Box cake mixes take much of the guesswork out of baking a red velvet cake, but you can make a few alterations to the standard recipe to make the cake even better. Red velvet cake is basically a red-colored chocolate cake that can look stunning, or disastrous if the cake is burned, dry or lacks the typical bright red coloring. Try a few simple tricks to take improve an ordinary red velvet cake.
Tinting Chocolate Cake Mix
Several companies make red velvet box cake mix, but you can adapt a chocolate cake mix if that's all you have on hand. When you prepare the batter, add about 1 ounce of red food coloring per box of chocolate cake mix, or as much as needed to achieve the desired color. This works best with light-colored chocolate cakes such as German chocolate or plain chocolate. Devil's food chocolate cake mixes are very dark, so you might be able to achieve a slight maroon tint at best.
Part of the fun of cooking and baking is experimenting to improve upon different recipes. Although box cake mixes have instructions on the bake, you can make changes to the original instructions to improve the red velvet cake. Cake mixes usually require some combination of water, eggs and vegetable oil. You can replace all or part of the water with buttermilk to make the cake moist and slightly tangy. If you want to cut calories, substitute applesauce for the vegetable oil. Mix in a couple dollops of sour cream to add a tangy taste typical of red velvet cake, or stir one box of dry vanilla instant pudding with the batter to make the cake extra moist.
Prevent Browning the Edges
Red velvet cake doesn't look or taste nearly as good when the edges of the cake become brown and dry while cooking. This often happens when the edges of the cake cook faster than the center, which also causes the cake to bubble in the center. To remedy this problem, cut a towel into strips as wide as the cake pan depth and as long as the circumference. Wet the towel strips and tie them around the cake pan. You can also purchase cake strips specifically for this purpose. This helps keep the edges cool as the cake bakes so the edges retain their bold red color while the center cooks.
Frosting Red Velvet Cakes
Part of the fun of a red velvet cake is keeping the bright red color a surprise until you cut into the cake. Typically, red velvet cake is frosted with cream cheese frosting to add some richness and creaminess to the fluffy cake texture. Whipped cream frosting makes a suitable alternative to cream cheese frosting if you want a lighter frosting that still adds sweetness. Apply a thin layer of frosting to the cake and allow the frosting to harden slightly before applying a thicker coat of frosting. The crumb coat seals in the red crumbs so they don't mix with the surface frosting while trying to decorate the cake.
A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.