Red velvet: is it time to move on?

With its vivid coloring, red velvet cake is often the top choice for a Valentine’s Day dessert. The cake – once a relatively obscure Southern specialty – rose to prominence in the late 90s and soon ‘red velvet’ found its way into a host of other foods from bagels to cinnamon rolls. The phrase become “secondhand for luxury, decadence, and richness,” according to food writer Jaya Saxena. But does red velvet live up to its hype? Saxena says no.

 “A bagel place should not have to worry about red velvet,” laments Saxena, who feels that in today’s world with the sense of urgency that drives brands to capitalize on the current “it” item, people will produce things to fit the trend, like slapping ‘red velvet’ on a product just to say they have it, without regard for quality or taste. It merely takes a healthy dose of red food coloring and maybe a bit of cream cheese icing to “red velvet” something, but what does that actually contribute besides an off flavor and odd hue?

Regardless of Saxena’s feelings on the matter, red velvet is sure to remain popular for awhile, especially on Valentine’s Day. I have listed below some of the top rated red velvet recipes in the EYB Library. Where do you stand on red velvet (cake or otherwise) – yay or nay?

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  • Rinshin  on  February 15, 2022

    I was first introduced to red velvet cake at a military family picnic event in Japan in 1961. As a kid who was not familiar with American food, I was mesmerized by the bright red color. I still find the color intriguing. The taste can be variable though like many things.

  • gamulholland  on  February 15, 2022

    I was never sure what its flavor was supposed to be. It always just seemed to me like a fairly bland cake that serves as a vehicle for cream cheese frosting for people who don’t like carrot cake? Like it was all about the color (which is usually very artificial and made with stuff that’s banned in Europe) and not so much about flavor. But maybe I just haven’t had good red velvet cake.

  • FJT  on  February 16, 2022

    I don’t think this ever caught on in Europe, so it’s not something I’ve ever tried … even when I lived in North America it passed me by. Not sure I see where the luxury is supposed to be in using food colouring to make a cake red unless it’s for kids!?!

  • averythingcooks  on  February 16, 2022

    I did a lot of reading and history of this cake includes details of a chocolate cake that used cocoa which was rich in anthocyanins which would turn red in an acidic buttermilk batter. Some bakers also began to use beetroot to enhance this colouration in their chocolate cakes. Many cakes at the time had a fairly coarse crumb but this cake was said to be particularly soft (almost like velvet!) and was also traditionally iced with a rich ermine frosting which is a French style buttercream using a butter based roux. More modern times have given us Dutch processed cocoa powder which does not undergo the acid induced colour change and of course the red food colouring now commonly used. Cream cheese icing is also a change from the traditional recipe (but I can not lie – I love the stuff:)

    I’m absolutely sure that I do not need a red velvet bagel but re: the cake… has an interesting history and we might be harshly judging something that was equated to luxury in the mid 1900’s based on our modern version. In this case, updated is clearly not the same as improved.

  • averythingcooks  on  February 16, 2022

    Oh well, I guess I repeated material also found in the link given here…but I enjoyed my research:)

  • EmmaJaneDay  on  February 18, 2022

    Red velvet is ok, if you like red-hued chocolate things, which is what it seems to symbolise to Australians, often without the cream cheese icing. Caramilk, on the other hand, can’t absent itself quickly enough to suit me! Disgusting stuff!

  • SerenaYLee  on  February 22, 2022

    To me red velvet cake is all about the texture (and the frosting – ermine or cream cheese). Nothing really distinctive about its taste. While I do like the captivating red color, I can’t help but feel a little bit put off knowing that I’m ingesting a chemical whenever I eat this cake. As far as red velvet bagels, cookies, et al, I feel it’s just all about the color and frosting (if present). If I wanted the frosting, I’d eat the cake instead.

  • jmcmanigal  on  February 24, 2022

    I agree, and am weary of “trendy” ingredients or preparations finding their way into everything. In California currently one cannot avoid:

    chile crisp
    salsa macha

    As for red velvet, it’s chocolate cake with fake coloring and not even really red, so I’m not sure what the big deal is. But if it tastes good I would certainly eat it!

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