Today I have a lovely original red velvet cake recipe for you. I call it original because I frosted it with ermine frosting. Many sources say ermine frosting is the traditional frosting for red velvet cake and not cream cheese frosting. Let’s get to it, shall we? This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
What Is Ermine Frosting, Anyway?
As far as I can tell, the origins of ermine frosting, or boiled milk 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.
What Does Ermine Frosting Taste Like?
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.
Is Red Velvet Cake Just Chocolate Cake with Red Food Coloring?
The short answer to this question is no.
There are two schools of thought about the origins of red velvet cake. Some people say that the original red color was caused as a reaction between the acidic cocoa powder and buttermilk with the baking soda. So in that case, red velvet cake is a type of chocolate cake.
The other school of thought is that a food coloring manufacturer, Betty Adams of Adams Extracts, developed a cake recipe using red food coloring as an integral ingredient. This recipe contained cake flour and buttermilk for tenderness and just a hint of cocoa powder to keep the red color vibrant. You can find that red velvet cake, labeled as “original,” on the Adams Extract site.
The recipe is described as being frosted with either “classic white icing,” or cream cheese frosting. Classic white icing=ermine frosting. Huzzah!
So if you really want to make a traditional red velvet cake recipe, make sure to use Adams Extracts red food coloring in your recipe!
Traditional Red Velvet Cake Recipe
The Original Red Velvet Cake/Frosting Combination
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.
For an excellent discussion of red velvet cake (and excellent all-around recipes for desserts) check out Stella Parks’s wonderful BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.
If you like the sound of this recipe, please rate it and/or comment. I love hearing from readers! And if you make this cake, please share a picture on Instagram or in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook group. I can’t wait to see your version!
Okay, now let’s bake this red velvet cake recipe and frost it, old-school, with the best frosting for red velvet: ermine!
Since the fat in this cake is oil, it will not get hard in the fridge. The butter in the frosting will get hard though, so if you refrigerate it, slice and then wait 30 minutes or so before serving so the frosting can soften up. As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
For the Cake (for 3 6" layers)
For the Ermine Frosting
For the Cake
For the Ermine Frosting
To Assemble the Cake
Serving Size: 1/8 3-layer, 6" cake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 782 Saturated Fat: 37g Cholesterol: 86mg Sodium: 458mg Carbohydrates: 77g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 51g Protein: 7g
Since the fat in this cake is oil, it will not get hard in the fridge. The butter in the frosting will get hard though, so if you refrigerate it, slice and then wait 30 minutes or so before serving so the frosting can soften up.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Ermine is also my favorite neutral (non-chocolate) frosting for chocolate cake. In case you were wondering.
More Traditional Cake Recipes from PCO
If you love this red velvet cake recipe, here are some other cakes on my site you might enjoy as well.
- Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Rocky Road Frosting
- Peanut Butter Marshmallow Cake (Fluffernutter Cake)
- Lemon Lime Angel Food Cake
- Classic 1-2-3-4 Cake with Chocolate Ermine Frosting
- Eclair Cake
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Enjoy the red velvet cake recipe and the ermine frosting. Take care, and have a lovely day.