Red velvet at your fingertips

Gillian McAinsh

THE Lady Gaga of the cake world, red velvet cake is surprisingly easy to make at home.

It has the decadent glamour of a Greek chocolate cake along with the slightly tart cream cheese icing that makes a carrot cake such a hit – and its unique Southern allure is making it a rapidly growing coffee shop hit.

Although many cupcake bakers offer red velvet, Port Elizabeth bakeries and coffee shops have been slower to catch on to this trend, with The Pastry Chef one of the few to supply red velvet cake. If you are in Grahamstown this week, try Haricot’s version, on sale by the slice.

It is called red velvet cake due to its colour – originally a deep crimson by the reaction of cocoa powder with an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk or vinegar. Today it is more often tinted with red food colouring or even beetroot, which gives it a moist texture.

It is also generally topped with a cream cheese icing and the same recipe can be used to make a layer cake or individual cupcakes.

There is no need to wait any longer though: try your hand at home, using a tried and tested recipe from that fabulous book Cakes to Celebrate Love and Life by brother and sister team Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy, of Cape Town’s Cakebread bakery.

You can use their recipe for cream cheese icing, or a tweaked Nigella Lawson recipe. Lawson adds lime juice, but this can make it a little too tart for red velvet topping.

It yields a slightly salty sponge with a fine texture, off-set by a creamily sweet icing. Note that you only need half the icing for cupcakes.

Cakebread’s Red Velvet cake


2 ½ cups (350g) cake flour

1 ½ cups (300g) sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp cocoa powder

1 tsp salt (yes, really, it does need this much salt)

1 cup (250ml) buttermilk

2 eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ cups sunflower oil

1 tsp white vinegar

4 tsp (20ml) red food colouring or beetroot reduction

1 tsp vanilla extract or essence

Nigella Lawson’s cream cheese icing

(for cupcakes, halve the recipe)

1 tub (250g) cream cheese

500g icing sugar sifted

1tsp vanilla extract or essence

Method: Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Grease or spray your choice of baking pan (this will make two 25cm pans, or 24 small cupcakes).

In a large mixing bowl sift the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder and salt together.

In another mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, oil, vinegar, food colouring and vanilla extract.

Mix the flour mixture into the buttermilk mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes for a cake or 18-20 minutes for cupcakes.

Icing: Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Only then add the icing sugar and beat through. Add the vanilla extract and beat until just combined. Cream cheese icing softens quickly so be sure the sponge is cold before icing. However, if the icing is too stiff, you can thin it down with one to two tablespoons buttermilk left over from the cake.

Cakes to Celebrate Love and Life, by Callie Maritz and Mari-Louis Guy, is published by Random House.

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