Monday, March 3, 2008

Raw Sugar Red Velvet Cake

Raw sugar is the reason I can't bake a red velvet cake for Zach's family's annual 4th of July reunion.

Red velvet cake is a southern cake figurehead, along with, of course, coconut cake and pound cake. Red velvet cake also happens to be Zach's favorite (hence the birthday version pictured here :-), so I've surely experimented with nearly e-v-e-r-y method and variation in existence - or at least I must be somewhat close. Last year, however, during my first introduction to the aforementioned family reunion, I met a cake that surpassed them all - Miss Ginger's red velvet cake.

"Want to try the best red velvet cake ever," Zach's great aunt asked? Of course...

The cake was moist. The cake sang with the classic, delicate red velvet blend of chocolate and vanilla. And to top it all off, a cooked, whipped frosting melted in your mouth with airy perfection. Apparently, my excitement was so palpable that at the end of the day, Miss Ginger (aka Zach's aunt) found me and, with a warm smile and careful directions, wrote out the recipe for me from memory.

The following weekend, back at our house, I eagerly followed Miss Ginger's directions. That night, we took the cake to Scott and Elise's house (Scott and Elise [of muffin fame] are Zach's brother and sister-in-law). Scott took one bite and proclaimed succulently, to my delight and total embarrassment, "this is the best freaking cake I've ever tasted. I think I want to marry this cake."

After a second helping, Scott turned to look at me quite seriously: "I don't know what you did, but this cake is even better than Aunt Ginger's. You can never tell her about this cake."

I was thoroughly perplexed at first, for I had religiously followed Miss Ginger's directions - or so I'd thought. Actually, the original recipe calls for white sugar, but I confess I haven't any in my pantry - not only does raw sugar have a lovely, soft caramel flavor that's milder than brown sugar but deeper in flavor than white sugar, but raw sugar retains the vitamins and minerals naturally present in sugar cane that are lost during white sugar's processing. I had used the raw sugar in that initial red velvet cake with nary an afterthought, and it turned out to be the magical ingredient - subsequent bakings with both raw and white sugar revealed that the raw sugar version was indeed far superior. And hey, if I'm going to use sugar, it might as well come with health benefits, right? :-)

Miss Ginger, the credit all goes to you - and to raw sugar!

Raw Sugar Red Velvet Cake
½ cup shortening
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 T cocoa
2 oz red food coloring
1 t salt
1 t vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 ¼ cups flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vinegar

~ Grease and flour the sides of two cake pans. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.
~ Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs.
~ Make a paste of cocoa and food coloring. Add to shortening mixture.
~ Mix salt, vanilla, and buttermilk. Add alternately with flour, starting with flour.
~ Mix soda and vinegar and fold into batter.
~ Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
~ Turn cakes out of pan immediately
~ When cakes are cool, split layers with dental floss (Yep, dental floss! Best baking trick ever). Frost, and refrigerate.

Cook 5 T flour and 1 cup milk (not skim) to a stiff paste while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and beat with a fork or spoon until cool. Cream 1 cup butter with 1 cup granulated sugar. Add 1 tsp vanilla and flour paste and beat until it looks like whipped cream.

A few of the secrets to red velvet cake...

Number one, the soda and the vinegar foams into extra rising ooomph, making the cake especially light, fluffy, and airy... Chemistry at work in the kitchen! Such fun!

As you may have already noticed, red velvet cake owes its color and its name to A Lot of Food Coloring... As in two whole bottles... See? In it goes...

The red coloring makes a very scary looking paste...

Now it's starting to look less scary, right? Soon it'll be all pretty and cranberry colored, whipped into the previously white batter... Festive, indeed!


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Cakelaw said...

This sounds like a pearler of a cake - thanks for sharing Miss Ginger's recipe (with the magic ingredient!).

anya said...

My hat is off to you, Miss Ginger and raw sugar!!!

My heart rate is speeding up only by looking at the cake photo, what could happen if I tried it??!!

Fantastic, Astra!!! Fantastic!!

Cookiemouse said...

Raw sugar does make a difference to the taste. I've never heard of this cake before, but it looks and sounds amazing.

Allison said...

oooh i've actually never even had red velvet cake...
so now I'm all excited to try this amazing sounding recipe! =)

ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

I love red velvet cake. It's so... red! Hehe

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Wow! Sounds great! I use only raw sugar too - youare right - it tastes so much better!

Astra Libris said...

Jeena, thanks for visiting!

CakeLaw, thank you so much!

Anya, many, many thanks! You're too witty - and too kind! :-)

CookieMouse, if you ever come to the good ole southern USA, we shall serve you some red velvet cake! :-)

Allison, I hope you enjoy the recipe! Welcome to red velvet cake! :-)

ChocolateCoveredVegan, you put it perfectly! :-)

Jenn, three cheers for raw sugar!

Anonymous said...


I'm new to red velvet cake and really want to make one for a birthday coming up and this one sounds so fantastic the way you describe it!

How would this recipe translate to a bundt cake pan?

Sara said...

Hello, love your blog and recipes. I'm a research assistant for a food writer and we're looking for a red velvet cake recipe from an amateur cook for a cookbook to be published this coming fall. We'd also like for it to be from someone in the South. Looks like that's you! Would love to include this one along with an interview with you. If interested, please contact me at Thanks! Sara