Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Taste-Off: 8 Cakes, 25 Testers, 1 Winner

I've always been a big fan of Red Velvet Cake, and my absolute favorite RVC comes from Piccadilly's Cafeteria. Their version is very dense and moist and full of tangy, buttermilk flavor. They used to put pecans in the icing, but they stopped doing that because of nut allergies and law suit threats. What a sad, sad day that was when the waitress handed me that piece of cake sans pecans.

But I digress; the point of this blog post is to share the results of my Ultimate Red Velvet Taste Test. Here are the contenders all stacked up.

I started the experiment by scouring the internet for Red Velvet Cake recipes. There were a LOT! But most of the recipes fell into three categories: those containing Oil, those containing Shortening, and those containing Butter. There were also a few that used combinations of the three different fats, and some that deviated drastically from the norm.

My first step was to build a spreadsheet to help compare and contrast the different recipes and help decide which cakes to test (click HERE to download the spreadsheet). A lot of the recipes I looked at were exactly the same, so the spreadsheet only has recipes that are different in some way. The recipes fall into specific categories of: butter, oil, shortening, combination, and other. In the butter, oil and shortening categories I selected one recipe as the base, and noted how the other recipes in that category deviate from the “base”.

The largest percentage of recipes I found used BUTTER as the fat. The butter recipes I included on the spreadsheet are:
  • Sylvia’s Red Velvet - from Emeril’s site
  • Joy of Baking’s Red Velvet (same as Epicurious’ Red Velvet)
  • Grandmother Paula’s Red Velvet – from Paula Deen at the Food Network
  • Montclair Martha’s Red Velvet – from Martha Stewart
  • Hummingbird’s Red Velvet
  • Magnolia Bakery’s Red Velvet
  • Brown Derby Red Velvet
  • Cooks Country Red Velvet
  • Christmas Red Velvet - from The Pastry Queen, Rebecca Rather

The recipes are very similar with just minor changes in sugar, cocoa, and vinegar content. In the end I selected Paula Deen’s version as the "typical butter” RVC . I also selected Rebecca Rather’s version because it added sour cream in addition to the butter.

In the OIL category of RVC are:
  • Cake Man Raven’s Southern Red Velvet (same as Apple a Day and Saveur)
  • Rachel’s Red Velvet – from Martha Stewart
  • Sara Moulton’s Southern Red Velvet
  • Smitten Kitchen's Red Velvet Cake from “The Confetti Cakes Cookbook” by Elisa Stauss
  • Bobby Flay’s Red Velvet Cake
Because it is so famous, I selected the Cake Man Raven version. I also selected Bobby Flay’s version which uses a combination of oil and butter.

Next were the SHORTENING RVCs. This category had the smallest number of recipe variations but it includes the most famous of them all: Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake. I also found a variation of the Waldorf recipe that included Cane Syrup. The syrup recipe looked interesting (could Cane Syrup possibly be the secret to Piccadilly's unique RVC?) so I included it in the baking lineup.

Last but not least is the OTHER category of RVC recipes. I recently received a copy of Melissa Gray’s book All Cakes Considered which includes a RVC recipe that contains no buttermilk. Hummm. I was curious enough to add her version to the experiment.

So in the end I settled on 8 different RVC recipes to use in my taste test:
  1. Grandmother Paula’s Red Velvet Cake – Paula Deen (butter)
  2. Cake Man Raven’s Southern Red Velvet (oil)
  3. Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake (shortening)
  4. Bobby Flay’s Red Velvet Cake (butter & oil)
  5. Louisiana Red Velvet (shortening & cane syrup)
  6. The Pastry Queen, Rebecca Rather’s Christmas Red Velvet Cake (butter & sour cream)
  7. Melissa Gray’s Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake (no buttermilk, sour cream)
  8. Duncan Hines Red Velvet Box Mix – YES a box mix. I wanted to see how a box mix compared to the scratch recipes.

On the morning of November 16, 2009 the baking began. I set up an assembly line, preheated the oven, and began to mix, whisk and bake. Seven hours later I was finished. Whew, what a marathon. The next morning I hauled everything to work: eight cakes, a huge tub of cream cheese icing, plates, forks, and a stack of scoring sheets.

Once at work (I got there an hour early), I unwrapped and iced all the cakes and added sprinkles to each so the taste tester could identify them. Blue sprinkles, green sugar, yellow balls, each cake had its own unique topping.

Each cake was sliced into thin wedges and a wedge of each was placed on a plate.

