The Crimson Cake

For years, the mere concept of a red velvet cake sounded so wholly unappetizing, I refused to even give it a try. Packing in more red food coloring than any flavor, what with that skimpy few tablespoons of cocoa, I figured it simply wasn’t worth a second thought. While others raved and this southern classic grew in popularity, I still held my ground and steadfastly refused to welcome that ruby red baked good into my recipe file.

What changed all of a sudden and compelled me to experiment with a small batch of cupcakes? Curiosity, for one, and my love for taking on challenges. No way would I use that bitter red dye, so changing up that one element opened the door to new possibilities with this sweet staple. Instead of going the path of beets like many others have for a natural hue, it only made sense to try adding in more flavor at the same time, making that bottle of reduced pomegranate juice leftover from an older project perfect for my purposes.

With an open mind and an empty stomach, I wanted so badly to understand what the hype was about and fall in love as so many others had… But sadly, I still don’t see what all the fuss is about. All that flickered through my mind as the tender crumb hit my tongue was how flat and unpronounced the flavor was; bitter and twisted, if anything at all. Maybe I’ll try again to solve this riddle, but for now I must once again say, “No red velvet for me, thanks.”

But the “cream cheese” frosting? THAT is one sweet concoction that’s absolutely swoon-worthy!

72 thoughts on “The Crimson Cake

  1. I think (personally) that the whole draw of red velvet cake IS the cream cheese frosting…and if that is the case…I’d rather have carrot cake, so there is yummy cake to go along with the yummy frosting!

  2. It remains cloaked in mystery for me, too. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just all about the rad color (typo intentional ;-)?

  3. I think it’s the nostalgia of Red Velvet more than the taste of Red Velvet, if that makes sense. And the cream cheese frosting doesn’t hurt.

  4. I was really eager to make some red velvet cupcakes but wasn’t too impressed with the result. I also had to drastically reduce the amount of food colouring due to the warnings of ‘no more than 1 tsp per 200ml’ plastered on the bottle (I had stupidly bought synthetic colouring, ack). In all honestly, your average cocoa brown or vanilla gold colour does it for me every time when it comes to cake.

    The pomegranate sounds interesting – I may experiment with that myself if not for the colour but for the flavour.

  5. I’ve used beat juice before, with pretty good success. As for red velvet, I don’t get it either. It was my least favorite task at the bakery, if only because it stained my hands and nails red for days!

  6. P.S.: I just noticed your Ritter Sport photo on your flickr feed. Not ANOTHER company making something non-vegan? This really angers me – it’s worked fine before so why change it? Surely all they achieve it the elimination of a chunk of their market?

    This has always baffled me.

  7. i’ve never been big on red velvet either… for some reason, the thought of eating red cake bothers me. (i’ve also never been a big cream cheese frosting fan – sacrilege, i know!)

  8. I’m with you on this. It’s one of those things I think people make/buy to impress other people. Also, I’m under the impression that to many folks, cake is cake, and that the name does it many favours in selling the recipe!

  9. I last year tried to make them and it did not quite work out. Maybe one day I may give them a go again as the pictures I have always seen seem very interesting looking cake.

    So I guess I agree with you :)

  10. I never really “got” red velvet either. The large amount of red food coloring always scared me and I never understood what the flavor was supposed to be. I used to make red velvet cupcakes at work and I would cringe at the amount of food coloring I would be adding.

  11. Oh, and the thing that pulls me in so much is the cream cheese frosting…Mhmmm, I could live on that stuff!

  12. I would gladly take the rest of the red velvets off of your hands! My favorite part about them is definitely the cream cheese frosting. Yum!

  13. I made a red (or should I say ‘purple’) velvet cake once before and like you, was unimpressed. The most exciting thing about it was the idea that so much food colouring could go into one cake.

  14. I am actually a fan of red velvet… especially the cream cheese frosting part. I love your idea of using pomegranate juice! Do you think that changed the flavor? Maybe masked the subtle chocolate flavor? They look beautiful regardless…

  15. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a red velvet but I don’t see the difference between that and chocolate besides it being red =/

  16. Okay, so it’s not just me. Red velvet cakes are beautiful, but I’m not impressed by the flavor.

    On thanksgiving, I had a rum cake that sent me into a dance and almost made me cry. I wasn’t just the rum, LOL.

