Saturday, September 10, 2016

Seeing Red

I may actually bake a cake (or some cupcakes) for someone's birthday this week-- the one time a year I make cake. Some years it's a classic Betty Crocker Brownie Cake (sans nuts), and some years it's red velvet.

Red velvet seems like a pretty standard flavor now, especially since it had a bit of a moment a year or two ago. (You know it's ubiquitous when there's an Oreo version.) A couple of my community cookbooks suggest that even though the flavor has been around for a while, the red velvet name didn't used to be so standard.

The title for the cake from (the very lengthily named) How We the Woman's Society of Christian Service Cook at South Park Methodist Church (1961) suggests one of those urban-legend-type stories about a small-town woman who naively asks a big-city restaurant for a recipe and then gets charged an obscene amount of money:

You can still find plenty of Three Hundred Dollar Cake recipes online, but all the ones I found were for chocolate cakes-- not red velvet. Maybe South Park Methodist Church really valued red food coloring? Unfortunately, they didn't seem to value the best part of red velvet cake (or maybe the only good part?)-- the cream cheese icing!

When I saw the title of this recipe in Very Tastefully Yours (Clark County Extension Homemakers' Clubs, 1977), I thought it might contain apples, nuts, and, if unsuspecting diners were truly unlucky, celery:

Waldorf Cake is not at all like Waldorf salad, though. It's just another name for red velvet, apparently, albeit another one with plain old vanilla icing.

What seemed even odder is that both collections listed another cake featuring a different red ingredient right after their versions of red velvet cakes:

Yep-- They both list tomato soup cakes as the next recipe. The first makes me see that the absence of cream cheese icing in the Three Hundred Dollar Cake might not be quite so bad. I'm not really clamoring for raw egg yolk in my cupcake topper!

The You'll be Surprised Cake comes as much less of a surprise after Tomato Soup Cake, but to be fair, I don't think Ann Cozad realized a blogger 55 years in the future would be comparing her recipe with one in a cookbook written 16 years in the future.

Maybe I should threaten to make a tomato-soup-based cake this year instead of something cocoa-y. That would be a real birthday surprise! (One that would make the birthday boy want to feed his cake to the cats.)


  1. I've always found red velvet cakes vaguely disappointing. With their reddish color, I've always thought they should be rich fruit-flavored cakes, maybe with intense cherry or berry flavors, but no. Instead they're chocolate, and not even a proper rich fudgy chocolate or a buttery smooth German chocolate. Am I the only one who finds them depressingly ordinary? Just me?

    1. I mainly eat them since my significant other likes them, and on the off-chance that there will be cream cheese icing. They're certainly not my top choice. In fact, the more I think about it, vaguely disappointing seems like the perfect description.