The tasters themselves were carefully selected because of their love of cake and their familiarity with Red Velvet Cake in particular. There are over 200 people in the office and only 25 of them got cake. Some people where kinda pissed that they weren’t “selected”, but hey, you can only get so many slices from a cake. It is also worth noting that the cakes were frosted but the testers were asked to base their cake critique on just the cake and not the cake and icing combination.

The result sheets trickled in during the day (some people didn’t want to eat their cakes until lunch), and I was amazed at the variety of responses. What really gave me pause were the critiques of the icing (remember I told them that the icing wasn't part of the test). One person, in addition to the cake ratings, rated the icing. She loved some of the icings and hated others. She said one had a “flour” taste and another she said didn’t have enough sugar. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that all the cakes had the exact same cream cheese icing. The only thing I can figure is that the icing took on different flavors and nuances when eaten with the cake. Strange how the mind and taste buds work.

But on to the results. I know you are dying to know which cake WON.

Drum roll please.

The winner of the first Ultimate Red Velvet Taste-Off is...


Cake Man Raven’s Red Velvet Cake
The oil based cake beat out the butter. Are you surprised? Shocked?

Here is a detail ranking of cakes.

Note that “1” is the best possible score, and “8” is the worst possible score. The cakes were ranked 1-8 with the taster's favorite cake given a score of "1" (first place), their second favorite given a score of "2" (second place), and so on. Their least favorite cake was given the rank of "8" (eighth place). Also, 5 people didn’t give me back my sheets (yet).

In FIRST place: Cake Man Raven’s Red Velvet Cake – score 2.85

  • 11 people gave it a “best cake” scores of 1 or 2, 8 people gave it an “average” score of 3, 4, 5, or 6, and 1 person gave it a “worst cake” score of 7 or 8.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Moist, light and fluffy, melts in your mouth. Although one person said it was dry, another said it had no flavor, and a third said that it tasted like a “box” mix. Ironically the person who said this cake tasted like a box mix gave the Duncan Hines cake very high marks.

In SECOND place: The Pastry Queen, Rebecca Rather’s RVC – score 3.8

  • 6 rated it the “best”, 13 rated it “average”, 1 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Moist, too dense, a little sticky, packs in the mouth, mushy, less sweet. One person said it had a soapy taste.

  • I found the the Pastry Queen's cake looked the best. It was light and fluffy and had a bright red color. I did have trouble applying the icing though, the surface of the cake crumbled and the fine crumbs bled/mixed into the icing.

In THIRD place: Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake – score 3.85

  • 5 rated it the “best”, 12 rated it “average”, 3 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Dry, good flavor, chocolaty, traditional.

In FOURTH place: Duncan Hines Red Velvet Box Mix – score 3.9

  • 6 rated it the “best”, 11 rated it “average”, 3 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Chocolate taste, light and airy, good texture, light flavor, a little dry and bland.

In FIFTH Place: Louisiana Red Velvet – score 4.05

  • 7 rated it the “best”, 7 rated it “average”, 6 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Dense, a little sticky, not sweet enough, don’t like the flavor, strange taste, rum-like flavor, traditional red velvet, fruity flavor.

  • The Cane Syrup in this cake caused a love-it or hate-it reaction in the taste-testers. This cake definitely had a “different” taste and people either devoured it or tossed it in the trash.

In SIXTH Place: Grandmother Paula's Red Velvet Cake - Paula Deen – score 4.7

  • 4 rated it the “best”, 11 rated it “average”, 5 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Buttery, pleasant taste, light & moist, moist but crumbly in the mouth, too gooey, sticks to the roof of mouth, too soft, needs to be denser, needs more texture, okay taste but weird texture.

  • I was surprised that the “butter” cake rated so low because in my mind everything is better with butter.

In SEVENTH Place: Bobby Flay's Red Velvet Cake – score 5.75

  • 1 rated it the “best”, 12 rated it “average”, 7 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Chocolate taste, a little drier than others, don’t like, fluffy, bland, no flavor, good taste but more like devil’s food than red velvet.

  • It really surprised me that Bobby Flay’s recipe ranked so low. I thought the combination of butter and oil would produce a winning cake.

In EIGHTH Place: Melissa Gray's Dark-Chocolate Red Velvet Cake– score 7.1

  • 0 rated it the “best”, 6 rated it “average”, 14 rated it “worst”.

