakeThe Bake More

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