cocoa

basic bundt series: chocolate bundt cake

Hey there! Remember me?

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

If you follow me on instagram, you probably already know from my stories that I have been a busy busy BUSY little bee. If you don’t follow me, btw, what the hell man?

Not cool.

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

In the months since the holidays, I designed and renovated another hair shop with my husband and wonderful amazing mother, and now Maxwell’s has a second location in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s taken every ounce of strength in my being not to call it “Maxwell’s 2, Electric Boogaloo”. Sadly for me, but more appropriately, Russell decided to keep the same name, Maxwell’s for Hair, or Maxwell’s Crown Heights if you need to keep the two locations straight.
It’s absolutely nuts, but you guys, we’re a chain! (Oh Spud!)

I also moved into a new position at work, which is amazing and exciting and perfect for me, but getting used to the new role has taken a lot out of me, which is another reason that I’ve been MIA on this end.

Oh yeah, and I decided to paint our bedroom, which basically turned into redecorating the entire room from floor to ceiling. I’ve brought some of you along with me on this journey via instagram stories, but just to re-cap, I painted the walls, painted the ceiling, got new bedding, added a bunch of purdy new potted plants, and after an exhaustive search, decided on new curtains.
If I can get my shit together maybe I’ll post about it, because there have actually been even more changes in there since I last blogged about my apartment, but who am I kidding?
No promises.

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Thankfully, things are beginning to calm down around here and it feels like, at least temporarily, life is getting back to normal. The new shop is doing well, I’m adjusting to the new position, and the bedroom is like 93% done.

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I also got a new oven for Christmas which has not seen nearly enough action, so now that things are calming down I’m hoping to get back into baking much more regularly. Just in time to get back into the kitchen, Nordic Ware released a stunning new bundt pan that you know I just HAD to have.

Their Brilliance pan is modern yet timeless, perfectly elegant, and absolutely gorgeous. I’ve said it time and time again, but on top of being beautiful, Nordic Ware bundt pans are sturdy, heavy-duty, ultra-non-stick, and unbelievably durable. You know I bake a butt load of bundts y’all, so trust me, these pans hold up well to a beating!

They’re also a family owned company that still makes their beautiful bundt pans right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. The bundt pan is by far their most famous and popular product, and no one makes bundt pans as well as they do.

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’ve been trying to perfect a chocolate bundt for a good long while now to share as part of my Basic Bundt Series. I’m always looking for bundt recipes that are classic and simple, relatively easy to prepare, impossibly delicious on their own, but also customizable with a few simple changes or substitutions.

After more recipe testing than I’d like to admit (it’s written all over my waistline), I’ve finally perfected the most amazing chocolate bundt cake the world (or at least my mouth) has ever known!

It’s perfectly moist and tender, with rich chocolate flavor thanks to the addition of both dutch process cocoa and mini chocolate chips, and has a nice depth from the addition of both coffee and brown sugar. It’s also just sweet enough without being cloying, and the best part? No stand mixer! The whole thing can be thrown together with a big bowl, a whisk, and a silicone spatula!

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

A coworker of mine described the flavor of this cake as “Oreos dipped in milk” which honestly might be the highest praise any of my cakes have ever received.

Ever.

Part of that “Oreo” flavor definitely comes from using dutch process cocoa, which is darker and richer, more chocolatey and less cocoa-y, than traditional baking cocoa. It’s definitely worth looking for, but if you can’t find it, don’t worry! This cake will still be incredibly moist and delicious and chocolatey, if just a bit lighter in color and less Oreo-like in flavor.

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I went with a basic white glaze because I thought it would contrast nicely against the deep dark brown of the cake, and I honestly didn’t think any more chocolate was necessary. If you wanted to though, you could certainly go for a ganache or cocoa glaze instead.