  • Common Tasters Comments: Does not taste like Red Velvet, dry, bland, slightly bitter, more like devil’s food cake, too dense and firm.

  • This cake was universally disliked in RVC taste test. In my opinion the cake itself had a good taste, if slightly on the dry side, but it just didn’t taste like Red Velvet. It was more like a yellow pound cake with red food color and cocoa added.
Click HERE to see all the results.

So what do you think of my results? Do you agree or disagree. I was really surprised at the diversity of opinions on each the cakes and I’ve come to realize that one cake will never satisfy all the people all the time. Next time I bake a three layer Red Velvet Cake I’m going to make each layer a different recipe: Cake Man Raven, The Pastry Queen, and Waldorf Astoria. Hopefully my Threesome Red Velvet Cake will satisfy everyone.

PS: I’m also thinking about doing another round of RVC testing. I still can’t believe that Bobby Flay’s recipe came in so low (did I do something wrong?), and I found another recipe by Rose Levy that uses butter and oil (like Bobby’s) but only uses egg whites instead of whole eggs. I still have some buttermilk and red food color left over from the first round, so I’m going to preheat my oven and start RVC baking again.

Update December 3, 2009:
To see the results of the Red Velvet Taste-Off - Round 2 click here.


  1. Very good information....I love RVC!!! Piccadilly Caferteria makes the BEST RVC!!!!

  2. Very good information....I love RVC!!! Piccadilly Caferteria makes the BEST RVC!!!!

    Carla Thomas
    Forney, TX

  3. I agree; Piccadilly Cafeteria makes the BEST RVC!!!! I haven’t found any that compare, and I’ve tried A LOT.

  4. Oh wow! So thorough. Hats off to you for conducting such a well-planned bake-off. I am making a red velvet cake this week, and I've been torn between Cake Man Raven's recipe and Paula Deen's. I assumed the butter cake would be better and easier to frost once chilled and firm, but the oil cake would be moister. I think I'll go with Cake Man Raven's based on your results! Was it crumbly/soft/difficult to frost?

  5. Hey - thanks for the great collection of data. Just wanted to share a thought, many people judge things based on the color, could the color of the sprinkles on the cakes "colored" your results? Perhaps to make sure you're data is accurate you should perform the test again, this time with no sprinkles or the same on all the cakes. I'm sure the folks at your office wouldn't mind :)

  6. Hi Alex,

    I’m glad you like the collection. The taste test was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and very enlightening.

    As to your question, I don’t think the colored sprinkles had any impact on the taste test results. When the plates of cake were delivered, each tester was personally instructed to judge the competitors only on the taste and texture of the cake itself and not on the cake/icing/sprinkle combination.

    In all honesty, to be completely objective, the cakes should have been delivered to each judge without any icing at all. But to do that I would have had to put each slice of cake on its own numbered plate, and with 25 judges I would have had to deliver 200 plates of cakes! Yikes! I don’t think my boss would have been pleased. Did I mention I did the taste test at work?

    But back to the question about the sprinkles... For reasons of speed and stealth (I didn’t want the above mentioned boss to catch me), I planned on delivering one plate with 8 individual slices of cake to each of the 25 judges. But how would the judges uniquely and indisputable identify each cake? I didn’t want there to be any confusion on which cake they were judging so the identification method needed to be bold and obvious.

    In the end I decided on the colored sprinkles as the identification method (and I had to ice the cakes to so the sprinkles would have something to stick to). Before I settled on the sprinkle identification method I considered several others. I thought about using colored toothpicks, but I didn’t have 8 different colors and I though it would be too confusing to use combinations of colors. I thought about using tinted icing to identify each cake, but I didn’t want to tint the icing at work (watchful boss remember) and I also didn’t want to tint the icing at home and have to lug 8 individual bowls of icing across the mile long parking lot. I though about using color segregated M&M’s instead of sprinkles, but I knew from past experience that the candy shell of the M&M’s would bleed into the damp cream cheese icing and make a big mess.

    So in the end I used the colored sprinkles as the means of uniquely identifying each cake. The rating sheet that each judge was given was a spreadsheet looking thingy with columns and rows. In column “1” the cakes were listed by their sprinkle color. Column “2” was the place for them to rank the cakes 1 through 8 (1= their absolute favorite and 8=least favorite). Column “3” was for comments.

    Wow, that was a long-winded answer.

