Today I have a lovely traditional red velvet cake recipe for you. I call it traditional because I frosted it with ermine frosting. Many sources say ermine frosting is the original frosting for red velvet cake and not cream cheese frosting. Let’s get to it, shall we?
What’s Ermine Frosting, Anyway?
As far as I can tell, the origins of ermine frosting are lost in the murky recesses of time. But it is made in the same manner that European buttercream is made in the sense that you make a base and then beat butter into that base until the whole is light and fluffy, impossibly smooth and perfectly spreadable. In European buttercream, the base is generally either an egg/sugar syrup base as in French buttercream or an egg white/sugar syrup base as in Swiss and Italian buttercream.
Ermine’s closest buttercream relative seems to be German buttercream, which is based on an egg-and-starch thickened custard base. Lose the eggs, and you end up with ermine! My moderately educated guess is that someone or someones of German heritage moved over to the United States years and years ago, found themselves both in need of cake and with a shortage of eggs, so left the eggs out of their German Buttercream. And Ermine Buttercream was born.
Just because there was a shortage of eggs doesn’t mean there was also a shortage of butter. This frosting, while containing less sugar than standard American powdered sugar buttercream (7 oz as compared to 10.67 oz), also happens to contain a lot more butter (8 oz in this recipe as opposed to 3 oz or 4 oz of butter for the same size batch of American buttercream).
Ermine frosting has a clean, neutral vanilla flavor that is just sweet enough. It doesn’t fight with the mild, slightly tangy flavor of red velvet, making it the perfect accompaniment. It doesn’t hurt that the white color also looks dramatic against the red cake. If you are used to pairing more assertive, tangy-in-its-own-right cream cheese frosting with your red velvet, give ermine a try. I think you will love the completely smooth texture and lovely mild vanilla flavor.
Traditional Red Velvet Cake with Ermine Frosting
Traditional red velvet cake, at least as it evolved in the mid-20th century, gets its red hue from food coloring rather than from a reaction between cocoa powder and vinegar. The recipe does contain a bit of cocoa–just enough that you can taste it without it reading as a real chocolate cake. Red velvet also has a tender crumb courtesy of the buttermilk used in the recipe. For the tightest crumb, use cake flour. I used all purpose and nothing bad happened.
- 11.5 oz all purpose or cake flour (2 1/2 cups)
- 2 Tablespoons non-alkalized cocoa powder (such as Nestle or Hershey's)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 8 oz (1 cup) buttermilk
- 1/2 oz red food coloring (liquid, not gel or paste)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 10.5 oz (1 1/2 cups) light brown sugar
- 10.5 oz neutral vegetable oil (1 1/2 cups)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
- 8 oz (1 cup) whole milk
- 7 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
- 4 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a couple of shakes of chocolate bitters (optional but lovely)
Set a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350F.
Spray 3 6" cake pans with pan spray. Line the bottoms with parchment circles, and place them on a baking tray. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda. Set aside.
Stir the buttermilk, food coloring, and vanilla together. Set aside.
With a hand mixer or in the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the sugar, oil, and salt. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until emulsified. The mixture will thicken and be opaque.
Alternate adding the dry ingredients in three additions with the wet ingredients, mixing just until combined and scraping the bowl as necessary.
Mix in the vinegar.
Divide evenly among the three prepared pans and bake for 40-45 minutes, rotating the pan after about 25 minutes, until well-risen and slightly domed and the cakes spring back when pressed lightly on the tops.
Run a thin spatula around the inside of each pan. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto cake racks to cool completely.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, flour, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
Allow to boil for 15-30 seconds and then pour through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Cool to room temperature.
Stir in the vanilla and optional bitters into the milk-sugar mixture once it has cooled.
Cut the butter into 1-2 Tablespoon pieces. If the butter seems too firm, flatten each piece to allow them to soften faster.
Using the whip attachment, whip the butter into the cooled base a piece at a time, waiting until one piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. Once all the butter is added, whip on high speed for a few minutes (5-7 or so) until the frosting is smooth and fluffy. If it's still not coming together in a glorious fluffy mass, refrigerate the bowl for a few minutes and then whip again.
Slice the domes off the cakes and crumble into crumbs.
Smear a dab of icing in the center of your cake plate, and place one layer on top.
Spread evenly with about 1/2 cup frosting.
Place another layer on top, spread another 1/2 cup of frosting on that layer and top with the final layer, bottom side up. Make sure the cake is level and the layers are stacked evenly, and then refrigerate for 30 minutes or so. This will keep your layers from sliding while you frost the rest.
Spread a thin layer of frosting around the sides so you can see the cake through the frosting. Spread a thicker layer of frosting on the top of the cake.
Use the cake crumbs to decorate however you'd like, either pressing them around the sides or using them in a stencil to make a design on top like I did.
And there it is, gang. Traditional Red Velvet Cake with Ermine Frosting. For my money, it doesn’t get more old school or more Southern than that, especially when you’re talking about cake. If you’re used to pairing cream cheese frosting with red velvet cake, I think ermine frosting will be a pleasant surprise. Make this red velvet cake for someone special, and see if you don’t agree.
Ermine is also my favorite neutral (non-chocolate) frosting for chocolate cake. In case you were wondering.
Shop This Recipe
Here are my recommendations for some equipment (as well as chocolate bitters) you might need for making this traditional red velvet cake. If you don’t think you need a stand mixer, I have the OXO hand mixer, and it works really well. I also use Fat Daddio pans and love their quality. All these links are affiliate links. Thank you for your support, and happy caking!
And here’s a long pin for you if you’d like to save this recipe.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Enjoy the red velvet cake and the ermine frosting. Take care, and have a lovely day.
What would you like to do next? Click HERE to explore my other cake recipes.