In terms of customization, the sky’s the limit with this basic chocolate cake. One of my favorite ways to jazz it up is to zest an orange or two into the granulated sugar before mixing it in with the dry ingredients, and then swapping out the brewed coffee for some fresh squeezed orange juice!
You could also swap out the mini chocolate chips for a cup of fresh raspberries or halved pitted cherries to add some summer brightness.
If you wanted a more powerful coffee flavor you could also mix a couple teaspoons of espresso powder in with the coffee, or make a glaze with a coffee liqueur. Speaking of adding liqueur to the glaze, why not go nuts with some Amaretto or Frangelico, or even go all out with bourbon or rum?

Gussied up and personalized, or un-fussed with and made as written, this chocolate cake is a definite crowd pleaser y’all!

basic bundt series | chocolate bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Bundt Cake

1 cup hot brewed coffee
3/4 cup dutch process cocoa powder (plus more for pan) *see note
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter (plus more for pan)
1/2 cup peanut (or vegetable) oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (optional) **see note

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Brush (or spray) a 10 to 12 cup bundt pan with softened butter (or oil), and add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder. Shake the cocoa around the pan until evenly distributed, and tap out any excess.

In a large measuring cup or microwave safe bowl, combine the coffee and cocoa powder and whisk out any lumps. If the coffee is still very hot, add the stick of butter and stir until melted or, if necessary, microwave it just until the butter is melted. Whisk in oil, buttermilk, and vanilla to cool the mixture down a bit before adding the eggs. Then add the eggs and brown sugar and whisk until well blended and free of lumps.

In a separate bowl, whisk together granulated sugar, flour, salt, & baking soda and powder. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the liquid ingredients. With a silicone spatula, stir just until there are no visible streaks of dry flour left. Then stir in the mini chocolate chips if using, just until evenly distributed.

Pour batter into the prepared pan, not more than 3/4 of the way up the sides. If using a 12 cup pan, all the batter will fit. In a 10 cup pan, you may want to reserve just a tiny bit to avoid a mess in your oven. Bake in the center of the oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake no longer jiggles, and the top springs back when gently pressed with a fingertip. You could try a toothpick or cake tester but the melted chocolate chips may give you a false reading.

Cool for about 30 minutes on a wire rack before turning out of pan. Turn out onto the rack and cool completely before glazing.

Best Simple Bundt Cake Glaze:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons half & half

Mix sugar, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons half & half together in a small bowl. Mix until completely smooth and free of lumps. You want the glaze to be very thick so it doesn’t slide right off the cake, but it does need to be liquid enough that it pours smoothly. If necessary, thin the glaze out with more half & half, adding only about 1/4 a teaspoon at a time to avoid thinning it too much.

Place a sheet pan under the cooling rack to catch any drips, and pour the glaze in a steady stream over the cake.. Let the glaze harden for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Cake can be stored, tightly covered at room temperature, for about 3 days.

cooks notes:
* I use a dutch process cocoa for a deep, rich chocolate flavor, but if you can’t find it, regular cocoa powder will work.
** If you use regular size chocolate chips or chunks, they’ll likely sink to the bottom of the pan and could cause the cake to stick. The minis however, are light enough to stay evenly distributed throughout the batter as it bakes.

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dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes

When I was a kid, Halloween was my absolute favorite holiday.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

I mean, I’ve always loved Thanksgiving too, for the food of course, but as a young kid Halloween was the freakin’ best. Turkey and pumpkin pie are great and all but costumes and candy, and running around at night like a little lunatic with fake vampire teeth? Grandma’s cornbread dressing couldn’t hold a candle…

I’ve had countless costumes over the years, but I’ll never forget an especially uncomfortable year dressed as Frankenstein with tons of sticky green makeup and itchy stick-on eyebrows and neck bolts. After that, the simpler and more elegant Dracula was definitely my go to.
Each year I’d get a new costume complete with fangs, cape, and gold medallion, and as a young gay boy I already had all the crisp white button downs and black dress pants that were required but not included with the costume.  (No jeans and T-shirt for this little sissy boy!)
I think it really was the dressed up, fancy man aspect of Dracula that appealed to me most year after year, and it wasn’t until I found my grandma’s old wig in her bathroom closet that the appeal started to wear off…

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

These days I usually spend most of the month of October thinking up all sorts of witty, hysterical costumes that I could wear, but never do. The last time I dressed up was for work, about 4 years ago. I’d just started working at Whisk slinging fancy kitchen gear, and we all came up with this hilarious plan to come to work dressed as a Food Network star.
Group costumes are the best! What could go wrong?!?!

