This chocolate cake gets its crimson color from food dye. (Ken Burris / EatingWell)
This rich, chocolaty Southern favorite has its own culinary mythology: a couple at the Waldorf-Astoria, a shared slice of bright red chocolate cake, a request for the recipe, and the surprise of later finding a $100 charge on their room bill. Maybe all desserts this good deserve a legend.
Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks (see Cake-Baking Tips)
2 large eggs, at room temperature (see Cake-Baking Tips), separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ ounce red food coloring (4 teaspoons), optional (see ingredient note)
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
For cream cheese frosting and garnish
12 ounces soft light cream cheese
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½-1 ounce chocolate, grated, for garnish (optional)
To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.
Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until crumbly, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, then vanilla and food coloring (if using) until smooth.
Beat in half the buttermilk on low speed until smooth, then half the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the remaining buttermilk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture just until combined.
Clean and dry beaters. Beat egg whites in a clean medium bowl at high speed until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter until just incorporated, using long, even strokes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading to the edges. Gently rap the pans against the counter once or twice to settle the batter.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the layers onto the rack, remove the pans and let cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes more.
To prepare frosting and assemble cake: Beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Place one cake layer top-side down on a serving plate; cover with half the frosting, spreading just to the edges. Set the second layer on top, top-side down. Spread the remaining frosting on the top only. Sprinkle with grated chocolate, if desired. Makes 12 servings.
To make ahead: Wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 day. Assemble and frost when ready to serve.
Recipe tips and notes:
■When using cake pans, they must be greased and floured to create a thin layer of protection against the oven’s heat.
■Whole-wheat pastry flour has less gluten-forming potential than regular whole-wheat flour, making it a better choice for tender baked goods.
■To properly measure flour when baking, use a spoon to lightly scoop flour from its container into a measuring cup. Once in the measuring cup, use a knife or other straight edge to level the flour with the top of the cup. If the measuring cup is dipped directly into the container — a common mistake — the flour will be packed into the cup and result in extra flour being added to the recipe, yielding tough, dense baked goods.
■Room-temperature butter for a batter is one of the biggest culinary missteps. In fact, butter must be below 68 degrees to trap air molecules and build structure. Otherwise, the fat will be liquefied and the cake will be flat. To get “cool” butter: Cut refrigerated butter into chunks and let them sit in a bowl for 5 minutes before beating.
■Eggs must be at room temperature for the proteins to unwind enough to support the cake’s crumb. Either set the eggs out on the counter for 15 minutes or submerge them in their shells in a bowl of lukewarm (not hot) water for 5 minutes.
■Although you cannot overbeat the eggs, sugar and butter, you can overbeat the flour. If you do, you’ll develop the gluten and create a quick bread rather than a layer cake. Beat the flour just until there are no white grains of undissolved flour visible but not until the batter is smooth.
Ingredient note: If you prefer not to use food dye, you can omit it completely: Just add 4 more teaspoons of buttermilk to the batter (your cake will, however, be more brown than red).
Per serving: 276 calories; 11 g fat (7 g saturated fat; 36 percent calories from fat); 39 g carbohydrates; 66 mg cholesterol; 353 mg sodium; 6 g protein; 2 g fiber.