    The short version is the sprinkles played a vital rote in the taste test because they were the method by which the judges identified each cake. When the plates of cake were delivered each judge was instructed to base their judging on just on the cake alone and not the combination of cake, icing, and sprinkles. In the end I think almost everyone judged just the properties of the cake. There were only a few judges who made comments about the taste of the icing.

    Alex, I hope this answers your questions, if not just drop me another email.

  7. Hi Dorothy,

    Thanks for the comments. The only cakes that gave me a problem with crumbs were the Duncan Hines and The Pastry Queen – Rebecca Rather cake. The Pastry Queen cake in particular was really crumbly and soft. The Cake Man Raven cake was fine. Had no problems frosting it.

  8. Congratulations you just won my heart and over. You are now my new favorite blog!

  9. Thanks for the comment, Whitney, you are my new favorite poster!

  10. Thank you so much for doing the cake bake off test tasting. I have been looking all day for red velvet cake recipes and I couldn't figure out which is better to use, oil; butter or shortening. After a while I gave up, but while looking at just many pictures of red velvet cake I came upon your blog and you solved the puzzle for me! I had a hunch that Cake Raven's would be pretty good but I wasn't sure. I'm going to follow your blog often now, thanks again and best of wishes to you.

  11. Mandisa, thanks for such a wonderful comment. You made my day/week/month/year. I've been going through a tough week (I'm getting laid-off with very little severance and no gap health insurance), and your comment put a smile on my face. Thanks again.

  12. great information!! thank you so much!

  13. Thank you for doing the RV experiment! Too bad I didn't see it sooner. I've been doing my own baking experiments with some dry/oily/too red/too chocolaty/etc results. My family is quite tired of taste tests.

    But I'm up for another try tomorrow. Would you suggest I avoid making the Cake Man recipe as cupcakes? It's really the perfect cupcake recipe I'm after. And heaven knows I don't own a heart-shaped pan, should a recipe call for one of those...

  14. Kathleen, You don’t own a heart shaped pan?? Well, fifty lashes with a wet noodle for you. Too funny.

    As for Cake Man Raven RVC as cupcakes... I don’t think it would be a problem. But be warned that the cake doesn’t rise very much, so your baked cupcakes will be flat and not high and puffy (like the perfect cupcake should be).

    Good luck with your baking tomorrow.

  15. Thank you so much for answering. I must admit that the only cupcakes I make that come out perfectly domed are doctored up cake mixes.

    Might the Cake Man Raven recipe be too oily for cupcakes? Bakerella's recipe is quite similar and they even smelled oily. Don't think I made a mistake - though I could have on any of my "test" cupcakes because (did you notice too?) some of the recipes have slight to very different mixing techniques. When doing several in a row it's easy to make a mistake.

    One more question: do you know why I am sometimes getting streaky RV cupcakes? Undermixing?

  16. Kathleen,

    I don’t think any of my taste testers thought the Cake Man Raven RVC tasted too oily. Most thought it was moist and fluffy, so they should work well as cupcakes.

    I know what you mean about making mistakes when mixing several different cakes. To this day I think I did something wrong with Bobby Flay’s recipe. In my taste test it came out second to last, but when he did his “Throwdown” with Cake Man Raven, his recipe won. I must have goofed up somewhere.

    As for streaky red velvet, my guess would be under mixing.

    PS: Sorry it took so long to respond. I can’t get to my blog when I’m at work. Crazy job, they expect me to WORK and not update my blob.

  17. I made the Cake Man Raven RV cupcakes today. Not really suitable as cupcakes. The cupcake papers were soaked through with oil and there was a coating of oil in the cupcake pan. I wouldn't call them "velvety."

    I noticed many other recipes with the same amounts of flour/oil/sugar and read some of the comments. While most were 5 star, there were people who found them oily. This includes Paula Deen and Martha Stewart's recipes.

    I suppose that if I had been one of your official tasters, I would have chosen another recipe as best.

    Thank you again for your input and for proving that I'm not the only one who tries recipe after recipe looking for the perfect one. :)

  18. Kathleen,

    Yuck, I didn't think of what the oil would do to the paper cupcake papers.

    Thanks for your observations. I will add a note to the Cake Man Raven entry to not use the recipe for cupcakes. EVER.

    And no, you are not the only one who tries many, many different recipes looking for the perfect "one". After about 10 tries I'm still looking for the perfect pound cake. At least I'm having fun trying.

  19. I have a pound cake recipe, made in a Bundt pan rather than a loaf, that I swear by. Occasionally I see another one in a magazine that looks yummy and I try it. But I always come back to my favorite. And the batter is delicious. Let me know if you want the recipe.