A few days later I show up to work in full Ina Garten regalia, and oops! Everyone either forgot or didn’t have time to get their costumes together.  One person, who usually works from home, loved the idea and actually did come in for an hour or two dressed as Alton Brown (essentially dressed as an older, nerdier version of himself) to take pictures, but everyone else either didn’t dress up or threw something else together at the last minute.
As I stood there working my full shift in an oversized navy blouse, huge clip on pearl earrings, lipstick, and an itchy bob wig; I vowed never again to be duped by allure of an amazing group costume idea.

I haven’t dressed up since.
Womp Womp.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Even though I’m too old for trick-or-treating and haven’t put on a costume in years, I really do still have a special place in my heart for Halloween.

I like to imagine that some day in the future I’ll be the type of adult who’s famous among his circle of friends for hosting amazing costume parties that are talked about for years to come. Basically I dream of one day throwing Halloween parties just like the ones on Roseanne, complete with decorations so elaborate and costumes so perfectly spot-on that everyone I know will try, and fail, to one-up me year after year.
By the way, am I the only one who’s ever wondered how the lower middle class Connor family, who always seemed to have trouble paying their bills on time, came up with all the money for their costumes and decorations?
I guess it doesn’t matter, but, like, that stuff ain’t cheap!

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

With all my dreams of Halloween entertaining one-upmanship, the minute I saw this adorable haunted skull cakelet pan, I knew that I HAD to have it.

You all know I love Nordic Ware. I’ve told you more than once twice three times (a lady), but after finally having a chance to use this pan you’ll have to excuse me as I wax poetic once again.

Nordic Ware has been making exceptional cookware and bakeware right here in the US for 70 years now, and even after all this time they’re still a family owned company. The bundt pan is by far their most famous and most popular product, but they also specialize in all sorts of elaborate and festively shaped baking pans. No one can compare to their quality and selection, and ALL of their pans are sturdy, heavy duty, ultra-non-stick, and unbelievably durable.
I should know! I put their pans through the ringer!

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

There is so much detail in these little skulls that I was worried it wouldn’t read once the cakes were baked, or that I’d have problems getting the cakes out cleanly from all the intricate details face and teeth. At this point I should have known that I had no need to worry. These little cakes released like a dream and all that detail came across with amazing definition in the finished cakes.

There’s actually so much detail in these little cakes, that even though I tried decorating them in several ways, I found that my favorite cakes were the simplest, with just a double coat of thin sugary glaze. Of course you can decorate them however you choose, but I really think the simpler, the better. In fact, as much as I love the creepy look of the bright red chocolate candy eyes, I worry that even they take away from the scary perfection of the little cakes as they were straight out of the pan.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The recipe below, simply adapted from my favorite chocolate bundt cake recipe, makes 12 mini skulls, or 2 pans worth. If you only have 1 pan, make sure you wash the pan really well between batches. I also recommend that you dry it well and throw it in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes before reapplying the butter and cocoa. Otherwise the pan will be warm from being washed and the butter will melt and make a mess when you try to dust it with cocoa.
If you don’t have this pan at all, you can get it here, or you can just make this recipe in one 10 cup bundt pan. It won’t be as scary to look at, but it’ll certainly taste just as chocolatey and delicious!

By the way, if you’ve never tried this trick before, using cocoa powder works just as well as flour to prevent the cakes from sticking to the pan, but helps the cakes look extra dark and chocolatey, rather than the dusty uneven look flour sometimes gives to the outside of chocolate cakes.

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

The flavor of these little cakes is deep dark chocolate perfect with a super tender and moist crumb. Thanks to that simple powdered sugar glaze, these little cakes almost taste like a reeeeeally good moist chocolate doughnut.

