This is the first of a five-part Valentine’s Day-themed revival of Cooking in the Cave. Come back for new recipes each Friday up until Valentine’s Day.

Looking back at past Valentine’s Days, I realized that every single  treat I’ve been offered on this day has been repeated over and over again.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sweethearts candy or the dyed, stale-tasting, white chocolate lollipops that grocery stores sell.

And I certainly wouldn’t be caught giving those to friends as gifts.

Instead, I prefer to give something homemade. For my first treat of the season, I’ve taken a twist on an old classic: red velvet cake.

Red velvet cake originated in the U.S., and recipes have developed the classic red color in two ways: red food coloring and beetroot. In World War II, when many foods were scarce due to rations, bakers used boiled beet juice to add color to their cakes.

Additionally, the reaction between vinegar and buttermilk brings out the red anthocyanin in the cocoa powder and helps keep the cake fluffy and moist.

A lot of red velvet cakes I’ve tried in bakeries have been either really dry or tasteless due to overbaking, despite the vinegar and milk. Red velvet cake has always seemed like dyed vanilla cake, but the cupcakes I made were a bit different. (I decided on making a cupcake version for ease of transportation.)

If you’re worried about possible “behavioral effects” of food coloring (a myth which has been proven false by the FDA, as evidence is too inconclusive to link food dye and hyperactivity), natural food dyes are out on the market. Or you can make beet juice.

I hate to break it to you, but if you’re too afraid of food coloring to eat red velvet cake, you might as well stop eating Florida oranges. 1,500 pounds of citrus dye are certified annually for use, which is enough to dye 2 billion oranges.

Although this recipe does include red food coloring, it also includes more cocoa powder for richness and a surprise: instead of cream cheese layered between the cake, there is a white batter in the center.

Then I spread a classic cream cheese frosting on top.
Cupcake 2Photo by Elena Lipman

Layered Red Velvet Cupcakes

For the red velvet batter:

½ cup vegetable shortening

1½ cups sugar

2 eggs

1 bottle of red food coloring

2 Tbs. cocoa powder

2¼ cups flour

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

1 Tb. distilled white vinegar

For the white batter:

1 stick of butter, softened

¼ cup shortening

3 eggs

1½ cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

⅛ tsp. salt

¼ cup milk

¼ cup buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

1 8-oz package cream cheese

1 stick of butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

1½ tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place liners in cupcake tins and set aside.

Keeping the batters separate, make them as follows.

For the red velvet batter:

Cream together shortening, sugar and eggs. Mix cocoa powder and food coloring to form a paste; add it to sugar mixture. Add the salt and flour with buttermilk and vanilla; mix well. Then, add baking soda and vinegar. Blend thoroughly.

For the white batter:

Cream together butter and shortening. Slowly add sugar to the mixture and mix well. Add eggs and mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Pour milks and vanilla into sugar mixture, alternating with dry ingredients. Blend thoroughly.

Place one spoonful of red velvet batter in each cupcake liner. Then place a spoonful of white batter, followed by another spoonful of red velvet batter. Repeat as needed, until cupcake liners are ⅔ full.

Bake 15-20 minutes. Cool cupcakes thoroughly before frosting.

For the cream cheese frosting:

Cream the cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add butter and mix until fluffy. Slowly add powdered sugar until well combined. Add in vanilla and beat thoroughly.

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