Every year my mother-in-law would make the most amazing red cake for my husband's birthday. When she passed away we looked through her recipe book and could not find it. I have yet to find it. I know it had an entire bottle of red food coloring with a cream cheese frosting. Thanks for trying to find this recipe for me (and my husband). I know he will appreciate it.
Marilyn Radder, New Fairfield, Conn.
It seems Marilyn is referring to red velvet cake, a staple in many Southern kitchens. So I turned to my Southern friends for a recipe, and Kelly Cook of Dunedin came through. Kelly is Southern through and through, so I knew this recipe would be good. It uses cake flour, which is a finely milled white flour made from soft wheat. The flour has a very low protein content, making it perfect for soft-textured cakes and cookies; a flour with more protein would make this cake tough. This red velvet cake is light rather than dense. As Marilyn remembers, an entire bottle of red food coloring is added, and that combined with the small amount of cocoa turns the cake a lovely shade of red.
Some may think the addition of vinegar would be unpleasant, but it is necessary because the minimal amount creates a reaction with the buttermilk and keeps the cake moist. I promise it adds no vinegary flavor.
Don't skip the sifting step, as it adds to the velvety texture of the cake. I find that if you don't sift cocoa you often wind up with small chunks of cocoa that won't incorporate. When you add the wet ingredients, they go in all at once, unlike many other cake recipes, where you may beat the batter after each egg is added, for example. If you don't want flour all over your counter and floor, gently give the mixture a turn or two with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, to just barely incorporate wet and dry ingredients. I am speaking from experience.
The cream cheese frosting is not overly sweet, making this three-layer cake a perfect complement to the end of any big meal.
Recipes tested by Times correspondent Ellen Folkman unless otherwise noted.