The Oreos, complete with cream (don’t use boxed crumbs!), add a really nice touch, especially if you leave some in nice big chunks so they don’t melt and disappear into the batter. Essentially you just want to put them in a plastic bag and crush ’em up with your hands or whack at them with a rolling-pin until there are no whole cookies left, but you still have lots of bigger pieces.

Now tell me, what kid (or adult) could resist a super moist chocolate cake filled with oreo cookie crumbs? Especially one in the shape of a cute-yet-terrifying little skull???

dark chocolate & oreo mini skull cakes | Brooklyn Homemaker

Dark Chocolate & Oreo Mini Skull Cakes

adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups strong hot coffee
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder (I used “Double Dutch Cocoa“) plus extra for pan
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup peanut oil or any neutral vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups (about 1 package) roughly crushed oreos (NOT oreo cookie crumbs, you want the cream too)

For the Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For decorating (all optional):
Red M&Ms
Sanding or decorating sugar (black, red, or silver)
white mini nonpareils
More crushed Oreos

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Brush a skull cakelet pan (* see note) with softened butter, and dust with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess.

Whisk coffee and cocoa together in a bowl together until free of lumps and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix together sugar, salt, baking soda, eggs and egg yolk on low for just one minute. Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low again for another minute.
Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Add the cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Finally, stir in the roughly crushed Oreos just until evenly distributed throughout. The batter will seem quite loose and liquid, it’s supposed to, don’t worry.
Pour half of the batter into the prepared cake pan, filling each cavity about 3/4 of the way up. This recipe makes two pans worth of batter. If you have two pans, you can bake them both at once, or once the first batch is out of the pan you can wash, dry, and cool the pan in the fridge before reapplying butter and cocoa and baking the remaining batter.
Bake for 20-30, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for at least 15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

To make the glaze:
Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until smooth and free of lumps.

To glaze and decorate:
After some trial and error I found that the easiest way to glaze the cakelets was to pick up them up by the base and dip them into the glaze like a doughnut. Remove from the glaze, let drip dry, and turn over to dry on a cooling rack. I actually liked the look of the glaze best when the cakes were glazed twice. If you want to double glaze, wait for the first coat to dry five minutes or so before dipping again.
If you’d like to decorate with sanding sugar, crushed Oreos, or mini nonpareils, sprinkle them over the cakes before your final coat of glaze has dried. If desired, add red chocolate candies in the eye sockets.

*Note: If you don’t have a skull cakelet pan this recipe makes 1 (less spooky but equally delicious) bundt cake in a 10 cup bundt pan. A bundt will need to bake for about 55 to 65 minutes .

chocolate orange bundt cake #bundtbakers

Have I ever mentioned the fact that I LOVE chocolate?

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Well, it’s true.
I do.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I know that it’s probably hard to believe, but you’re going to have to get used to the idea.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I found out that Tanya of Dessert Stalking had chosen chocolate as the theme for this month’s #bundtbakers, I was over the moon. Thank you Tanya!!! I’ve made a lot of bundts in this group, but this whole time I’ve only made one other chocolate cake. It’s a cryin shame is what it is, and I promise that I’m appropriately ashamed.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I usually prefer dark chocolate over milk or white, but to be honest I’ll take any and all of the above given the opportunity. I’m the kind of person who keeps a dark chocolate bar (or two) hidden in a drawer in my night stand just in case of emergencies. I only need a few squares at a time when I need my fix, but when I need it, I really need it.

I know I inherited that trait from my mom, who’s secret chocolate stash is kept in the drawers of her vanity. When I first found out about it I couldn’t believe that she would dare to withhold chocolate from me and have the audacity to keep some for herself. These days, I get it.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was trying to decide on a chocolate bundt to make this month I was totally overwhelmed by the possibilities. There are just too many delicious things you can do with chocolate and I couldn’t even begin to narrow it down.

Every time I’d think of something, my mind kept wanting to wander back to a chocolate orange bundt that I made when I was just getting this blog off it’s feet. That cake was so moist and tender and brightly flavored and super duper chocolatey that it might just be one of my favorite bundts I’ve ever made.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Now, I don’t want to get into the habit of repeating recipes around here, but I knew this cake deserved to be revisited. I originally made it way back in the beginning, back before I’d found out about and joined up with the #bundtbakers gang, back when I was still using an iphone to take my photos, and most importantly, back when I didn’t really have many readers other than my mother. Not only is this recipe new to the bundt bakers, but I also think it deserves to be highlighted with better photos and to be seen and shared with as many people as possible, which simply wasn’t the case the first time around.

