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Margaret Wilson Says Happy Valentine's Day

Red velvet cake and red velvet cupcakes are all the rage. And early last week, a Red Velvet “Oreo” hit the grocery shelves. Even Weight Watchers has a Red Velvet Cream mini cake that promises “only 2 points” toward the daily nutritional intake on their weight loss program.


Yes, red velvet is a popular flavor and a favorite of many and no doubt it makes a perfect dessert for Valentine’s Day with its chocolate essence and deep red color.


With all the attention to red velvet, I began to wonder about the cake’s derivation —where it came from, who invented it. I had thought it had Southern roots (and some people think it does) but when I began to explore its history, a couple of other locales laid claim to the famous cake.


Quite a distance from the South, the famous New York hotel, the Waldorf Astoria, takes credit for the cake’s beginnings, saying it was created in their kitchen by a hotel chef during the late 1920s.


The Waldorf’s current Executive Pastry Chef, Charlie Romano, generously shared his thoughts on the cake with me. He confirmed that the hotel does credit a Waldorf chef with creating the recipe during the Depression era. 


With the resurgence of the cake’s popularity a decade or so ago, many people began asking for a slice of the red velvet cake when dining at the famed Manhattan hotel. As a result, the Waldorf re-introduced it to their menu.


Romano said his red velvet cake is not too sweet. He believes that a great finish to a delicious meal can be accomplished without being too sugary. 


Although the original frosting is a cooked icing, Romano tops his cakes with a cream cheese frosting—a more popular option today. However he does combine the cream cheese with mascarpone cheese “which produces a smoother, silkier texture,” he said.


Eaton’s Department Store chain in neighboring Canada also weighs in with a claim on red velvet. During the 1940s and 1950s, Eaton’s bakery guarded their recipe, leading  many people to believe the red velvet cake was their invention. However, recipes for the cake can be found dating back much further than that period in history, refuting their claim.


In spite of the Waldorf Astoria’s reputation for having created many culinary classics, the red velvet cake is definitely associated with the Southern United States. It appears in many Southern cookbooks and magazines.


Remember the Red Velvet groom’s cake in the shape of an armadillo in the movie “Steel Magnolias” with Sally Fields and Julia Roberts? 


Texas-based food flavoring and food coloring company Adams Best had a hand in promoting the cake along with their extracts. They made the printed recipe cards available as “tear offs” where their products were sold. 


I know one great Southern lady, Margaret Wilson, who is known for her red velvet cake. Her often-requested recipe is Adams Best, printed on a recipe card torn from the product’s display in the grocery store years ago.


Wherever the red velvet cake got its start, it is a delicious ending to a meal and will make a beautiful rich, red, chocolate cake for your Valentine.


Red Velvet Cake

(Mrs. Wilson’s Recipe)

 ½ cup shortening

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. Adams Best vanilla

1 tsp. Adams Best butter flavoring

1 ½ oz. bottle Adams Best red food coloring

3 tablespoons cocoa

2 ½ cups sifted flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. salt

1 tablespoon vinegar

1tsp. baking soda


Preheat oven to 350. 

Prepare three 8 in. cake pans with non-stick spray.


Cream shortening, sugar, eggs and flavorings. Make paste of cocoa and food color. Add to first mixture. Alternately add flour and buttermilk. Mix vinegar and baking soda in small bowl. Add to batter and blend. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and remove from pans.


Cream Cheese Icing

1 stick butter

1 8 oz. package cream cheese

2 cups plus more as needed powdered sugar

1 tsp. Adams Best vanilla


Mix together adding more powdered sugar if needed to desired consistency. Frost cooled cake.




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