  17. Hooray for NATURAL red dye!! And for insanely gorgeous cupcakes :-)

    **Just as a heads up: I will not be able to comment on blogs as often now, during this semester, due to work overload (I’m stressed already) – PLEASE know that I’m still loyally reading, but just won’t have time to comment. I hope you understand!!

  18. Wow those cupcakes do look gorgeous, and in the vegan community we’re so glad to hear the pom juice made them naturally red! I’ve actually never tried real red velvet cake, and I con’t see much of a “specialty” there. Did you adapt them from your basic chocolate cupcake recipe or create an entirely different one? Thanx! =)

  19. I happen to like red velvet cupcakes/cakes. It’s not my fave (I prefer chocolate) but I thot they are pretty good. Now, that cream cheese frosting, is something else. The only frosting I like!

  20. There’s something about red velvet cake that makes me feel like Scarlett O’Hara growing up in Georgia. I like it, to me, the red gives it a magical taste.

  21. I agree entirely. . . I just couldn’t bring myself to use that much red food coloring in a cake! To what purpose, I keep asking myself. . . isn’t it just a light chocolate cake? And shouldn’t the flavor be the thing we focus on–?

  22. I want to like red velvet cake because it sounds like it should be so magically delicious, but the vegan red velvets I’ve tried have always been just OK. I thought your pomegranate idea seemed promising! Great photo.

  23. I agree, I never really understood the appeal of red velvet cake. Especially since it’s red from food coloring – bleh. If my mouth is going to turn colors I prefer it do so from real food (like blackberries… mmmmm). Your’s sure does look pretty though!

  24. I absolutely love red velvet cake but what I think makes it so delicious had to be the icing.

    I made it myself and although it wasn’t as good as the icing I have eaten made by my friends it is still wonderful
    so there’s the trick I think: the icing

  25. You know, I love Red Velvet cake sometimes, but the majority of time I am really disappointed in it. It always seems to be dry or something.
    Your idea was a great one to try a different route!

  26. I’m not really interested in velvet cake too esp since they use red coloring to achieve the nice red. What matters is the flavor, not the appearance.

  27. It may not have tasted great but it sure looks incredible. I tried making it once (without the red food coloring) and I didn’t care too much for taste either. Not really vanilla and not really chocolate. It was just kind of meh.

  28. Apparently there’s also some unholy concoction that Paula Dean loves called Blue Velvet… And I don’t think that even has the chocolate in it…

  29. Cream cheese frosting makes the world go round :)

    What a shame about the cake! Like you, I’ve been avoiding making red velvet cake because of the colouring. The idea of a possible alternative sounded exciting.

  30. You pretty wrote about what I thought about red velvet cake. Glad to see I;m not alone.
    Maybe a bit of the frosting in each bite helps?

  31. I don’t understand the fascination with Red Velvet Cake either. It does have a beautiful color though. Albeit fake, fake, fake. I bet the frosting was wonderful. All of your baked goods look amazing as usual.

  32. I’m a fan of some red velvet, but not all. It has to have LOTS of yummy cream cheese frosting, must be moist, and must have a good portion of cocoa powder in the cake recipe! I read somewhere that the red color developed during World War II when foods were being rationed–some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. So it didn’t start out with all that artificial coloring!

  33. Exactly! I agree! Oprah raves about red velvet; I think it’s pointless and nasty. You did your duty: you tried it. Still sucks. :-) Blech.

  34. The red velvet cakes I have had were always moist, sweet and tasty – way better than most wedding cakes. A red velvet cake is often the 2nd cake at a wedding – the “groom’s cake” – with black/chocolate frosting (vs the white/white traditional wedding cake).

    The last wedding I attended with a groom’s cake was red velvet with dark chocolate frosting and the groom cut it with a sword. A very big sword. Now, if that’s not a metaphor for something, I dunno what.

    At any rate – what about red beets? Seems like red beet juice would be sweet and very red… ?

  35. yummy! The frosting is making my mouth water * swipes finger on frosting* oooo just as tasty as I knew it would be!!!!;)

  36. I made a red velvet cake for a friend once because she said it’s her favorite. I felt the same way- what’s the big deal? It didn’t taste that special to me and it had a lot of fussy ingredients (not to mention all that red dye) so… hmmmmm….

  37. I just spent the last week or so reading your blog. I do that whenever I find new reading material, haha. It’s interesting to work backwards, watching as the post counts go from 50 to none at all, as crafts get less and less complicated. It’s seeing someone and all they are today then going back and finding their roots and where they came from.