I’ve done this with a small handful of my other favorite recipes from the first few months of Brooklyn Homemaker, and I saw no reason not to revisit this one too. So, chocolate orange bundt cake it was.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

I made a few minor adjustments to the original recipe from back in 2013, but for the most part little has changed. This cake is rich and dark and sublimely chocolatey with an assertive cocoa flavor backed up with soft and melty morsels of finely chopped dark chocolate. The orange zest and juice in the recipe, along with the orange glaze poured over the top, elevate this cake and give it a boost of sweet fruity brightness that can be unusual with chocolate cakes. The crumb is soft and tender, and the cake is so moist that it stays perfectly delicious for several days if covered well. I took half of the cake to work with me and my coworkers devoured it and raved about how wonderful it was. One of them loved it so much that she took a slice home to her roommate, and has been asking me ever since when I’d be posting the recipe so she could try it herself.

If you’re into chocolate, this is a cake you really gotta try. If you’re not, you need your head examined.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another thing you gotta do if you’re into chocolate is make sure to scroll down past the recipe to check out all the other mouth-watering, craving-satisfying, unbelievable chocolatey creations the other bundt bakers came up with this month. I myself can barely handle all this chocolate in one place.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake

adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups orange juice
zest of 3 large oranges
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup peanut oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup finely chopped dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips

For the Glaze:
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
zest of one orange

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Generously butter and flour a 10 to 12 cup Bundt pan and set aside.

Whisk orange juice and cocoa powder in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, whisking frequently. Remove from heat and let come to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, mix together the sugar and orange zest until the zest is well distributed and has turned the sugar orange. Add the salt, eggs and egg yolk and mix on low for about 1 minute. Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla extract and mix on low again for another minute.

Add the flour and baking soda and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add the cooled cocoa mixture and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.  Mix in chopped chocolate on low. The batter will be very loose.  Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 55-65, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before inverting onto a rack to cool completely.

make the glaze:
Whisk confectioner’s sugar, orange juice and zest until free of lumps. I like to do this in a glass measuring cup with a spout so you can pour the glaze easily.

Place a sheet pan under the rack with the completely cooled cake. Pour the glaze over the Bundt cake, covering it completely. If you have leftover glaze pour it from the pan back into the measuring cup and go back in for another coat. Transfer to a cake plate or platter by gently sliding the cake off the rack, use a thin spatula to help lift it if necessary. Leave at room temperature until ready to serve. The glaze will harden and form a sort of candy shell and keep the cake nice and moist.

chocolate orange bundt cake | Brooklyn Homemaker

It’s probably a good thing that I’m not able to taste all of these cakes because I’d probably eat until I burst given the chance. All this chocolate sure has me drooling guys!!!

BundtBakers

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Interested in learning more about us? #BundtBakers is a group of Bundt loving bakers who get together once a month to bake Bundts with a common ingredient or theme. We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. You can see all our of lovely Bundts by following our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated after each event on the BundtBaker home page here.

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com. If you are just a lover of Bundt baking, you can find all of our recipe links by clicking our badge above or on our group Pinterest board.

Red Velvet Cake with Ermine Icing

Okay so here’s the thing about red velvet… I don’t get it.

I used to work at a cupcake shop for a while, and our red velvet cupcakes were probably the best selling item on the menu. People went nuts for those cupcakes. Every day just as many red velvet cupcakes were baked as were all the other flavors combined, and on most days the red velvets were sold out before anything else. I thought most of the cupcakes there were phenomenal, but the red velvet was probably my least favorite. It was kind of bland, with no distinct flavor beside the cream cheese icing swirled on top. Not enough vanilla to be vanilla cake, so little cocoa flavor that I’m not convinced any was actually used. There were plenty of tastier and more interesting flavors to choose from, and I could never figure out why people always went for the red velvets. Are people really just into red velvet because it’s red? There has to be more to it than just the color right?

