Writing for the New York Times, Kim Severson has an in-depth and interesting look at the history of what sometimes seems like America’s most popular dessert. She traces red velvet cake from its humble beginnings to its almost overwhelming presence in today’s culinary scene. You should read the whole thing, but here are 7 facts to get you started:
1. Velvet cake dates back to the 19th century.
“Cooks in the 1800s used almond flour, cocoa or cornstarch to soften the protein in flour and make finer-textured cakes that were then, with a Victorian flair, named velvet.”
2. It got no love in one of our most important cookbooks.
“‘Generally popular,’ wrote Irma S. Rombauer in the 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking, ‘but not with me.’”
3. Or from the grandfather of American food obsession.
“In 1972, James Beard sneered that the cake was bland and uninteresting.”
4. It is red because a man from Texas wanted to sell more food dye.
“After Congress passed the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, shoring up regulations for food coloring, [John A.] Adams (owner of the Adams Extract Company) figured he could sell a lot more extracts and dyes, and a red cake would be just the way to do it.”
5. It got a lot of help from 2 Magnolias.
“Driven in part by a cameo as an armadillo groom’s cake in Steel Magnolias in 1989 and the arrival of the Magnolia Bakery in the West Village in New York City in 1996, red velvet gained new life.”
6. It is part of a ridiculous number of menu items now.
“In 2009, red velvet cake flavoring was part of 1.5 percent of all items on menus. By 2013, it was in 4.1 percent of items, according to data gathered by David Sprinkle, research director of Packaged Facts, a publisher.”
7. And some of those items are insane.
“In San Francisco, where one presumes people know better, the American Cupcake bar and bakery offers chicken that has been soaked in red velvet cake batter, rolled in toasted red velvet cupcake crumbs and fried. The dish comes with garlic- and cream-cheese mashed potatoes and cocoa-infused slaw.”