    Usually I’m a lurker and not a commenter, but you must have brought something out of me. I was amazed to know you’re, well, not old! I’m 17 myself. The mother-going-on-her-fourth-child blogs are nice to read, but it’s a breath of fresh air to hear you talk about college and how crafting fits with that. Please never stop blogging. <3 This is the first time I’ve found a good blog from someone more around my age.

    Sorry that this comment has nothing to do with your red velvet cupcakes (which look appetizing anyways). But it’s the most recent post, so why not just jump right in? I hope I can fight my lurking habit and comment every once in awhile. =)


  38. I’ve never had red velvet cake, I don’t think. I always thought it would taste like chocolate. I’m disappointed to find this out. And since I’m not big on frosting, I guess I will stick to the chocolate cake. Or rather, it kinda sticks to me. LOL. ;)

  39. Oops – I meant to say that it sounds like you have come up with a vegan version of “cream cheese frosting” so that will be good for those of your frosting loving fans. :)

  40. Thanks to Mevrouw Cupcake. She gave me your link. I’m so thrilled about your site! It’s gorgeious! The photos too! Red velvet cupcakes are the best!

    xxx Bar.

  41. i’ve had some pretty good red velvet cake in my day, but i’ve never succeeded at making it taste anywhere near as good as i think it should.

    sorry the pomegranate juice didn’t turn it around for you, but i love the creativity!

  42. So you got that color with pomegranate? I’ve tried beets(2 cups blended) but to no success, it just came out brown :( I dont think I’m alone as a ‘beet red velvet cake’ I had at a restaurant was really brown rather than red.

    A lot of people really love red velvet cake, so I like to have it in my repertoire but it doesnt make much sense to me either, especially adding so much color!

  43. i always think it’s best to try “the real deal” or, if poss, the most classical rendition of a dish before making an official pronouncement; sadly, as a vegan, this option is pretty much out for you, but i would encourage you to try again ~ i have eaten red velvet cake many times, and made my share, too, and let me say ~ even tho most recipes do contain a LOT of red food coloring, you can’t taste it at all: not like when you add it to icing… YUCK!!! furthermore, b/c the coloring is strictly aesthetic, you could always dial it down or leave it out completely and still get a better idea of the flavor/texture in a red velvet cake. imho, the bitterness you site in your final product could have come from the redux of the pom juice ~ the high level of tannins prob did nothing for mouth feel or flavor in the recipe.

    also, another thing about rv cake is the tenderness of the crumb. i have had so many that are overdone and dry or tough. my best friend’s grandmother makes the best rv cake i’ve ever had and she takes the cake out not when the toothpick comes out clean w/ a few crumbs on it (as most recipes for most cakes require), but when the middle of the cake is still slightly wobbly and the toothpick has a little goo on it. she leaves the cakes in their respective pans to cool for 30-45 min and they are perfectly done w/ out being over done.

    anyway, just some thoughts… some recipes are better than others, but please don’t count red velvet out quite yet! :)

  44. Never had them before and haven’t been tempted tastewise. Love their colour though. Good to know they are not all that so I won’t attempt them ;)
    They do look delicious with the cream cheese frosting!

  45. Sadly, I think that red velvet cake is one of those delicious Southern mysteries that cannot be veganized. Great idea using the pomegranite juice, although I think the slightly sour quality of it would badly contrast with the necessary soft, sweet, round taste. A great (but not vegan) recipe is in the book Southern Cakes: Sweet and Irresistable Recipes for Everyday Celebrations.

  46. I think it would be worth trying to dig up the red velvet cake recipe from Cook’s Illustrated they published within the past year or two. The red food coloring is not the only thing that gives the cake its red color, it also has something to do with the reaction between the cocoa powder and vinegar, if I recall correctly. They tested both the food coloring and the cocoa powder by small increments until they hit upon what they felt was the best combination. I AM from Georgia, so perhaps I’m biased, but it IS a magical cake. :)

  47. I think these cakes are “Wicked”, they taste just right and have that certain something most other cakes dont, and the name is perfect.
    Crimson Cake…

  48. These cakes are just pure bliss.
    A tongue tingling taste, with a beautiful crimson colour to top it off!
    I really loved these cakes, and so did the kids at the park!
    They are just the bee’s knees.

  49. Hey guys!
    This is Phil Jones from Wales!
    I’d just like to say that I made these cakes and gave them to the kids who came into my hardware shop the other day, man, I got some big old smiles!
    They swallowed every crumb!

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