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Curiosity got the best of me and I started doing some digging on the internet. It turns out that the history of red velvet, the roots of it’s popularity and the original recipe, are pretty tough to nail down. There are almost as many stories about the origins of red velvet as there are recipes for “real” red velvet. “Real” red velvet means very different things to different people.

I’d always heard that red velvet cake originally turned “red” because of a chemical reaction between acid in buttermilk or vinegar and natural cocoa powder. This wouldn’t actually turn a cake RED, but it would, supposedly, produce a very slight reddish hue in a cocoa cake. The same is supposed to be true of the origins of devil’s food cake, but with a lot more cocoa. This sounded believable-ish to me, so in my mind the real “original” red velvet cake was supposed to be deep reddish brown, with a slight cocoa flavor, and of course, topped with cream cheese icing.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once I started digging though, I started running into some problems. First there were the various origin stories. Some people think the cake was invented in Canada by the wife of a wealthy department store president, others convinced that this quintessential southern cake was invented in the south, and others still are certain that it was invented at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

Then there were the recipes. Everyone believes that their red velvet recipe is the one true way it should be done. Google “real red velvet” and you’re going to come up with some wildly varied recipes. There are also a lot of “rules” about red velvet out there, many of them conflicting with the rules of the next guy. Most of the rules dictate something about the color, flavor, or icing of this iconic cake.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

According to the internets, the color of red velvet should always come from artificial color. If you don’t pour in the red food color, it’s not red velvet. Also, red velvet cake should never contain artificial color. If you’re using red food color, you’re doing it wrong. The color should come from cocoa powder and buttermilk, or vinegar, or both. The truth is that the red in red velvet cake needs a boost, but not from food color. Along with the cocoa and acid reaction, an additional boost of red should come from red wine. Actually it should come from beet juice.

Red velvet cake should have a very specific flavor profile that should not be messed with. It seems that red velvet cake is supposed to be a mildly chocolatey cocoa cake, since the red color comes mostly from natural cocoa’s reaction with acidic ingredients. Also, red velvet cake should have only a very slight, almost indistinguishable, cocoa flavor, since the color of this cake should be the star and too much cocoa would muddy the color. At the same time, recipes for red velvet cake should never contain any cocoa powder. Red velvet cake is a bright red buttermilk cake and cocoa would ruin both the color and flavor of this beloved cake.

The one thing I thought everyone agreed on was the icing. Everyone knows that red velvet cake calls for tangy cream cheese icing, always. Well, yeah. It turns out that some people think that the OG icing for red velvet was ermine icing, also known as butter roux icing, or boiled milk icing.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Once I started weeding through the conflicting stories and varied rules and recipes, I started to uncover some facts. It seems that the name most likely evolved as the public’s tastes in sweets were changing at the turn of the last century. At first the name was mostly symbolic and never really had anything to do with the color of the cake.

In the late 1800s what we know as brown sugar used to be commonly known as red sugar. Any cake that used finely ground cake flour and had a fine crumb was referred to as a “Velvet” cake. So, at that time any cake with “red sugar” and fine cake flour could be referred to as a red velvet, but no one was really going crazy for red velvet yet, and there is little evidence of any printed recipes for anything like what we have today. At that time natural cocoa was the most commonly available cocoa on the market. Unlike today’s more common dutch process cocoa, the PH of natural cocoa does cause a chemical reaction with acid causing a very slight reddish hue. Devil’s food cake made with natural cocoa would have a slight reddish hue to the deep dark chocolate cake, and that is most likely the origin of that name. Red velvet cake is devil’s food’s less chocolatey cousin, but again, the cake was never really RED. At the time, these cocoa cakes were often referred to as “mahogany cakes”.

