The History of Red Velvet Cake

Red velvet cake is softer than most cakes and has a subtle chocolate flavor with a fine crumb. It uses buttermilk for tangy flavor and vinegar (an acid that reacts with baking soda) for leavening power.


The recipe is easy to follow and the ingredients are common and often found in your pantry. Enjoy this classic two-layer cake topped with cream cheese frosting.


Few desserts have such a rich, colorful history as the luscious red velvet cake. It’s been a hit in ritzy hotels (like the famed Waldorf Astoria), made its way to state by Southern state, and is now enjoyed in homes across the country. But what’s the story behind this American original?

The exact origins of the cake aren’t clear. Some claim it was invented by a greedy chef at the Waldorf Astoria, while others point to its inclusion on a hotel restaurant menu in the 1920s. Still others say it was a result of food rationing during World War II, when bakers creatively used beet juice to make their cakes more vibrant.

Whatever the case, recipes for this cake started appearing in cookbooks in the early 1900s. By the time Irma Rombauer published her classic The Joy of Cooking in 1943, a version of the cake was already making its rounds across America.

Whether it was created in a New York City hotel, during the rationing of WWII, or through recipe tinkering by home bakers, one thing is for sure: this cake is all about the color. Its gorgeous hue, which can be achieved using a few drops of food coloring, makes it a favorite for Valentine’s Day and the 4th of July as well as Christmas dessert tables.


Red velvet cake is a show-stopping dessert that is perfect for Valentine’s Day, 4th of July celebrations, Christmas holidays, or any special occasion. It’s a classic Southern cake that is light on cocoa and buttery with vanilla.

Unlike chocolate cakes, which contain cocoa beans, red velvet cake gets its color from natural cocoa powder and acid. Typically, vinegar and buttermilk react with the natural cocoa to create a dusty maroon color. This reaction also helps leaven the cake.

When companies wanted to make more money, they started using food coloring to amp up the color. Today, most recipes call for red food coloring to achieve the bright scarlet color we are used to seeing.

It is important to use the right type of cocoa powder for this recipe. Both Dutch-process and natural cocoa powder will work, but the natural version is best if you want your cake to taste closer to chocolate.

You also need buttermilk and food coloring. The buttermilk adds richness to the batter and the food coloring gives the cake its signature color. Depending on your preference, you can use gel or liquid food coloring.

If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can substitute it with milk and a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Be sure to sift the flour and baking soda together before adding it to the wet ingredients. Adding it in this way will ensure that it is evenly distributed.


Aside from the classic two-layer cake, there are also several other red velvet recipes that are perfect for holiday desserts. For instance, this red velvet lava cake is delicious and easy to make, and it’s also perfect for Valentine’s Day or other romantic occasions.

If you want to try something a little different, this red velvet layered crepe recipe is an impressive showstopper. It isn’t as difficult to make as it looks, and the cream cheese frosting takes this cake to the next level.

Another fun variation on the classic red velvet is this cake popsicle recipe. It’s a great way to get kids involved in the kitchen, and it also makes a delicious snack after dinner. These popsicles are covered in white chocolate and garnished with red velvet cake crumbs, so they look really pretty too!

This red velvet cupcake recipe is a healthier take on the traditional version. It replaces the buttermilk with Vegenaise and uses beet juice as a natural red coloring. This vegan dessert is also gluten-free, making it a great option for anyone with food allergies or sensitivities.

This red velvet cake recipe is simple and quick to prepare, making it an ideal choice for beginners or busy bakers. The ingredients are easy to find, and the result is a beautiful and delicious cake that will impress your guests. If you have trouble getting the layers to rise evenly, try using cake strips (affiliate link).


The red-hued cake that’s now a staple on menus from boutique cupcake shops to high-end restaurants traces its roots back to the earliest of home cooks. Recipes for velvet cakes appeared in the 1800s, incorporating cocoa to create a smoother texture (its cousin is Devil’s Food Cake). But it wasn’t until World War II that the color made its mark, as bakers used dye to color their baked goods.

The story goes that a black pastry cook at the upscale Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City added the dessert to the menu. This wasn’t a particularly novel idea, since many black American families used the same recipes and ingredients in their kitchens, including homemade red food coloring.

Adams Extract, a company that manufactured food flavor extracts and colors, was quick to capitalize on the popularity of the red velvet cake. They started producing a red velvet cake recipe kit that included both their artificial color and a bottle of their product.

This was a smart move, as it was around this time that the food coloring became more widely available in America. Prior to this, most home bakers had to make do with natural ingredients like beet juice to give their cakes a rich hue. Beet juice also acted as a softener, keeping cakes moist and tender.