September 18th is National Red Velvet Cake Day, so what did we do? You guessed it: We baked a red velvet cake.
The recipe below, which we found in our files, is purportedly the original Red Velvet Cake recipe from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. It shows why we don’t like most red velvet recipes: not enough chocolate. Just a pretty red layer cake.
Our baker extraordinaire mom would say to this complaint: If you want a chocolate cake, bake a devil’s food cake. And experts agree that the cake is supposed to have just a hint of chocolate.
But bake the red velvet we did. We liked it, and the icing was heavenly.
But back to National Red Velvet Cake Day: Although no one can pinpoint when and where the recipe was created, “it is certain that the Waldorf-Astoria helped popularize red velvet cake in New York” [source].
Here’s the “origin story” on the hotel’s website. They call the story an urban legend.
The truth is out there!
The hotel claims to have sold the cake in the 1920s*; however, the recipe only appeared in print around the 1940s and 1950s [source].
Now here’s the rub: Few people in the U.S. at that time had ever heard of mascarpone cheese.
While the fresh, spreadable cheese was first made in Italy in the 16th or 17th century, it was very perishable and wasn’t exported at that time. In fact, it didn’t even get imported into the U.S. until the 1980s or so—and then, you had to search specialty Italian cheese stores.
It was the craze for tiramisu, “discovered” by American tourists, that brought the rich, succulent “Italian cream cheese” to New York City in the early 1980s. (Tiramisu is more than half mascarpone.)
In that culinary decade, “tiramisu became a major dessert preference in almost every Italian restaurant and bakery in New York City” [source].
We can vouch for that: We were there, eating tiramisu for dessert at every Italian restaurant meal.
Then, the rise of artisan American cheesemakers led to a delicious domestic mascarpone somewhere around the 1990s (photo #4). Vermont Creamery and Crave Brothers make such great mascarpone, that a container and a spoon is all we need to be happy.
And Crave Brothers makes chocolate mascarpone, too!
> Easy tiramisu recipe.
Regardless of its provenance, we enjoyed this cake very much, and are already planning to make it more “chocolatey” with the addition of chocolate chunks, next time around. And maybe we’ll add chocolate to the frosting, too.
For The Cake
1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Butter and line three 9-inch round cake pans with waxed paper.
2. MIX the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla with an electric mixer on low speed for 2 minutes.
3. SIFT together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and continue to mix on low speed until everything is incorporated.
4. MELT the chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water. Add the melted chocolate to the mixture while mixing on low speed. Add the puréed beets and food coloring. Continue to mix on low speed.
5. EVENLY DIVIDE the batter between the 3 pans and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes or until the center of the cake is done. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 minutes in pans, then turn the layers out onto the rack and let cool completely.
6. MAKE the icing: Pour the cream into a bowl and whip it into soft peaks. Place in the refrigerator.
7. PLACE the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until it is soft and smooth. Add the mascarpone and continue to mix on low speed until the cheeses are well combined. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix. Turn off the mixer and fold in the whipped cream by hand with a spatula.
8. USING a serrated knife, trim the top of each layer of cake so that it is flat. Top each slice with icing and repeat until all the layers are covered, and then ice the top and sides of the cake.
*Along with the Waldorf-Astoria, the Adams Extract company and Eaton’s Department Store in Toronto also lay claim. Irma S. Rombauer’s “The Joy of Cooking,” originally published in 1931, allegedly had a red velvet cake recipe (we haven’t been able to find an early copy to check it out) [source].