Red Velvet Cake

One Cake to Rule Them All

I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on it.

My grandmother’s country kitchen. 2003. Her sister, Annie Ruth was in town; her Southernness reflected even in her name. She, unlike my grandmother, was busying about in the kitchen when I happened to walk by. I froze. My head slowly turned. Sitting atop the counter in quiet contemplation was a four layered cake. It’s color was a fresh blood red, crisp snowy icing a stark contrast to the magnificent hue I had never before encountered in cake form.


I carefully approached it, like a commoner viewing the Crown Jewels on display at the Louvre, feeling unworthy, yet titillated. I circled it, closely examining the crimson crumb, following the swirly sugary frosting enveloping its quiet inhabitant.

“It’s a Red Velvet Cake,” Annie Ruth said, clanging around pots and pans, tasting this and that.


I looked up at her with wide, wondering eyes. If I were a Disney character, they would have welled up and twinkled.

“It’s a Southern Specialty,” continued Annie Ruth, swirling a sauce, adding a dash of salt.

I was overcome with giddiness and squealed out of the room. I couldn’t WAIT to tear into that cake after dinner. I would be heartbroken, though. For as gorgeous as that cake was, I remember my disappointment when my first bite revealed a rather bland cake and sickly sweet frosting. I was dumbfounded. How could a cake so brilliant looking, taste like nothing?

Trickery! Misrepresentation! Foul Play! This cannot be! Surely this cake among cakes can not be so disappointing as this?! I expected a bold flavor, one of which I had never tasted before, to match a cake that had no equal. My cake dreams had come crashing down in one terrible bite. A low point in my life, indeed. Sorry, Annie Ruth.

The upside, though, is that I became obsessed with this cake. (Can an obsession be an “up?”) I was determined to find a Red Velvet cake that tasted as magnificent as it looked. Turns out, it was not so hard to do. I found a wonderful recipe by the Lady herself, Paula Deen, that worked very nicely. Usually, Red Velvet is paired with a cream cheese frosting, and I have included one which I love. Traditionally-traditionally, like back-in-the-day traditionally, I have heard it’s really supposed to be paired with a cooked milk frosting. Hey, whatever floats your boat. Traditionally-originally, Red Velvet Cake was made with beet juice. Now we use food coloring. I know. Whatever. I got over it.

My perfect Red Velvet has a dense, but soft velvet crumb (hence, the “velvet”) with a nice vanilla flavor, and a slight hint of cocoa. Annie Ruth’s crumb was too moist and kind of all sank together. The red velvet cakes I usually find in bakeries have big airy crumbs. (Yes, I am a Red Velvet snob. You will be too, after this recipe.) Some are nice, but it’s not Red Velvet in my book if it’s just red colored cake. You know the texture once you have it, and when you do, it’s hard to accept anything else. (My life of good food has RUINED me!!) Make sure to use Cake Flour, and the buttermilk also gives it a nice tang.

I am not a Southern Girl, nor did I grow up anywhere near it. But I have made this recipe many times and it never fails. People go mad for it. North, South, East & West. A tried and true Georgia Boy Chef said it was the best Red Velvet Cake he’s ever had. And he’s VERY hard to please. Hopefully, you’ll go mad for it too.

Grandmother Paul’s Red Velvet Cake

Recipe courtesy Paula Deen


  • 2 c Sugar
  • 1/2 lb (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T Cocoa Powder
  • 2 oz. (2 bottles- yikes!) Red Food Coloring
  • 2 1/2 c Cake Flour
  • 1 t Salt
  • 1 c Buttermilk
  • 1 t Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 t Baking Soda
  • 1 T Vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition.

Mix cocoa and food coloring together, then add to sugar mixture; mix well.

Sift together flour and salt.

Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

Blend in vanilla.

In small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture.

Pour batter into 2 (9-inch) or 3 (8-inch) round greased and floured pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.

For cupcakes, fill lined cupcake tins 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until done.

Cream Cheese Frosting

I LOVE this Cream Cheese frosting. The secret ingredient is Coco Lopez cream of coconut. I’ve cut it down from the original recipe from 1/2 c to 1/3 c because it can get a little too runny. You can fix this by adding more powdered sugar, or less cream of coconut.

  • 2 8-ounce packages Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) Butter, room temperature
  • 2 c Powdered Sugar
  • 1/3 c canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco Lopez*)
  • 1 t Vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese in medium bowl until fluffy. Add butter and beat to blend, no lumps. Add sugar, sweetened cream of coconut, and vanilla extract and beat until well blended.

* Canned sweetened cream of coconut is different than coconut milk, and can be found in the liquor section of most supermarkets.

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