Butter Together: This Valentine's Day, give the gift of a falsified memory

February 12, 2020 10:48:52 AM



I have a vivid childhood memory of my mother making beautiful red velvet cakes every Valentine's Day. I can remember opening the refrigerator door just to get a peek at it, heart-shaped and covered in a fluffy white icing.


In my imagination, she made this cake every year, and every year I would peek longingly at it for hours before it was to be cut. It was tender and sweet -- but not sickeningly so -- and, of course, moist. Don't come at me with a dry cake, my people.


Problem is, I am not sure how accurate my memory is. Mama stopped making the cake when I was older and eventually lost the recipe. Did she ever make it annually? Maybe not ... maybe it was only for a year or two, but I was so excited by it that it seemed longer.



As an adult, I was ecstatic when the People of the Internet (not an official name but probably should be) began to extoll the virtues of red velvet cake. Finally, I thought, I'd be able to get her recipe.


But of course I was wrong then, too. For one thing, it seems no one on the internet who falls in love with a food trend falls in love with the actual, original food ... so if the People of the Internet really like red velvet cake, you won't find three million recipes for red velvet cake. Instead, you'll find recipes for red velvet s'mores and red velvet whoopie pie and red velvet milkshakes and red velvet cake pops shaped into tiny Easter bunnies with candy tails.


And when I did find recipes, it seemed like every recipe I tried tasted ... wrong. Not bad. Just wrong. It had an odd whang to it.


It took me years of poking around to discover that older recipes for red velvet cake do not call for cream cheese frosting. That was the difference, as it turns out: the cake of my imagination was frosted with a light, whipped frosting, not the heavier, tangy cream cheese frosting that is currently in favor.


The recipes below are an amalgamation of two I found: the red velvet cake recipe is courtesy of McCormick, and the frosting recipe is a doubled version of one I have made many times from the blog "Our Best Bites." I hope you enjoy both.


Amelia Plair is a mom and high school teacher in Starkville. Email reaches her at [email protected]






1/3 cup flour


1 cup milk (preferably whole)


1 cup butter at room temperature


1 cup granulated sugar


2 teaspoon vanilla extract



  • Blend together flour and milk. Pour mixture into a skillet. (Alternately, you can whisk the flour into the milk if you have no blender.) Whisk mixture constantly until it starts to thicken. Switch to a silicon spatula and continue to stir, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan frequently and thoroughly as you stir.


  • Remove from heat when the mixture has thickened to the consistency of paste. Place mixture in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely. (This step is important: if the mixture is hot when you add it to the butter, you will melt the butter and probably not ever get the consistency you need from this frosting. You can speed up the process in the freezer, but do not allow the mixture to freeze.)


  • When mixture is cool and you are ready to frost the cake, place butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add cooled flour mixture and vanilla. Using the whisk attachment, continue to beat the mixture until the frosting becomes light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. (Do not panic if the mixture begins to separate a few minutes in; this is normal and will right itself.)


    (If you'd like to look up other methods for this same recipe, this frosting is frequently called ermine icing or boiled icing. Some people cook the sugar in with the flour and milk; this step can reduce the time spent beating the mixture at the end. I have not tried that method, however, so I cannot vouch for it.)






    2 1/2 cups flour


    1/2 cup cocoa powder


    1 teaspoon baking soda


    1/2 teaspoon salt


    1 cup butter, softened


    2 cups sugar


    4 eggs


    1 cup sour cream


    1/2 cup milk


    1 bottle (1-ounce) red food color


    2 teaspoons vanilla extract



  • Preheat oven to 350 F. (or 325 if using dark or coated nonstick pans). Grease and flour two 9-inch round pans (or one 9-inch round pan and one 9-inch square pan to make a heart-shaped cake).


  • Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into one mixing bowl and set aside. Cream butter and granulated sugar in a separate bowl until light and fluffy.


  • Add eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in sour cream, milk, food coloring, and vanilla. Add flour mixture and stir in just until blended; I like to do this part by hand, not with a mixer, to avoid overbeating.


  • Pour batter into pans. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes and then remove from pans to finish cooling on wire racks.


    To make a heart-shaped cake, cut round cake in half. Place half circles on adjacent sides of the square cake to create a heart shape. Use frosting to "glue" the pieces together, and then frost as usual.