Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Baking Time - A Sure Favorite and a Bit of History

                                                    Red Velvet Cake.

Now where in the world did Red Velvet Cake come from? Some say it was an invention by a chef at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel  but what about the recipe's from old southern cookbooks dating back to the mid 1800's?  Many a church "cook book" contained recipe's for 'Velvet Cake", some red, some silver and some gold so the origins seem to be a mystery. 

Perhaps it all began when John A. Adams came along. His family-owned food colorings and extracts business had fared well since its inception in 1888. But housewives of the Great Depression had little use for his brand of frivolity and sales slumped. So he began setting up displays in groceries throughout the Midwest and parts of the South. These featured Adams Extract Company products under a huge color photo of the reddest Red Velvet cake ever seen. A free copy of the recipe (modified to include Adams Best Vanilla, Adams Butter Flavor, and two bottles of Adams Red Color) came with every purchase. In the austere climate of the day, Red Velvet became a sensation.

Over the years, Adams' entrepreneurial gambit took on a life of its own. That Red Velvet recipe circulated widely throughout the Midwest and South, reprinted in regional newspapers and evolving as each editor embellished it in tiny ways. By 1972, James Beard discussed three recipes for Red Velvet in American Cookery. All three featured shortening and dye. Given that Adams swapped butter for shortening in his recipe as an excuse to bolster sales of Butter Flavor, the family resemblance seems clear.

What started as an innocent ploy to sell some food coloring has turned into a gross game of one-upmanship as bakers vie to achieve the reddest of reds; as if redness alone defined the cake and not a fine crumb and the rich taste of cocoa and brown sugar. On the other hand, dye deniers, oblivious to Adams' influence, have reconnected elaborate back-stories involving World War Two, thrifty bakers deprived of sugar, and beet juice. I can count my responses to these stories on one hand. With one finger, in fact. Care to guess which one?

Well, there you have it, a brief history of the Red Velvet Cake. The mystery remains unsolved but the cake is even more popular today than in yesteryear.
It is one of the most "made" cakes at Christmas time and so without delay I offer you the Original Red Velvet Cake Recipe by Betty Adams of the Adams Extract Company.

1 Tsp soda
1 cup of buttermilk
1 tblsp vinegar
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups of sugar
2 eggs
1tsp "Adams Best" Vanilla- of course any brand of Vanilla will do but I am being true to the recipe.
2 1/2 bottles Adams Red Color
3 tblsp cocoa
2-1/2 cups of sifted  (cake)flour 
1 tsp salt

Cream shortening, sugar, eggs and flavors.
In a separate bowl make a paste of cocoa and food coloring; add this to first mixture.
Alternately add flour and buttermilk
Mix soda and vinegar in small bowl ; add to batter.
Blend all ingredients together.
Bake in 3 9 or 10 inch pans for 20-25 minutes at 350 degrees.
Let cool completely before frosting. ( Frosting recipe follows below)

There are two kinds of frosting but I use the cooked frosting rather than the non-cooked. I will  give the cooked first followed by the non-cooked.

3tblsp Flour            
1 cup Milk
1 cup Shortening
1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup Sugar
2 tsp Adams Best Vanilla; again use your favorite vanilla
1/4 tsp Adams Butter Flavor

Cook milk, flour, salt until thick, stirring constantly. Let cool
Cream shortening and sugar very well and add flavors.
Combine to first mixture and beat well until thoroughly blended.
Apply to cooled cake starting with the bottom layer and working upward. Finish off with applying to sides of cake. At least that is the way I do it. :D


No-Cook Icing
 1 cup sugar
 1 cup shortening
 2 tsp "Adams Best" Vanilla
 1/4 tsp Adams Butter Flavor
 1/2 tsp salt
 1 cup of Milk (appx)

Sift confectioners' sugar. Blend 1/2 of the sugar with the shortening, flavors and salt.
Alternately add the rest of the sugar and enough milk for smooth spreading icing. 

There you have it. Now bake one and impress all of your friends and family. You can also tell the story of the cake for those with an interest in history of cooking and folklore while sipping a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon,(A rich red wine with red fruit mixed with spice) or perhaps a
Madeira which is a sweet wine with a hint of caramel, almonds, & hazelnuts.  Either way, Cheers and enjoy the Cake.


The Habitual Muse... said...

Here's how my nanny use to make it. I remember clearly because during this baking process is when I had my first taste of buttermilk...which i promptly spewed all over the kitchen. I also remember eating so much of it once that I had a scare that I was bleeding internally. We won't discuss how I happened upon that frightening little piece of info. Eeeek! Anyway, as far as the icing, she used cream cheese frosting, but I like good ole' buttercream myself! the holidays. P.S. once the cake is baked and cooled, one can always crumble the whole thing up, mix in a batch of frosting until it turns back into a dough. then, form bon bon sized balls, freeze then dip in tempered chocolate. makes amazing bon bons! WARNING! NOT for the weak at heart....or dieters! :)

2 cups sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ounces red food coloring
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar

The Habitual Muse... said...

Good Grief! here is the recipe directions. There are certain things you have to do to cause proper chemical reactions in order to get the cake to turn out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar in small bowl and add to mixture. Pour batter into 3 (8-inch) round greased and floured pans (I like a spring form, but whatever floats your boat). Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting. I made the mistake of trying to rush it and do it while still slightly warm....not a good plan! :)

Ticker said...

Yep, that's Momma's recipe. I looked for it but couldn't find it. Somehow I knew you had it. I have made both the one featured and Momma's. I like her's best because it uses real butter rather than the butter flavor and shortening.
Now to get the recipe for bourbon balls from you. hahahah.

Love you baby girl.

Always On Watch said...

I love Red Velvet Cake! I've never baked one, though.

Ticker said...

Give it a try AOW. I am sure that you can do it. I mean, look at me, I can bake one. Use either recipe. The one posted by the Muse is my Mom's and I can tell you that it is out of this world. The other one is very good as well and I have used the recipe several times when I couldn't find my Mom's. I use cream cheese icing but the Muse, my baby girl, likes the butter cream. I love em both.
Get busy and make Mr. AOW one for Christmas.

sue hanes said...

Ticker - Ever see Steel Magnolias -
and the part about the red velvet cake?