Before making a red velvet cake or making red velvet cookies I never knew what red velvet cake or cookies were. I assumed they were plain vanilla cookies with a bright red colour. How could I know they contain cocoa powder (= brown!)? Why on earth are we trying to colour a brown cookie red instead of a nice pale one?
It just so happens now that someone in our household is a big fan of red velvet. So I get regular requests for making something red velvet. About time I’d write about it here and a good reason for me to dive into that question, why make something brown red?
Where does red velvet come from?
Red velvet seems to be a commercial invention, more than a century old recipe, as was described by the NY Times. In the beginning of the 20th centuries velvet, thus softer cakes, where common and these might have been reddish because of the cocoa powder and acid in the cake. However, it most probably wasn’t the bright red we know right now.
Only midway the 20th century (artificial) food colouring became more common and the red velvet cake variety started becoming more popular. From a ‘reddish’ cake the red velvets changed into pretty bright red cookies and cakes. This wouldn’t be possible without artificial food colouring though. Natural red colours, such as beet root powder, are a lot more sensitive to heat and processing than their artificial counterparts.
What is red velvet?
Red velvet is quite a broad term. It seems that anything (cookie, cake, smoothie) with some sort of cocoa powder + bright red colouring classifies as ‘red velvet’. A lot of red velvet products will contain some sort of a frosting, often a cream cheese one. It’s not necessary, but the contrast between the bright red and pale white make up for a pretty product.
Red velvet cookies
I’ve tried making red velvet cookies myself, and even though they tasted good, they weren’t red (see photo above). I found it hard to make something brown red. The second attempt (photo on top of the post) already turned out better, I added some more food colouring. That said, the amount of food colouring that has to be added can vary quite greatly between colouring types. I would thus advise to always test our your food colouring. The recipe I used is based on one of Sally’s Baking addiction.
- 200g flour
- 20 cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 115g unsalted butter
- 150g brown sugar
- 50g granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 10 ml milk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp red food coloring
- Mix all the ingredients into a consistent dough. It's easiest to do so in a stand mixer.
- Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for a few minutes.
- Use a spoon to portion out parts of the dough into small humps of dough.
- Bake the cookies in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 15 minutes. I prefer my cookies crunchy versus chewy, if you prefer chewy, take them out of the oven a few minutes earlier.
You will notice the cookie recipe isn’t very special. It’s just a chocolate cookie! If you want advice on choosing your cocoa powder, want to learn why Oreo’s are black (not red) or what the role of flour, sugar and butterise in cookies, continue reading!