Here's a vintage red velvet cake recipe that's unique and fun to make. These rich-tasting layer cakes are famous for their delicate chocolate flavor and fluffy white-as-snow icing.
But, what really sets these spectacular dessert cakes apart is their eye-catching appearance when cut — their interiors are an unexpected, blood-red color!
Strangely, while rummaging through Grandma's collection of old fashioned cookbooks, I could not find any mention of a vintage red velvet cake recipe. Not a single one!
I was hoping to include an early recipe in keeping with the historical theme of this site, since only modern red velvet cakes are featured on most food blogs. But, I came up short.
HOWEVER, I did manage to find a recipe for an old fashioned Philadelphia Red Cake that produces a chocolate cake bearing a striking similarity to the famous red velvet cake. Could it be the forerunner of the vintage red velvet cake recipe? Try it and see.
The original 1920 recipe is given below followed by my tips for adapting it to produce a traditional red velvet cake.
The Perry Home Cook Book (1920)
Cream 1-1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup butter; add-beaten yolks of 3 eggs, 1/2 cup sour milk, 1-1/2 cups flour.
Dissolve 2 squares of chocolate in 1-1/2 cups boiling water; add 1 teaspoon soda to chocolate. Let cool; add to cake batter; lastly, fold in well-beaten whites of 3 eggs. Add to it red coloring. Flavor with vanilla. (Bake cake in moderate 350°F oven until it tests done.) —Ida Repstine
Adaptation © by Don Bell
The Philadelphia red cake recipe as given above makes a delicious cake, but if you want to adapt it to more closely resemble a vintage red velvet cake recipe, here's what you do:
Just reduce the water called for to 1/2 cup and increase the sour milk or buttermilk to 1 cup, to make a richer batter; and add 1 teaspoon white vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt to the list of ingredients.
Below are some added tips that will help you to create a contemporary red velvet cake.
Mom's Recipe Scrapbooks (c. 1920s)
1-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoonfuls butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup sour milk
1/2 cup boiling water
2 squares Baker's Unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sift flour once, measure the correct amount, add baking powder, and salt, and sift three times. Add sugar gradually to melted butter, and cream together until light and fluffy.
Add eggs. Beat mixture vigorously. Add flour and sour milk alternately, a small amount at a time.
Pour the boiling water into the melted chocolate; mix quickly. Add baking soda to chocolate and stir until thick. Cool slightly before adding to cake batter. Mix thoroughly. Add vanilla.
Bake in two greased 9-inch layer pans in moderate oven (350°F) for 25 minutes. To make three 10-inch layers, double the recipe.
Put favorite white frosting (see frosting recipe below) between layers and top and sides of cake.
1 cup butter; 3 cups sugar; 4 eggs (whole); 1 cup sour milk; 1 cup cocoa, 1 cup hot water; 4 cups flour; 1 teaspoon soda.
Pour hot water over cocoa and soda and stir in last of all. Be careful that water is boiling. Flavor with vanilla. Bake layers in moderate oven (350°F).
Boil 1-1/2 cups sugar, very small amount of water beaten in the whites of 2 eggs, with ground raisins. —Mrs. H. B. Dougan
1 cup sour cream; 1-1/2 cups sugar; 2 eggs; one-third cup hot water; enough flour; 1 teaspoon soda; 3 tablespoons cocoa; 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix and bake layers in moderate oven (350°F).
2 cups brown sugar; 1/2 cup sweet milk; 1 tablespoon cocoa; butter size of a walnut. —Mrs. Galen O'Roke, Oskaloosa, Kansas
1 cup butter; 1 cup brown sugar; 1 cup white sugar; 1 cup sweet milk; 1/2 cup molasses; 4 cups flour; 1/2 cup chocolate; 1/2 cup boiling water; 4 eggs; 1/2 teaspoon cream tartar; 1/2 teaspoon soda; 1 teaspoon each of allspice, cloves and cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg; 2 cups raisins; 1 cup citron; 1 cup English walnuts. Bake in moderate oven (350°F).
Ice with caramel icing. This also makes a unique Christmas cake. —Mrs. John Hackett
4 tablespoons butter; 1/2 cup powdered sugar; 1 tablespoon cocoa; 4 tablespoons coffee; cream butter, sugar and cocoa; then stir in the coffee little by little. —Mrs. W. E. Cain
1 egg white, unbeaten
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine egg white, sugar, salt, water, and corn syrup in top of double boiler. Beat about 1 minute, or until blended.
Cook over rapidly boiling water, beating constantly for about 4 minutes, or until frosting will stand in stiff peaks.
Remove from boiling water. Add Vanilla flavoring and beat for 1 minute, or until frosting is thick enough to spread on cake.
The true history of red velvet cakes remains unknown, but this unusual cake has long been a favorite in the American South.
A popular urban legend links its origin to New York's famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, but it cannot be substantiated, and the hotel persistently denies the alleged connection.
Some food historians think these unusual cakes might have originated as a devil's food cake. Chocolate devil's food cakes became very popular in the early 1900s.
It's said that a chemical reaction between the old-style baking sodas and processed coca powders sometimes gave the cake batter a distinctively reddish tinge.
Apparently, some cooks enhanced and encouraged this phenomenon by adding a generous amount of cochineal (red) food coloring.
Enjoy experimenting with the devil's food cakes that might have inspired the invention of the vintage red velvet cake recipe.
One thing that IS known, everybody loves these chocolatey red dessert cakes. They are most popular for serving on special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries.