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!
While rummaging through Grandma's collection of old fashioned cookbooks, I could not find any mention of a vintage red velvet cake recipe before 1920. Not a single one!
I was hoping to include an early recipe in keeping with the historical theme of this site, since most of today's food blogs feature only modern red velvet cakes. 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)
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1/2 cup shortening
3 cups sugar
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces red food coloring
3 cups white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and food coloring. Mix well. Mix alternatively with this mixture the flour and milk, ending with flour.
Bake in tube pan for 1-1/4 hours. Begin in cold oven. Bake at 325°F. Ice with snowy white icing. —Ruth Clayton
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 actual 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 cake recipes became very popular in the early 1900s.
It's said that a chemical reaction between acids in sour milk and coca powders and the alkaline base in old fashioned baking sodas gave the cake batter its distinctively reddish tinge.
Some cooks enhanced and encouraged this phenomenon by adding a generous amount of cochineal (red) food coloring.
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.
Make the vintage red velvet cake recipe tonight and surprise your family with a classic dessert cake.