  20. I'm not surprised by the Bobby Flay results. I just made two versions of his recipe last night. I made cupcakes instead of cake. One version I used unsweetened cocoa and no food coloring. On the second version I used food coloring and dutch processed cocoa. The second version had a slightly richer taste, but both were dry and did not provoke any singing of the taste buds. I am looking for the singing. I honestly believe the recipe posted for Bobby Flay is not the one used in the throwdown. Oh and I used cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. I like my cupcakes better made with cake flour.

    Thank you for the results. It is helping me in my decision on which one to try next. Based on these results, I think I know which ones to eliminate from my list now.

  21. Hi Linda, I'm glad my RVC results help! It is also good to know that I'm not the only one who thought Bobby's recipe was just so-so.


  22. Great test and review!

    July 4th 2009, I used the Cake Man Raven recipe but substituted the oil for butter and they came out PERFECT!!!! Since then, whenever I have get-togethers my guest ask for those cupcakes and as for the frosting I add more confectioners sugar for a stiffer frosting.

  23. WOW! I bake all the time and can really appreciate the time, effort and expense you put into this test. Amazing! Very well done. I'd love to see how the recipe I use stacks up... lol Wanna do it again with this recipe in the mix? *wink* or tell me if it compares to one of the recipes you tested?

  24. Try Bobby's again. I love red velvet and his is good. Bake exactly as the throwdown recipe says. But I did not like his icing. I also underbake on purpose.

  25. OMG I fell in love with your RVC taste test. I was looking for a good recipe for RV online and have difficulty trying to decide which one. I'm going to have a RV cake for my wedding and I just hope my baker bakes a good one. We are having our cake testing next year.

  26. so...feeling a little left out here. Just came across your blog and I'd LOVE that Cake man ravens recipe...please??

  27. Hi Alicia,

    Here is a link to the Cakeman Raven RVC recipe:

    Enjoy, I know I did.


  28. Lois, Congrats on your upcoming wedding!!!

  29. The Cakeman Raven RVC recipe is the only one I use (grew up with the same exact recipe). When you make cupcakes use the foil cupcake liners instead of the paper liners, that will avoid that oily build up when using the regular paper liners. If you need the pretty decorative paper liners, just add one under the tin foil liner.

  30. I love that you did all this RVC recipe testing so much I am going to break my read and run habit and comment. I have a strange urge to make one for Christmas but have never understood what all the fuss was about. The recipes I had seen just looked like too lightly flavored chocolate cakes with a lot of red coloring.I am also of the "butter is better" persuasion and was getting weary of the recipe search-thank you for your dedication to research

  31. I ran across your post while searching for a red velvet cake photo for one of my own posts. WOW! I'm amazed by your dedication to this experiment.

    I'm a southern ex-pat living in Seattle and cannot find decent RVC anywhere around these parts.

    I finally followed the "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" maxim and baked my own.

    I, too, scoured the Internet comparing recipes. In the end, I opted for Cakeman Raven's version (but used 3 T of cocoa instead of 1 paltry teaspoon).

    I wish I had found your blog first and saved myself the effort!!

    Thanks for your contribution to RVC lovers everywhere!

    P.S. I, too, am a "butter is better" person, but when it comes to cakes, I've defected to the vegetable oil camp. The first time I attempted my sister-in-law's legendary (in our family, anyway) carrot cake, I started to replace the oil with butter, but then thought better of it.

    The oil seems to produce a cake that's more moist, like a red velvet cake ought to be.

  32. Hi Kim, Now I'm in the process of trying to find a fluffy but moist White Cake. I have a fluffy recipe I like but it is not moist enough. I going to take your advice and add some oil to the recipe. The oil may just to the trick!

  33. Loved your posts, just did my first red velvet last week, but I used beets, not a lover of using so much food coloring, I would love to see you try different versions with beets, I found they had a wonderful taste a little oily and I would have liked them to be reder, but it had a nice bit of cocoa (I like the chocolate)and I have been reading about the cocoa and baking soda reaction so maybe it made it darker.

