Red velvet cake -- essentially a devil's food cake -- should taste light, but moist, with a fine crumb. Although self-rising flour may contain soft wheat, which produces a light crumb, it also contains baking powder and salt. You'll probably get better results if you add these ingredients yourself. All-purpose flour works in a pinch, but because of its high protein content, it won't create quite the fine crumb you're looking for. The magic ingredient for the most delicious red velvet cake is cake flour.
Flour for Red Velvet Cake
Neither all-purpose flour nor self-rising flour are ideal for red velvet cake. Red velvet cake has a fine, tender crumb and a moist texture enhanced by buttermilk. Cake flour is the flour of choice for this cake. With only 5 to 7 percent protein, cake flour forms little gluten, producing a fine crumb. All-purpose flour has 7 to 12 percent protein and will result in a slightly coarser cake. Self-rising flour may contain less protein, but it also contains about 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, per 1 cup of flour. Use self-rising flour for biscuits and quick breads. Self-rising flour may also make your red velvet cake too salty.
More About Cake Flour
Cake flour is low in protein and is also finely milled. Cake flour has also been bleached, which improves rise, fat distribution and texture. Because cake flour is so fine, it tends to clump. Always sift it before you add it to the other ingredients in a cake.
In a Pinch
Although cake flour is the best choice for a red velvet cake, it can be difficult to find and it does cost more than regular flour. If you don't have cake flour, try this handy substitute: use bleached all-purpose flour. Sift it and use 2 tablespoons less than the recipe suggests.
In the Mix
Whether you use cake flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, use a light hand when making red velvet cake. Cream the butter and sugar together for several minutes until the butter is light and fluffy. This step incorporates air bubbles into the cake so it rises well. Add buttermilk for tenderness or make your own by combining milk with vinegar at a rate of 1 tablespoon vinegar for each 1 cup of milk. Red food coloring provides this cake's distinctive color, along with a bit of cocoa powder for flavoring. Frost a classic red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting or a seven-minute boiled frosting.
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