When you think of red velvet, you might picture a billowy curtain at a fancy theater or the iconic carpet at a Hollywood event. At Hershey, we think dessert! But your associations aren’t far off from the decadent, classy feeling that comes with a perfectly baked red velvet cake.
What is red velvet cake?
The origins of this eye-catching dessert have been debated since it first came on to the scene. But most sources agree that the first versions of the recipe got their red color from a chemical reaction involving the kind of raw cocoa powder that was available to bakers at the time. Because it was raw cocoa, the acid in the buttermilk turned the cocoa a deep burgundy or rust color.
Ingredients and versions of the recipe have evolved through the years, as they often do, and red velvet cake became redder through the invention of food coloring. But the inclusion of cocoa powder has stood the test of time.
What makes red velvet cake different from chocolate cake?
Even though red velvet cake has cocoa powder in it, you’d never confuse it for chocolate cake. The signature red color is standard across all red velvet recipes, from cookies to cheesecakes. Red velvet cakes are also often finished with a cream cheese or vanilla creme frosting, which plays off the tart buttermilk in the batter and makes a striking color contrast.
Speaking of buttermilk, you won’t find that in a chocolate cake. Some red velvet recipes even call for vinegar to give the cake a well-balanced flavor that melds sweetness and acidity. The best way to find the red velvet recipe you love most is to try baking them for yourself!
Homemade Red Velvet Recipes
From sour cream to beet juice, every baker has their signature spin on this popular cake recipe. But we think the best way to get the perfect red velvet cake is to tweak your ingredients exactly how you like to create your own signature recipe.
And you don’t need to stop at cake. Use red velvet as your foundation for cookies, cheesecake or even whoopie pies! Here are some red velvet recipe ideas to get you started.
Red Velvet Cake
You can make red velvet cake for nearly any occasion, but it’s especially popular for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Lunar New Year and Juneteenth. The color red has many meanings and associations with holidays across cultures. No matter what you’re celebrating, this cake always looks joyful, inviting and sweet. So make it for people you love!
Red Velvet Cookies
As delicious as classic red velvet cakes may be, it’s not always practical to transport a whole cake to picnics or school celebrations. So, if you need a more portable option, try these red velvet cookie recipes! They’re easy to pack up and pass out to a crowd — and they’re even easier to eat.
Other Red Velvet Desserts
We’ve covered cakes and cookies, but what about other kinds of red velvet desserts? The only limits are how far you feel like stretching your imagination. Whether you want to make an elegant red and white swirled dessert or a hand-held version of the classic cake, use our recipes as a jumping-off point for your very own creations!
FAQs About Red Velvet Desserts
Yes! As far as we can tell, every form of red velvet cake since its invention had cocoa powder as a key ingredient.
Red velvet cake has a flavor all its own. Cocoa powder gives deep and rich chocolate notes to the base of the cake, while buttermilk (and sometimes white vinegar) brings a tart aftertaste. Since most red velvet cakes are finished with cream cheese frosting, you’ll find a delightful balance of sweet, tart and chocolaty flavors that make red velvet one of the tastiest cakes around.
According to The Washington Post, the first “red velvet” cake didn’t make its appearance in print until the mid-1900s, likely because that’s when cocoa powder first became available to more bakers.
The earliest forms of red velvet cake called for raw cocoa powder, which has a natural pigment that gives plants a blue, purple or red hue (depending on their PH). When this ingredient met an acidic substance (like buttermilk), the cocoa turned red.
Since the cocoa powder we use today is processed before it hits the shelves, it doesn’t create the same chemical reaction that raw cocoa would. So, modern bakers use food coloring or natural dyes (like beet juice) to make red velvet cakes red.