Cake & Pastry

Is Red Velvet Chocolate?

We’re here to help you answer the question of whether red velvet cake is the same as chocolate cake. You may be wondering what is the difference between red velvet and chocolate cake? Have you ever had a red velvet cake in a coffee shop and wondered what is in it or whether you can make it for yourself? We’ve got all the answers, including how red velvet cake gets its colour and whether it does contain chocolate.

What is red velvet cake?

Red velvet cakes are traditionally a red crimson layer cake. Traditional recipes do not use red food coloring, as the color is due to anthocyanin rich cocoa powder. Common ingredients include buttermilk and vinegar. This helps to create a chemical reaction to bring the color out of the small amount of cocoa. Alternative recipes may use beetroot to enhance the red color. The natural tinting of the sponge cake is perhaps where the name originates from.

Bakers used boiled beetroot juices to enhance the color of the dessert when food was rationed during WWII. It helped the cake to retain moisture. Adams Extract was one of the first companies to sell red food coloring during the Great Depression. This helped to bring red velvet cake to kitchens across America during this era. Their aim was to sell lots of red coloring, so their recipe for red velvet cake called for adding a lot. This turned red velvet cake from a reddish brown to the bright red we know today.

How does red velvet cake get its color?

Modern day versions of red velvet cakes may contain red coloring as the main element to turn the sponge color red. Previously, the reaction of the acidic vinegar and buttermilk tended to reveal the red anthocyanin in cocoa powder, which changed the colour of the sponge. This also helped to keep the cake moist with a fluffy texture.

More recently, cocoa undergoes a “Dutch process” which treats it with an alkalising agent to reduce the acidity. This makes the cocoa powder a less bitter taste and makes it darker in color. This cocoa then forms the basis for modern chocolate, which is used in baking, ice cream and hot chocolate.

Red velvet cakes and cupcakes have become increasingly popular in recent years. They may be more readily available around Valentine’s Day due to the color red being associated with this special day.

Love Red Velvet Cake

Where does traditional red velvet cake originate from?

The different types of red velvet cake may vary depending on where in the world they are being made. Some of the cakes vary as they contain different amounts of vegetable oil and butter. Bakers in the 19th Century began adding cocoa powder to cake mix to soften the protein in the flour. Before this, cakes were more crumbly and dryer in texture. By adding the cocoa powder, the lighter cake was created and coined “velvet cake.”

Devil’s Food Cake:

This type of cake also originated when cocoa powder was on the rise. It’s a type of rich intense dark chocolate cake made with egg yolks. The rich chocolate taste was able to be created with the help of the cocoa powder, and the fudgy texture was due to the egg yolks. Cocoa powder was a cheaper ingredient to use, so was favoured over more expensive chocolate bars. Velvet cake and devil’s food cake were joined together in the 1900s and created the basis for red velvet cake as we know it today.

Is a red velvet cake just a chocolate cake?

You may have previously heard red velvet cake being described as just a chocolate cake. There are more elements which differentiate the two types of cake. The cakes classic red appearance is not just a chocolate cake but in a red form. It’s a by-product of the combination of ingredients used to create the signature velvety texture.

What is the difference between red velvet cake and chocolate cake?

Chocolate cakes differ from red velvet cake mainly due to the appearance. More obviously, chocolate cakes are traditionally brown in the appearance due to the high percentage of cocoa present. Red velvet cake will have a red appearance. The other difference between red velvet and chocolate cake is the ingredients present. Red velvet cakes have a large amount of vegetable oil, buttermilk and red coloring.

Chocolate cakes contained melted chocolate as well as cocoa to create a stronger enriched chocolate flavor. Red velvet and chocolate cake are similar in that they both contain a certain amount of cocoa powder, but the overall chocolate content of a red velvet cake is lower.

Traditional red velvet cake icing:

In original recipes, in between the layers of red velvet sponge is a type of icing called ermine icing. It contains butter and flour but is very light and fluffy. However, it can be very time-consuming to prepare. Ermine frosting is made by cooking flour and sugar with milk to make a sweet paste. This paste is then whipped into softened butter until light.

Another name for ermine icing is roux frosting or boiled milk frosting. It is similar in texture to Swiss meringue buttercream with a silky smooth texture. Even though it contains flour, it has a nice vanilla flavor and does not taste like flour at all. Cream cheese icing or buttercream are often variations used in modern red velvet cakes.

Red Velvet Layer Cake

Can I substitute the cream cheese frosting?

If you’re not a fan of cream cheese frosting, another variation which can be used is traditional American buttercream. This type of buttercream uses whipped butter and icing sugar, so will be perfect to fill in between the red velvet sponge layers. Alternatively, another substitute for cream cheese frosting is whipped fresh cream. However, it’s worth noting that the cake will have a shorter shelf life if using fresh cream.

Why is it called red velvet cake?

Previously when raw cocoa powder reacted with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk and vinegar, it turned red. As we’ve explained, these days you’re not going to be able to recreate the red colour due to the Dutch processed cocoa powder. You’d have to use raw cacao powder. Which is why modern bakers now turn to using red food coloring instead.

The name red velvet cake has been coined by the joining of velvet cake and devils food cake. It’s a combination of the rise in popularity of cocoa powder and special ingredients to create a velvety texture.

Red velvet cake without food coloring:

If you wanted to follow a red velvet cake recipe without food coloring, then you’d have to use raw cacao powder or beetroot juice to get the red color. For a mahogany colored cake, this will happen from a reaction of the anthocyanins in the cocoa with the acidity of buttermilk. If you want a deeper magenta colored cake, using beetroot juice helps to add moisture and natural color.

Raw Beetroot

We hope this article has helped to answer what the difference between red velvet and chocolate cake is. The main difference is the food coloring element giving red velvet its vibrant red color appearance. Red velvet cake contains cream cheese frosting, vinegar and buttermilk.