This cake’s color hinges on the anthocyanins found in red wine and raw cocoa, as even organic brands of “natural” cocoa powder lose their colorful potential in the roasting process. They create a shockingly pale batter, but in the oven it develops a mellow burgundy hue and rich cocoa flavor (plus, these acidic ingredients make for a velvety soft crumb). Paired with light and tangy cream cheese frosting, it’s everything red velvet should be.
Recipe adapted slightly from BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks. Copyright © 2017 by Stella Parks. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. —Food52
Test Kitchen Notes
This recipe was tested as part of our community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. Each month, with help from you, our community, we’re finding the best books across categories—from bread to pasta, basics to weeknight-friendly, cake to cookies, to name a few. Each cycle, three brave Food52 community members read, cook, write, and cook some more, in testing and reviewing five cookbooks. At the end of the month, they share their five cookbook reviews on the site, and final judgment as to which book proved to be the absolute best.
This recipe for an un-obnoxiously colored red velvet cake, with a prominent chocolate flavor, comes from self-proclaimed pastry wizard and Serious Eats contributor Stella Parks’ BraveTart. F52ers Margaret Winchell, Jen Rose, and Reba Toloday believe Stella Parks to be a hero to make obsessive home cooks, because Parks herself is one (and this comes across in her writing and recipes). Not only does Parks offer rigorously tested, foolhardy recipes, but also the histories behind favorite, nostalgic desserts, and smart tips, tricks, and hacks for every kind of kitchen mishap (rescuing a buttercream? Check. Visual cues to look out for when tempering chocolate? Double check—Parks has got you covered).
Community member Margaret Winchell tested this recipe for the Book-Off review of Parks’ book, pairing the cake with a custard-boosted cream cheese frosting (the recipe for which is also found in Parks’ book), and dusting the top and sides with shaved white chocolate and cocoa nibs. —The Editors
- Prep time 2 hours
- Cook time 30 minutes
- Makes one 8-by-4-inch layer cake; 16 servings
- Cake batter
2 2/3 cups
(12 ounces) all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal
(2 1/4 ounces) raw cocoa powder, such as Navitas Naturals
sticks (14 ounces) unsalted butter, soft but cool—about 65°F
(16 ounces) gently packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons
Diamond Crystal kosher salt (half as much if iodized)
(1 ounce) vanilla extract
large eggs, brought to about 70°F
1 1/2 cups
(12 ounces) dry red wine, such as California Cabernet Sauvignon
- To finish
3- or 4-ounce block or bar white chocolate
(1/2 ounce) cocoa nibs
- To better synchronize the downtime in both recipes, make the cream cheese frosting (see headnote for link) before the cake. While it’s cooling, adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Line three 8-by-3-inch anodized aluminum cake pans with parchment and grease with pan spray. (If you don’t have three pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature for up to 3 hours.)
- Sift flour and cocoa (if using cup measures, spoon into the cups and level with a knife before sifting); set aside.
- Combine butter, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed to moisten, then increase to medium and cream until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes, pausing to scrape the bowl and beater halfway through. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in one-third of the flour/cocoa, followed by a third of the red wine. Alternate between the two, allowing each addition to be roughly incorporated before adding the next. Fold batter with a flexible spatula to ensure it’s well mixed from the bottom up. Divide among the prepared cake pans (about 22 ounces each).
- Bake until the cakes are domed and firm when gently pressed, about 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will emerge with a few crumbs still attached. Cool until no trace of warmth remains (the domes will level off in time), about 90 minutes.
- Loosen the cakes from their pans with a knife, invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and reinvert.
- Crumb-coat and frost the cake with the cream cheese frosting. Slide a dozen 2-inch-wide strips of wax paper under the bottom edge of the cake to shield the plate. Shave the white chocolate with a coarse-bladed Microplane and use a spoon to sprinkle white chocolate over the top and sides of the cake. When fully covered, scatter the cocoa nibs on top to mimic ermine “spots”: If you take a step back and fling the nibs like you would a Frisbee, they’ll stick to the sides in a random yet natural pattern (spoiler alert: It’s really, really fun).
- Under a cake dome or an inverted pot, the frosted cake will keep for up to 24 hours at room temperature. After cutting, wrap leftover slices individually and store at room temperature for up to 3 days more.
Mix it up!:
Cranberry Velvet: For those who abstain, replace the red wine with an equal amount of pure, unsweetened cranberry juice—not cranberry cocktail!
Red (Wine) Velvet Cupcakes: Line cupcake pans with papers. Fill each with 13/4 ounces of batter, about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges with only a few crumbs attached. Makes about 40 cupcakes.
Gluten-Free: Replace the all-purpose flour with 4 ounces (1 cup) teff flour, 4 ounces (1 cup) tapioca flour or arrowroot, 2 ounces (1/2 cup) coconut flour, and 2 ounces (1/2 cup) white rice flour.