Red Velvet Cake that actually tastes of something!

I’ve never been a fan of red velvet cake – just couldn’t get what the fuss was about, it was just a moist but bland sponge with red food colouring.  The only good thing about it was the cream cheese frosting but I prefer that on a carrot cake!  I guess I am not a fan of American food generally – it seems really quite bland – they even manage to dumb down yoghurt by adding tapioca to it…..I mean why?  

I have made them before – my daughter loves the version I normally make which is a cross between Nigella’s and the Barefoot Contessa’s but I tend to just eat the frosting and leave the rest.

But I need to make one for a birthday cake and so I decided to experiment.  This version is the trial run so I had to make it smaller to conserve ingredients, including the red colouring and frosting, due to lockdown rations!  To be honest, I’m not at all sure that the red food colouring is really necessary – other than without it doesn’t come out particularly red, even with the wine, which does give it a hint of colour.  But I guess it wouldn’t be red velvet without.  Some years ago I made a black velvet version with black food colouring for an Elvis fan – that looked really good even if to me it didn’t taste it!

I belong to a lovely group called The Yotam Ottolenghi-inspired Cooking Housewives on Facebook and asked for recommendations for recipes.  Most were just variations on the usual but one lady recommended the Smitten Kitchen version, which is made with red wine.  Her take on red velvet, up til making that one, seems to be pretty in line with mine…..i.e. meh!  

Having found that one, I started a trawl through my not inconsiderable cookery book collection.  Again, most were the usual bland sameness but the cupcakes from Lola’s Forever cookbook sounded pretty good too.

And so I decided to take inspiration from them both.  The pictures don’t look too elegant because I didn’t have any red food colouring to spare or enough cream cheese to cut it in two and make it a layered cake or indeed to use a piping bag to decorate it properly – hopefully I will remember to take some photos once I make the final version in a week or so!


125g butter (room temp)

200g dark brown sugar

75g granulated sugar

35g dark chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

2 large eggs

150 ml buttermilk

200ml red wine

50g cocoa powder

35g ground almonds

200g self-raising flour

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon red food colouring paste


  • Preheat the oven to 160C fan and line a 20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper
  • Add a small corner of the butter to the dark chocolate and microwave on full for about 20 seconds and stir
  • In a large mixing bowl cream the rest of the butter with an electric mixer
  • In a separate bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients except the sugar and ground almonds.  It is really important to make sure you sift the baking soda here – push it through the sieve with a spoon if necessary or it will clump and you won’t get an even rise.
  • Add the granulated sugar and continue to whisk until light a creamy
  • Add the brown sugar and continue whisking
  • Add in the melted chocolate, vanilla paste, red food colouring if using and eggs and continue to whisk
  • Add the buttermilk and wine and whisk until thoroughly combined into a light airy batter
  • Stir in the ground almonds
  • Add about a third of the sifted dry ingredients and whisk in, then a further third and finally fold in the remaining third
  • Transfer the mixture to the lined cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes – depending on your oven – test with a cocktail stick and if it comes away clean remove from the oven and leave to cool on a rack for about ten minutes in the tin.  If not quite cooked in the centre, leave in the oven for a further ten minutes and test again
  • After ten minutes in the tin, remove the tin and leave to cool completely before frosting

For the frosting:


100g butter

100g cream cheese (full fat – the lite stuff has too much water whipped in)

1 teaspoon vanilla paste

1 teaspoon lemon juice

400g icing sugar


  • Make sure both the cream cheese and butter are at room temperature
  • I use a stand mixer for this as then I can drape a tea towel over it to stop the icing sugar clouding the whole kitchen
  • First whisk the cream cheese, vanilla paste and lemon juice until the cheese is loose
  • Then add in the butter and continue to whisk until fully combined
  • Add in half the icing sugar, drape the tea towel over the mixer and whisk on a low setting for about a minute
  • Add in the other half of the icing sugar and repeat the process 
  • Using a rubber scraper push down any of the mixture that hasn’t properly combined and then without the need for the tea towel whisk on a high setting for about a further minute
  • Once the cake is cool, dollop the frosting into the middle of the cake and then turning the cake, spread to the outside and then down the sides of the cake

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