  34. Hi Carol, I'm a novice baker and for some strange reason woke up one morning with the intense desire to eat red velvet cake. It's not easy to find in Australia - a cupcake chain does a rather dry and bitter version and that's the only one I've ever tasted, but I knew it had to be better than that. So of course I decided to bake my own. Your blog post was one of the first results my online search produced and I absolutely loved your approach to finding the best recipe - I was hooked. Thank you so much for this! I baked the Cake Man Raven recipe today with a few minor variations (blasphemous coming from a non-baker, I know, but anyway, I added an extra teaspoon of cocoa, an extra half teaspoon of vanilla to really kill any eggy smell, and two tablespoons of milk into the batter once incorporated coz I panicked I'd got it wrong and it would be dry, and as I didn't want it bright red I added a few drops of blue colour to gve it a dark red colour- the other thing I did was baked it in a single large round pan as I don't have three 9 inch ones, so it gave me one big cake that wasn't too tall) but despite these it produced one heavenly cake! Supremely moist, just the right ammount of sweet, lovely colour. For someone who's never baked anything from scratch before I'm grateful both for the recipe and for the luck that led to a lovely cake on the first go. Of course not having eaten a decent red velvet before today I can't comment on whether this recipe tastes authentic or not, but I'll take yours and your testers' word for it. I made the cream cheese frosting with the same proportions and half the quantities of the recipe, however,I felt it was too sweet and overwhelmed the taste of this cake given the cake to frosting ratio was not as per the original recipe. Next time I will bake it exactly as the recipe says and show off to my friends! Thanks a lot for your most interesting experiment and thoughtful way of presenting your results! It's 1:50 am now and I've just finished the cake. I can't wait for tomorrow to come so I can eat a decent piece :D
    -- Amruta Nargundkar
    Melbourne, Australia

    1. My favorite cream cheese frosting has 2 Tablespoons of Sour Cream and 1/2 teaspoon Salt to balance the sweet and rich.You have to refrigerate for a couple hours to let get a deep chill.

  35. Just found this post when I was searching for RVC recipes. Thanks for the great info!! It was also great to find a fellow cake lover. :0) You can check out my blog for my cake adventures.

  36. Amruta, I'm glad your 1st scratch baking attempt turned out so well. Next time I'll try your tip about adding blue food color to give the cake a deeper red color. Let me know how your second attempt goes.


  37. Robin, Love your blog. Really liked the quote "Getting older is a great reason to make cake." I'll have to use that one myself :)


  38. Thanks so much for doing the homework for me!! Love your blog. I've been debating which Red Velvet Cake recipe would be the best, and you answered my question! Thanks again.


  39. Hello,
    I'm from Belgium and I like the american's pastry!!
    I'm testing some recipes on my blog and I'll try to make a red velvet cake as soon as possible! In Europe we don't make this type of cake and I like to show us recipes to my family, friends and my blog's followers...
    Please,Can I make a link to your article to give more informations on the differents recipes of the cake? Of course my blog is in french but I hope you will accept my request!

    Excuse my bad english please!
    Have a nice day!

    Laurence (Lulu)

  40. Hello Lulu,
    Of course you may link to my RVC blog post! And post a link to your blog. I won't be able to read it, but I can get my Mom to translate.

    Happy baking,

  41. Hello!

    I was among those who had tried a few RVC recipes found online but could not hit the right chord with producing the best RVC (ironically some of the recipes I've tested claimed to be the best there is).

    A few days ago, right before having to bake a RVC for my cousin, I had an impromptu search for another version of RVC recipe. I found your blog; was highly impressed with your dedication to the bake off and was also skeptical with the winning recipe. However, I decided to have a leap of faith and try it anyway.

    As you mentioned, the cake did not rise that much and I was worried that it did not look and feel moist enough. Also, the parchment paper was oily when peeled from the bottom of the cake.

    But one bite settled all doubts to rest. It was super moist, had a good taste; though a cousin said it was too chocolaty for a RVC (??) and not sour enough and was super easy to frost; not crumbly as a fluffy cake usually is.

    I'm going to stick by Cake Man Raven's recipe but a curious side of me still wants to make two more experiments; 1. substituting the vegetable oil with melted butter, 2. Substituting a part of the oil with applesauce (worked wonder for an oil based carrot cake recipe that I have).

    Thank you, Carol! :)

  42. My dad bought a Red Velvet Cake at a church auction a while back. Probably 5-6 years ago. I loved it. It tasted so unique. Especially because I'm not a big fan of cake in general. I've been looking for one that tastes similar, or at least just as good. I've bought them from bakeries, and made a couple, and have yet to find one that I like even a little. So while looking for more recipes, I found your wonderful blog. I wanted to try the two that rated the best. But I don't want a very chocolatey tasting one (I absolutely hate chocolate cake more than any other cake), and I noticed that that Pastry Queen one has a ton of coco powder. Did it taste pretty chocolaty? If it did, do you think it would be ok if I reduced it to maybe one tablespoon? You are a genius for making this. A good RVC recipe seems to be near impossible to find when looking at and making one recipe at a time. Thank you! :)

  43. Hi Jaja, I'm all for experimenting (as you can tell from my RVC taste test). Let us know how the RVC worked out with the melted butter and applesauce.

