Firstly, I have a love/hate relationship with red velvet cake - not because of the cake itself, but because of damn-Yank cooks who mess it up.
Historically, red velvet cake was just a chocolate cake made with buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacted with the cocoa powder and gave the resulting cake a reddish hue. In order to heighten the startling impact of the red cake, cooks started using a little less cocoa powder so that it would still react and make the color-change, but not so much that the brown of the cocoa would mask the redness. With less chocolate in the cake, they needed a light, tangy frosting that would accentuate rather than completely overwhelm the light-chocolate-y flavor of the cake.
Somehow over the years this has been garbled into a rather flavorless yellow (not chocolate) cake DYED red and smothered in what is essentially cream cheese buttercream frosting.
Now, while I have nothing against dyed yellow cakes per se,
and I love buttercream as much as the next Fat Girl, neither belong in true Red Velvet cake. Here's my take on a REAL Red Velvet Cake:
1 box butter recipe cake mix, plus everything the box calls for to prepare it (usually butter, eggs, and water)
*NOTE* You will replace half the box liquid with buttermilk (any kind)
1/4 cup good cocoa powder (a regular chocolate cake calls for 3/4-1 cup, but remember we're making Red Velvet)
1 tsp double or triple vanilla (usually called for in ice cream recipes, I use it in place of regular strength vanilla, because it's double/triple vanilla-y, and that's nothing but awesomeness)
(optional) 2-3 drops pure beet juice (to intensify the 'redness' of the cake, if that's important to you; don't worry, it has no flavor impact. Fat Hubby wanted to know why I recommend beet juice instead of red food coloring. If you've ever dealt with beets, you know that they have a LOT of pigmentation-power. This means that you only need a few drops, which won't thin out the batter. Plus, beet color is way more natural looking than the fake red of food dye.)
1. Thoroughly combine, then bake according to package directions until it can pass The Toothpick Test.
2. Cool for 10 min IN THE PAN before turning out onto wire rack(s). Do not fill/frost until completely cooled.
I like using 2 9" round cake pans; to me, these are easiest to assemble into a cake and result in beautiful, perfectly-proportioned cake slices. If you want to make cupcakes, loaves, or jellyrolls, that's fine too.
If you want to make whoopie pies and don't feel like shelling out for a special whoopie pie pan (available here), you can use jumbo muffin pans - simply pour in just enough cake batter to barely coat the bottom of each cup and bake according to the shortest recommended time for cupcakes.
8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups original flavor Pastry Pride® (not vanilla - the vanilla is crap)
0.5 tsp artificial butter flavoring (technically, this could be omitted, but I wouldn't leave it out)
*NOTE* this is NOT a vegetable spray, it's an INTENSELY butter-flavored extract found near vanilla/almond/strawberry extracts in the spice aisle of your local mega-mart. A little goes a long way.
1. Pour the butter extract into the Pride.
2. Using a stand or hand mixer and its whisk attachment, whip the cheese until it's as light as you can get it.
3. Continuing to whisk-mix, slowly pour the Pride mixture in a steady stream into the cheese. Whisk-mix until desired consistency is achieved.
WHOOPIE-TYPE FILLING, if you wanna take it that direction (sure, you COULD use marshmallow fluff from a jar...but why?)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup butter-flavored shortening, melted
10 oz mini marshmallows
1. In a microwave safe bowl, combine all. Zap in 30 second increments, stirring after each, until all marshmallows are melted and mixture is velvety smooth.
To assemble the Red Velvet whoopie pie, slice your totally-cooled cakes in half like a hamburger bun. Spread an even layer of fluff on one half and top with other half. Plop a dollop of cheese frosting on top of assembled pie and enjoy.