Mihai Aurel
What is Red Velvet Cake?

We are obsessed with it and certainly have enjoyed our fair share of it at The Hummingbird Bakery, but what exactly is our bestselling Red Velvet flavour and where did this mysterious recipe come from?


Where does Red Velvet cake come from?

Red Velvet cake hails from the Southern United States and is a red vanilla sponge made with buttermilk and cocoa to give it a unique flavour and a light taste of chocolate.


But if you’re in London and want to try the real deal, your Red Velvet cake most certainly comes from us! (Or at least that’s what we hope...!)


When was Red Velvet cake first made?

First mentions of Red Velvet cake go back 200 years or thereabouts to the 19th century, so it has long been a favourite dessert across America.


What is Red Velvet cake frosted with?

It is usually topped with cream cheese frosting or, in some recipes, with a roux icing (sometimes called boiled milk frosting, flour buttercream or ermine frosting) that is made in a saucepan. Sometimes they are frosted with buttercream, but at our bakeries we use cream cheese frosting because we are fans of its tangy flavour.


Why does Red Velvet cake contain white vinegar?

One ingredient you may not be aware of in Red Velvet cake mixture is white vinegar. The vinegar has a dual role in that it reacts with the bicarbonate of soda and the buttermilk to release carbon dioxide which makes the sponge light and fluffy. We use distilled white vinegar which contains no alcohol.


This, coupled with the addition of buttermilk, was traditionally added to react with the red anthocyanin (a naturally occurring compound) in the cocoa to give a deeper red shade.


How does Red Velvet cake get its colour?

Traditionally, cocoa has been used in Red Velvet recipes to add colour. Occasionally recipes would recommend cooks use beetroot for a red coloured sponge. These days, the acid in the cocoa we buy from the supermarket tends to be neutralised in processing and this makes it ineffective for achieving a red sponge. Which is where artificial food colouring comes in. We use artificial food colouring in our Red Velvet sponges.


If you struggle to put the red into Red Velvet, read our blog on Red Velvet Food Colouring for a guide to getting a vibrant sponge every time.


With developments in food technology, artificial liquid and gel food colourings have been made available to home bakers which make it easy to get a striking red shade that is simply not possible with natural food colourings. Quite simply, if you skip the artificial food colouring you will get a brown sponge.


Has Red Velvet cake ever had a movie cameo?

One famous mention of Red Velvet cake on the big screen came in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias, where it made an appearance as a rather unusual armadillo-shaped cake.


When did London first get a taste of real Red Velvet cake?

The Hummingbird Bakery sold Red Velvet Cupcakes at its very first bakery on Portobello Road in 2004 and is credited with bringing the authentic taste of Red Velvet cake to London.


Make Red Velvet recipes

Try our recipe for melt-in-the-mouth Red Velvet Ice Cream here.


Brighten up brunch with our recipe for Red Velvet Pancakes here.


Order Red Velvet cake

To order our Red Velvet Cupcakes or Red Velvet Cake from The Hummingbird Bakery, visit our online shop to order cakes for delivery or collection in-store.

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