Espresso powder.The jar was right. The espresso powder enhanced the cocoa powder in the recipe, without adding any additional coffee flavor. Forget any recipe that calls for a cup of strongly brewed coffee to add to your cake; a half-teaspoon of espresso powder is all you need. This is the secret ingredient I’m talking about. It’s honestly like magic.
When in doubt, use butter.With a myriad of red velvet recipes ahead of me, I knew I had to limit it somehow. So I decided to go with a recipe that used butter instead of oil. Why? Completely arbitrary… well, okay not really. WHO DOESN’T LOVE BUTTER?! Besides, the cakes with oil in them tend to be too intense anyway, right? And weirdly greasy, which is not a texture you want from your cake.
Mix the food coloring with the cocoa powder.Almost all red velvet recipes call for a little bit of cocoa powder and red food coloring. But not all recipes ask you to mix the cocoa powder and red food coloring together to form a paste:This is actually a trick I learned from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook’s recipe for red velvet cupcakes. Doing this seems to evenly disperse the red food coloring when it gets mixed into the batter. And if your mixture is lumpy, I’ve found that a rubber spatula works best in bringing it all together:Just keep mashing until the lumps dissolve.
Secret Ingredient Red Velvet Cake
For the Red Velvet Cake:
(makes two 9-inch cake cakes)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon natural (non-Dutched) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes enough for one 9-inch layer cake)
- 16 oz. cream cheese , softened but still chilled
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still chilled
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 5 cups confectioner’s sugar , sifted
For the Red Velvet Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Grease and lightly flour 2 round, 9-inch cake pans.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding mixer with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups sugar and 1 cup butter until light and fluffy.
- Add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
- Add a third of the flour and salt mixture (from the second step) before adding 1/2 cup buttermilk, mixing until just combined. Add another third of the flour mixture, before adding another 1/2 cup of buttermilk, again mixing until just combined. Finish by adding the remaining third of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Be careful not to overmix and just keep mixing until everything is just combined, or your cake will be hard and fudge-y and I will cry for you!
- Add the cocoa powder and food coloring mixture (from the third step) until the color is evenly dispersed. Again, mix well, but just until everything is combined.
- In a small bowl or ramekin, quickly stir together 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. This will foam and should be put into the batter immediately after being mixed. Blend on medium-high speed until the batter is consistent.
- When finished mixing, spoon batter evenly into pans — it will be surprisingly thick, so don't worry! Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center. Let cool in pans on a cooling rack for an additional 15 – 25 minutes, before turning out to cool on the cooling rack completely.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together 16 oz. cream cheese, 1 cup butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla until smooth.
- Turn the mixer down to a low speed and gradually pour in 5 cups confectioner’s sugar. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overbeat, or the frosting will get too liquidy!
- Use immediately to frost the cooled cakes.