To cut in through the white frosted surface of a red velvet cake is to discover not only layer upon layer of soft red surprise that both draws one in with its color and satisfies upon tasting, but also to witness a little slice of history.
Sandy Loveless has the been baking the original version of this red velvet cake recipe for about 20 years since she inherited it from her late mother, Gunny Johnson. Johnson came across the recipe in the 1940s as a young woman making her way in New York.
“Mom became friends with one of the girls who worked at the Waldorf Astoria hotel,” Loveless said. “Her friend worked alongside the fabulous chef that invented the red velvet cake.”
Loveless said she was told her mom’s friend asked the chef for the recipe after tasting it and began sharing it with friends.
“Mom got the recipe from that girl,” Loveless said. “Once the chef found out the girl was sharing the recipe with others, he charged her $100, which was a lot of money back then.”
Loveless never really looked at the recipe until after her mother passed. She said she felt lucky to have the original. However, it is a tricky one to get right.
“It’s a challenge, especially the frosting,” she said. “It’s a cooked frosting versus a normal frosting.”
“It takes about three to four hours to make and requires a lot focus,” Loveless said.
She recommends organizing all the ingredients prior to preparation.
One key to properly preparing the frosting is to let the cooked flour and milk cool entirely before adding the melted butter.
“The warmth of the butter will make it fall,” Loveless said.
Another key to preparation is the mixing of the baking soda and vinegar, she said. After it foams up, it should be delicately folded into the cake batter and absolutely must not be beaten.
However, the most important ingredient is perhaps the red food coloring, Loveless said.
“The red does something to your head,” Sandy Loveless said. “Its color attracts. Kids go for it. I’ve made it without food coloring, and without it, the cocoa turns it an ugly color.”
Loveless said she has made two alterations to the recipe since she started baking it.
She reduced the original amount of food coloring from two ounces to one ounce, she said, because she didn’t like the idea of using that much coloring in the cake. Loveless also started using 1½ cups of powdered sugar in the frosting instead of 1 cup of granulated sugar because it made the frosting turn out better.
“I think maybe the chef wrote in granulated sugar to help protect his original recipe,” Loveless said.