    Thanks for reading my blog,

  44. Hi Dani,
    I don't remember the Pastry Queen cake tasting chocolaty, but I agree that 3-1/2 tablespoons is a lot. Although I found another recipe that calls for 1/3 cup of cocoa. WOW. If you reduce the cocoa down to say 1 teaspoon (like CakeMan Raven's), compensate with some extra flour. But not 1-to-1. Move like 1-to-1/2. If you take out 1 tablespoon of cocoa, replace it with 1/2 tablespoon of flour.

    Let us know how your RVC some out.


  45. Thank you :) I plan on finally having some time to try them out this Sunday, although I might half, or third some of the recipes. Cake gets expensive. It shouldn't effect the taste or how the cake turns out if I use a color other than red correct? I wouldn't think it would change anything other than the color. But I thought if one of the recipes are up to my terribly high standards, layers of red and green velvet cakes would look nice for Christmas :) It should still turn out the same right? Thanks :)


  46. Dani, The color of the food dye shouldn't impact the taste. Let us know how it comes out.

  47. this is so great! i can't thanks you so much for the information posted here i've been searching for a good recipe for a red velvet cake i like it a lot but can't seem to find places where they sell a good slice, so i'm going to give your winner a try and hope for the best :) thanks!

  48. What an awesome project! I know it was a lot of work, but it sure sounds like it was fun, too. Thank you for sharing the results with us :D

  49. Hi, have you ever used beets in place of the red food color? If so, which recipe did you find moist and flavorful?

  50. Sorry, Lanikazi, I've never used beets in place of the red food color. I'm not a big fan of beets :(

  51. This is very informative I'm also in love with red velvet cakes and would really like to find the perfect recipe to wow my friends and family :)

    PS: i also thought a butter based RVC would taste the best but it actually had the worst taste :(

  52. Thank you for ALL that work. Wow. Do you ever watch shows like cake boss and notice how the cake looks very compact? Dense not fluffy and light but described as a velvety texture? What is necessary to create this? Did you think any of your RVC had this quality?

  53. I just wanted to thank you for such an awesomely thorough post. You helped narrow down the hundreds (millions!) of red velvet recipes available online... Here are my resulting cupcakes. They were delish.

    Red Velvet Cupcakes

    Thanks again!!

  54. OMG Thank you sooo much for doing this!!!!! I've been searching for red velvet recipes for work, at home, all day every day and i was getting ready to toss a coin to decide which one i was gonna go with! Im shocked that the cake-man raven cake doesn't look "red velvety" enough to me. I'm gonna try it thanks to your research tho...whoohooo thanks!!

  55. This comment has been removed by the author.

  56. This test was flawed, and the results mean very little to me. As a professional Sensory Scientist (I conduct "taste tests" for a major beverage company), all cakes should have been frosted exactly the same, and labeled with random 3-digit numbers. Different colored sprinkles created biases (i.e. a judge will score the cake low becuase it has blue sprinkles, just because they do not like the color blue)among the cakes.

  57. Will you give us the recipe for the winning cake?? Would love to have you post it for us.

  58. Any chance that you can resurrect the spreadsheet? Looks like is dead.

    Thanks for your cake science!

  59. That is neat!!! great idea!!

  60. Hello

    I read your blog and All you have to say with regards to red velvet cake. Before you close the chapter, please try the following recipes:

    1. Red velvet cup cake by Greg Patent

    2. Toba Garrett Red Velvet Cake

    3. Brown Betty Red Velvet Cake

    I'm a bit surprised at your comment on Rose Red Velvet, personally I like her cake recipe because she did not use vinegar. I really do not like vinegar in baking (a personal phobia), but, if and only if the flavour and taste of the cake wins me over, I will succumb to using the vinegar.

    The suggestions I gave you are recipes, I feel, will win you over.



    1. Hi Wale,

      Thanks for the cake suggestions, Wale. I am planning a "Round 3" of cake taste testing so I'll add your suggestions to the list.


