Red Velvet Cake

English: Photograph of a slice of a 4-layer re...

Side Note: Vol. 1

Red Velvet Cake


The story of the Red Velvet Cake, or the Red Devil Cake, or the Waldorf Cake, or the $100.00 Cake has sort of become urban legend.  It is summed up here in the book:  The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand:


            Our friend, Dean Blair, got on a bus in San Jose one morning and shortly after, a lady got on the bus and started passing out these 3 x 5 cards with the recipe for “Red Velvet Cake.” She said she had recently been in New York and had dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria and had this cake. After she returned to San Jose, she wrote to the hotel asking for the name of the chef who had originated the cake, and if she could have the recipe.

            Subsequently she received the recipe in the mail along with a bill for something like $350 from the chef. She took the matter to her attorney, and he advised her that she would have to pay it because she had not inquired beforehand if there would be a charge for the service, and if so, how much it would be. Consequently, she apparently thought this would be a good way to get even with the chef.

While the chef of the Waldorf – Astoria Hotel is credited with the invention of this cake, it has actually become synonymous with the south.  It is thought that the idea of the recipe came about when the chef wanted to add the color red to make a devil’s food cake look more like the devil.  A popular myth associated with the recipe is that the red color is caused by a chemical reaction between the cocoa and the baking soda.  This is not the case, beet juice or red food coloring has always been the root of the recipes famous color.

The Waldorf – Astoria Hotel is one of New York’s premier hotels and is currently owned by the Hilton hotel group.  The original hotel once stood on the site now occupied by the Empire State Building and was originally two separate structures linked together by the “Peacock Alley.”  The hotel was demolished and moved to its current location in 1931.

There has been very little variation of this recipe over the years, since its inception in the 1920’s.  It has in that time become one of the classic American cakes and one of the most popular.  I often hesitate to include New York in the category of Mid-Atlantic cuisine, since it has such cosmopolitan roots as well as a strong influence from the New England school of cooking, but geographically, it does fall into the Mid-Atlantic region.

There was often a friendly revelry between Baltimore and New York in the early years of our nation’s history, as to which city could be called the country’s largest city.  New York, long ago passed Baltimore by, despite the fact that Baltimore was second only to Ellis Island as the entry point for immigration in the 19th century.

The culinary style of New York, if there is one, is so diversified that it defies categorization.  The variety of influences into the city was beyond cataloging, and even though traditional Mid-Atlantic cuisine is fast becoming a relic in our own region, it never stood a chance in New York.  It was just one of many.


Red Velvet Cake @ Figaro

Red Devil’s Food Cake

Encyclopedia of Cooking Vol. 3

Mary Margret McBride

Homemaker’s Research Institute 1958


½ Cup Shortening

1 ½ Cup Sugar

½ Cup Cocoa

2 Eggs

2 Cups Sifted Cake Flour

½ Cup Milk

2 Tsp. Baking Soda

1 Cup Boiling Water

1 Tsp. Vanilla


                Cream shortening and add sugar and cocoa.  Cream thoroughly and then add eggs and beat well. 

                Add flour alternately with milk in which soda has been dissolved.  Add boiling water and vanilla. 

Line bottom of 2 (8 inch) cake pans with waxed paper.  Turn into cake pans.

                Bake in moderate oven (350°F.) 30 minutes.  Frost as desired. 


The one thing that stands out about this recipe is the lack of any red coloring.  If you think that it is going to turn red on its own, the cocoa and acid myth, it will not.  You will need to add red food coloring to this dish.


Red Velvet Cake

Seaboard to Sideboard

The Junior League or Wilmington, North Carolina

Favorite Recipe Press, 1998


2 ½ Cups Flour

1 Tsp. Baking Powder

1 Tsp. Salt

1 ½ Cups Sugar

1 Cup Buttermilk

1 ¾ Cups Vegetable Oil

2 Eggs

1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Tsp. Vinegar

¼ Cup Red Food Coloring

Cream Cheese Frosting


                Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together.  Beat the sugar, buttermilk, oil and eggs in a large mixer.  Add the flour mixture and mix well.  Add the vinegar, vanilla and food coloring.  Pour into 3 greased and floured 8 inch cake pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 – 35 minutes or until the layers test done.  Cool the pans for a few minutes.  Invert onto wire racks to cool completely.  Spread cream cheese frosting between layers and on top and sides of the cake.   Yields: 12 servings. 


The unique thing about this recipe is the lack of cocoa.  This will indeed give you a red cake, but it will not be a red velvet cake since it is not a devil’s food cake recipe.  It is an interesting variation.

Red Velvet Cake

Southern Cakes

Nancie McDermott

Chronicle Books, 2007


2 ½ Cups All – Purpose Flour

½ Tsp. Salt

1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Cup Buttermilk (See Note)

2 Tbsp. Cocoa

1 Oz. Red Food Coloring

1 Cup (2 Sticks) Butter, Softened

2 Cups Sugar

2 Eggs

1 ½ Tsp. Baking Soda

1 Tbsp. Cider Vinegar or White Vinegar


1:            To Make the Cake:  heat the oven to 350°F.  Grease 2 (9 inch) round cake pans generously and line them with waxed paper or kitchen parchment.  Grease the paper and flour the pans. 

2:            Prepare 3 separate mixtures:  for the batter: combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and use a fork to mix them together well.  Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk.  Combine the cocoa and food coloring in a small bowl, mashing and stirring them together to make a thick, smooth paste.

3:            In a large bowl:  beat the butter with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute, until creamy and soft.  Add the sugar, and then beat well for 3 – 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl now and then.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy and smooth.  Scrape the cocoa – food coloring paste into the batter and beat it to mix evenly.

4:            Add about a third: of the flour mixture and then about half the milk, beating the batter with the mixer at low speed, and mixing only enough to make the flour and liquid disappear into the batter.  Mix in another third of the batter, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.

5:            In a small bowl:  combine the baking soda and vinegar and stir well.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to quickly mix the last mixture into the batter, folding it gently by hand.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pans. 

6:            Bake: at 350°F. for 20 – 25 minutes, until the layers spring back lightly when touched in the center and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans.

7:            Cool the Cakes: in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 15 minutes.  Then turn them out on the racks or on plates, remove the paper and turn top side up to cool completely. 

8:            Frost: with cream cheese icing.


Note: If you don’t have buttermilk, stir 1 Tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice into 1 cup of milk and let stand for 10 minutes. 


English: Red Velvet Cake :D


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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9 Responses to Red Velvet Cake

  1. Chef Randall says:

    Love your blog and specially this Red Velvet cake. I have a friend that likes this cake, their favorite. Going to use one of the recipes you posted here.
    Like to invite you to and while your there sign up to follow, it’s FREE.

    Again, thanks for sharing your blog and I look forward to your next post.

    Chef Randall

  2. Pingback: 5 Minute Frosting | familyrecipebooks

  3. Pingback: Waldorf Red Cake | familyrecipebooks

  4. Brook says:

    One of the most beautiful cakes ever:) (and *thank you* for the “like” at my blog.) *Your* blog is beautiful! The ocean at sunset (or sunrise) background is so peaceful and so pretty!

  5. sugarflight says:

    Can I have a slice?:)

  6. Sherry says:

    MMMMMMMMMMMMM That’s looks scrumptious!!!

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