The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

February 13, 2013

Cheryle Finley: Treat your sweetheart to red velvet cake

JOPLIN, Mo. — Giving someone chocolate is the universal way to say "I love you" on Valentine's Day. But serving your loved-one red velvet cake is a great idea, too.

The cake's dark-red color shouts Valentine's Day. Top it with traditional cream cheese frosting and you have a combo that continues to grow in popularity. Red velvet truly is a luxurious dessert.

Red velvet cake has long been associated with the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, but its most recent surge in popularity is credited to the film "Steel Magnolias." Who can forget the red velvet armadillo groom's cake fashioned by the groom's aunt on her kitchen counter and relegated to the garage for serving? At one time, red velvet cake was hard to find in cake displays, but it's now a staple in those establishments.

Boiled, grated beets and beet baby food are sometimes used to add color to food, but red food coloring is the source of the rich color in most recipes. McCormick, maker of all things spice and seasoning, revealed that last Valentine's Day, more than 550,000 ounces of red food coloring were sold. That quantity would produce enough red velvet cupcakes to circle the earth 23 times. A 1-ounce jar of red food coloring can turn frosting light pink, make a white cake dark red, or tint whipped cream to a shade somewhere in between.

Generally, red food coloring doesn't add flavor, but it does give the perception that flavor has been added to food. If it didn't have enough food coloring to temporarily stain your teeth, would red velvet cake still be red velvet? As far as the taste goes, yes. But the deep red color prepares our senses for the red velvet experience.

Substitutes for red food coloring besides beets? Gels, grape skins, elderberry juice and hibiscus. Strawberries, cherries, pomegranates and raspberries are good substitutes if you want to give food a red hue, but the batter will take on the flavor of the fruit, and it won't taste like red velvet cake.

Besides red food coloring, cocoa, vinegar and buttermilk are also common red velvet ingredients. There's usually not enough cocoa to give the cake a very pronounced chocolate flavor, just enough to react with the buttermilk and vinegar to create a reddish hue of natural tinting. All ingredients work together to make red velvet cake look and taste the way it does. Whether you're making it for your favorite valentine, your family or a dinner for one, red velvet cake is a treat that is sure to make anyone feel special.

McCormick provides the brownie and pancake recipes today. Decorate the hearts with a simple but meaningful x-and-o pattern or other fancy designs. The icing is the perfect canvas for decorating. Start your Valentine's Day with the red velvet pancakes. Go the extra mile and pour them into heart shaped cookie cutters for a short stack of red hearts.

The "Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor" cookbook gives us a super-easy red velvet cake you can pair with homemade cream cheese frosting. Or make preparation easier by using a can of frosting from off the shelf. Happy Valentine's Day and happy eating.


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