  61. Hello! I tried downloading the comparison spreadsheet (Red_Velvet_Cake_matrix) but it turns out empty!

    1. Lory, Try the links now and see if they work. I think I fixed the problem.


  62. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Jean,

      I took a look at the Divas Can Cook recipe and it is similar to Cake Man Raven’s except for a little more coco and the addition of the 1/2 cup of coffee. Can you taste the coffee in the cake? I really, really, really hate the taste of coffee. I’m always willing to test a new Red Velvet recipe, but I don’t want to try it if you can taste even a hint of coffee. I know, I know, I’m strange.

      Thanks, Carol

  63. Hipqjib, Thanks for the tip about adding 2 Tablespoons of Sour Cream and ½ teaspoon of salt to the frosting. I will have to give it a try. I also like a CCF called Crusting Cream Cheese Frosting. It replaces half the butter with shortening. It cuts down on the sweetness, and it hardens nicely so you can smooth the cake and get sharp edges. It is also hard enough to pipe flowers.

  64. I love how thorough you are with all this testing and the supporting documentation. You did great! I have one suggestion though. Next time maybe you could cut the cakes into little squares that way you can have more cake for a larger taste tester panel. It may work better...

  65. What I have found to be the case is that oil based cakes are more moist kind of like a spoon cake (which I prefer). I also like the taste of the butter. I add a bit of butter and almond flavor and increase the cocoa and food coloring in Cake Man Raven's recipe. The result is the dark color, it's more moist, and has a much richer flavor.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Ms Shug. I put a tablespoon of cocoa in my Red Velvet, but I never thought to try some butter and almond flavor. I will try that next time.

      Thanks again.

  66. Just came across this & found it interesting. I claim to be a Red Velvet snob. I don't know why you would go through all that testing then use the wrong frosting. Red Velvet supposed to use the boiled flour/milk frosting also called ermine frosting. I do love cream cheese frosting on certain cakes but the ermine really makes the cake unique! (I didn't read all comments-don't know if anyone else pointed this out.) Cream cheese would seems to heavy for RV in my opinion. The ermine is lighter. But you need to mix it right! Beat beat beat that sugar & butter and add the flour mixture a little at a time and beat beat beat some more, unt it's VELVETY. Thus the velvet part of the name. Try it!

    1. Hi,
      I’ve tried the Ermine several times, and I just don’t care for it. The Ermine is light and fluffy but it doesn’t hold up to the heat in South Louisiana as well as the cream cheese frosting. And people always say that Ermine is the traditional frosting for Red Velvet, but I have been eating Red Velvet cake my entire life (long before Steel Magnolias made it popular) and I only heard about Ermine a few years ago. Maybe Ermine’s roux-icing is a Cajun thing? I’m from the New Orleans, Creole side of the state where the cuisine is very different. My earliest encounters with Red Velvet cake where at Gambino’s, Randazzo’s, Piccadilly’s, etc which always used cream cheese frosting. I asked my Mon (83 years old) and she said she remembers the pudding like Ermine as a filling, but never as a frosting for the whole cake. So I’m curious what part of the US are you from? Where is the Ermine actually used?

  67. I’m not a RVC expert but I make a recipe from the NY Times with Ermine icing and we love it! They also have a very interesting article on the history of red velvet cake. In the past I have always had RVC with cream cheese frosting, but I have to say I now prefer the Ermine. Here is the link for the recipe.

    1. I forgot to mention that I use Special Dark cocoa powder. Have you ever tried it? I would like to know from someone who has tried so many if it changes the flavor for better or worse than regular cocoa powder.

  68. I love your experiment! As with any taste test, personal tastes and opinions always affect the results. If you do a third round, PLEASE don't use cream cheese frosting. That ruins the cake. The original cooked frosting melds with the cake flavor after setting for a day and is the absolute best (in my opinion - lol). Thanks again for this great test and all your work put into it!

  69. This was an awesome competition. I know people who don't like Red Velvet Cake, I dont know why. Its probably the recipe that was used. I didn't realize there were that many variations on Red Velvet. The only one I've ever made is Cake Man Ravens and everyone that's had it loves it. I'm in a bake off with my in laws and was unsure of what to make, I'm very confident in my baking skills. My sister in law does not like Red Velvet, this post confirms that I should make Red Velvet.

    1. Kamilah7, I hope you win the bake-off, and I hope your SIL becomes a lover of Red Velvet cake after you dazzle her taste buds with Cake Man Raven's recipe. Good luck!