It wasn’t until the depression that red velvet cake turned truly red. Food additive and extract companies were struggling at the time because most Americans were cutting back on such luxury items. As a way to boost sales, the Adams Extract Company started marketing their food coloring and flavorings by giving out recipes for a truly red red velvet cake, complete with color photo, in grocery stores. That was when red velvet started taking off, especially in the south. The popularity waxed and waned for generations, and then there was the groom’s cake in Steel Magnolias. Boom. Everyone knew and wanted red velvet. And then a decade or so later, the cupcakes shops started popping up and pushing the red velvet on us.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m no historian, and I don’t claim to know that any of what I’ve read is the absolute truth, but this seems like the most likely story. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to dig up the depression era recipe that made red velvet the popular cake that it is today. So, the “real” recipe still seems to be something of a mystery, but based on the history I think that natural cocoa is as important to the recipe as the red food color.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Another point of contention is the icing. I’d always heard, and believed, that cream cheese was king when it came to red velvet cakes, and I was shocked to find out that this wasn’t always so. Cream cheese icing wasn’t really common with red velvet until the mid-twentieth century. Before that the traditional topping for red velvet was a creamy and light icing made by cooking milk and flour together, and whipping into creamed sugar and butter. It can be called Butter Roux frosting or Ermine frosting. In the south this icing was very popular because it’s whipped texture is similar to whipped cream, but it’s much more heat stable and keeps better.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I set out to bake my first red velvet cake, I knew I had plenty of recipes to choose from but had to decide which one would produce the cake that I wanted to end up with. I kept going back to natural cocoa and buttermilk but decided that adding red color was just fine with me. So, I checked in with my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, and guess what, she had a recipe that sounded like exactly what I was looking for. I also decided I wanted to ditch the cream cheese icing and go back to the traditional ermine icing.

This recipe calls for a LOT of red food color. At first I thought it might be a typo. It’s not. Since there is more cocoa in this recipe than most, a lot of food color is needed to bring the red forward over the brown. Well. This cake is red alright. The batter before baking is literally beet red. It gets a bit darker in the oven, but even still, the finished cake is a deep dark RED. Pretty much the color you’d see if you sliced into an armadillo. Just sayin’.

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

As a former red velvet naysayer, I have to admit that this cake is pretty amazing. The texture is perfect, super moist, with a very delicate light & fluffy crumb from the cake flour. You can definitely taste the cocoa, even though it doesn’t really scream chocolate. It also has a really pleasant delicate tang from the buttermilk and vinegar, which I think would be completely lost if I’d gone with the modern traditional cream cheese icing instead of the ermine. I totally love this icing, btw. It’s much easier to make than a meringue buttercream, but has a very similar stability, mouth feel and texture. It is easy to work with, frosts smoothly and tastes whipped, creamy, light and just sweet enough.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m going to make a cocoa cake I’d like even more chocolate flavor, and even though it’s kind of fun, the amount of food color that goes into this recipe makes me ever-so-slightly uncomfortable. If I’m baking a cake for me, I think I’d rather go for a devil’s food cake, which I think would be delicious (and beautiful) with this same icing. But for special occasions, or for people who love red velvet, this cake is a force to be reckoned with. Perfectly moist & fluffy, with just enough cocoa and buttermilk, and red red RED!

red velvet cake with ermine icing | Brooklyn Homemaker

Red Velvet Cake

  • Servings: makes one 3 layer 8 inch cake, feeds 12-16ish
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adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened natural cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups peanut or canola oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring (or 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring dissolved in 6 tablespoons of water)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 3 round 8-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring, being careful it doesn’t splash. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter among pans, place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely, and level layers with a cake leveler or sharp bread knife. Fill and crumb coat with ermine icing, and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes or more. Then ice and decorate as desired with remaining icing.

Ermine Icing
adapted from Tasty Kitchen 

7  tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2  teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar

In a small saucepan, whisk flour into milk and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens. You want it to be very thick, almost like brownie batter. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. It must be completely cool before you use it in the next step. Stir in vanilla.

While the mixture is cooling, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. You don’t want any sugar graininess left. Then add the completely cooled milk/flour/vanilla mixture and beat the living daylights out of it. If it looks separated, you haven’t beaten it enough! Beat it until it all combines and resembles whipped cream.