Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake has been a family tradition for at least four generations. It’s one of those recipes that tells of my Southern roots. When I was growing up, it was often made for a sibling’s December birthday and for other special occasions. It has become a tradition in my home around the Christmas holiday, and it took a new name thanks to one of our foster children. Whatever you call it, be sure to call it delicious.

Red Velvet Cake with sugar cookie decorations.
Red Velvet Cake with sugar cookie decorations.

It all started when one of the kids noticed I was making something “different” and became very interested in what I was making (their kid-speak for suspicious). I explained that I was making a special cake for Christmas. He immediately chimed in, “Is it Jesus’s birthday cake?!” and asked if he could help me make it. He was ready to put candles on it, too. He thought it was delicious, so whenever I made it, he asked if he could have “one more” piece of Jesus Cake. When they visited us last year, we made sugar cookies and Jesus Cake they could take home to their family. It was old-fashioned, slightly messy fun.

I like this cake recipe because it isn’t overly sweet and is somewhat dense. Buttermilk softens all-purpose flour nicely, but you have to be careful not to over bake the cake or it will become dry. I usually follow the recipe exactly, but I have subbed out the red food coloring for a different food coloring or even a flavoring to change things up a bit. All varieties have also been delicious.

The “original” icing for a red velvet cake is ermine, or boiled, icing. A more modern version is cream cheese frosting. Our family recipe calls for boiled icing. It’s called boiled because you boil and thicken a mixture of milk and flour as a base for the icing. The festive icing has the appearance of whipped cream, which looks especially attractive against a slice of dense, deep red cake.  

No matter how I make it, Red Velvet Cake is always a crowd pleaser. It stores well, and some of my family members swear the leftovers are even better than day-one servings. I may not fit the mold for some Southern sensibilities, but when it comes to Red Velvet Cake, I’m all about my Southern roots..

“Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than where you were born, it’s an idea and state of mind that seems imparted at birth. It’s more than loving fried chicken, football, beer, and country music. It’s being hospitable and devoted to screen porches, magnolias, red velvet cake, coca cola, and each other. We don’t become southern–we’re born that way.” 

— Hank Williams Jr.



1/2 C Crisco

1 1/2 C sugar

2 eggs

2 oz. red food coloring

2 1/2 C flour

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 C buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp white vinegar


1 C milk

1/4 C flour

1 C powdered sugar

1 C Crisco

1 tsp vanilla

Dash salt

Prep time:  about three hours, including cool down time

Yield: 2 nine-in cake layers or 24 cupcakes



Grease and flour two nine-inch cake pans (for cupcakes, use cupcake liners in standard muffin pan). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Cream Crisco, sugar and eggs at high speed. Add red food coloring and beat at low speed until well blended. 

TIP: It’s best to add one ounce at a time to avoid splashes. 

Add salt. 

Gradually add buttermilk, alternating with flour (about 3 times). Blend well after each addition.

Mix together vanilla, soda and vinegar. FOLD into cake mix. 

Pour into pans and bake cake 25-30 minutes (round pans) or 30-35 for square. until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool on baking rack and remove from pans.

Ice completely cooled cake.


While the cake is baking, stir together milk and flour until there are no lumps. Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick. Set in refrigerator to cool.

Cream remaining ingredients at high speed until fluffy. Add cold milk and flour mixture and beat until icing reaches a whipped cream consistency. Spread on cooled cake.

Red Velvet Cake at a glance.
Red Velvet Cake at a glance.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with vanilla ice cream, assorted fruit, or by itself for a festive, satisfying dessert.

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