By Deborah Harroun of the Taste and Tell blog
Red Velvet Lover’s Cookbook (The Harvard Common Press, 2014)
Red Velvet – it’s starting to pop up everywhere you look. It’s not just found at the local cupcake shop anymore! Even Oreo has announced that they are releasing their own version of red velvet in a limited edition Red Velvet Oreo – just in time for Valentine’s Day!
As an avid red velvet lover, I often get asked, “so, what exactly is red velvet? Isn’t it just chocolate with red food coloring?”
My resounding answer is – NO! I have been known to say on more than one occasion that if it tastes like chocolate, then it’s not red velvet. Red velvet is one of those flavors that is hard to describe, but once you have tasted it, you won’t forget it. I often say that it is a sweet buttermilk flavor with just a hint of cocoa. Most red velvet recipes call for very little cocoa, so the chocolate flavor should not be the primary flavor.
The history of red velvet is a controversial one. Many people are very adamant and passionate about their version of where red velvet originated. I have my own theories, as well, based on all of the histories that I’ve read. There are actually accounts of “velvet” cakes in cookbooks and records dating back to the 1800s. My guess is that the name of those cakes comes from the texture of the cake – a soft, fluffy, almost smooth texture. In the early 1900s, you see mentions of a “red devil’s food cake”, but many believe this was because the cake used brown sugar, which was often called “red sugar”.
But once you get into the actual red velvet cake history, as we know the cake today, the stories start to become varied. Everything from it originating at the Waldorf-Astoria, to a department store in Canada, to an entry in a newspaper cooking contest in the 50s. But if you were to ask me, the version that makes the most sense to me – especially according to the timeline of red velvet – is a red velvet cake that was developed by Betty Adams in the 1920s. Adams Extract, a company that was one of the first to market red food coloring, was looking for a way to sell their food coloring in grocery stores in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. The legend tells that the company printed Betty’s recipe on a card and placed it on the grocery store shelf next to their food coloring, as a way to entice buyers to purchase the coloring. My guess is that this is the recipe that introduced us to red velvet as we know it today – with it’s soft crumb, light cocoa flavor, and bright red color.
Also controversial is the kind of frosting that belongs with red velvet. Most popular is cream cheese frosting, but many will argue that the only way to eat a red velvet cake is with a boiled frosting. While the cream cheese frosting is more popularly paired with red velvet today, I am a believer that everyone needs to try a red velvet cake frosted with boiled frosting at least once in his or her life. It’s an experience you are sure to not forget.
Today, red velvet goes well beyond the traditional cake or the popular cupcake. Showing up in everything from cookies to brownies to marshmallows and beyond, it is a flavor that many are flocking to. While the other red velvet desserts may not have that traditional red velvet crumb, the flavor is marked by that faint cocoa flavor and bright red color. I, for one, am happy to see this flavor taking over kitchens everywhere!
I love getting into the kitchen and making versions of store bought treats at home. And while I’m sure I’ll be picking up a package of the new Red Velvet Oreos, I’d happily make these homemade Red Velvet “Oreos” any day! Two sweet, red velvet cookies are sandwiched with a creamy frosting, making a fun cookie that the kids will want to keep in the cookie jar at all times. I know these cookies disappear quickly at my house!
Red Velvet Oreos
This Red Velvet Oreos recipe appears in the Red Velvet Lover's Cookbook.
Recipe © 2015 by Deborah Harroun and used by permission of The Harvard Common Press
- For the cookies:
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon red liquid food coloring
- For the filling:
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- ½ cup vegetable shortening
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- To make the cookies: Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl to combine. Beat the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and food coloring. Add the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes together.
- Form the dough into balls (about 1 tablespoon each) and place the dough balls at least 3 inches apart on the baking sheets. Flatten the balls slightly with the bottom of a drinking glass. Bake until the edges start setting, 7 to 8 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
- To make the filling: Beat the confectioners’ sugar, shortening, butter, water, and vanilla in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Place the filling in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch round tip. Turn half the cookies over and pipe about 1 teaspoon of the filling onto the flat side of each cookie. Place another cookie on top of the filling, flat side down. Lightly press the cookies together to spread out the filling. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Tips/TechniquesNote from the author: My grandma had a cookie jar (shaped like a dog) that always sat on her counter. She wasn’t much of a baker, but there were always Double Stuf Oreos in that dog. It was a treat to get an Oreo or two (or three!) when we went to my grandparents’ house on Sunday nights. I can imagine how happy my kids would be if I kept a jar filled with these cookies on my counter at all times.
Yield: makes 24 oreos
Meet the Author
Deborah Harroun is the cook, writer, and photographer behind the popular blog Taste and Tell, which she started in 2007. Her recipes and writing have been featured in print in Every Day with Rachael Ray and online at The Kitchn, Huffington Post, Babble, and the websites of Bon Appétit and the Salt Lake City Deseret News. She appears frequently as a sweets and desserts expert on local television in Salt Lake City, where she lives with her husband and three children.