What Is Pink Velvet Cake And How Does It Differ From The Red Variety?

Dessert lovers will be intimately familiar with red velvet cake but are less likely to have sampled other varieties. From blue to black, velvet cakes can come in any shade one likes, including bright, blushing pink. Pink velvet cake, which requires red gel or liquid food coloring to achieve that near-neon shade, has an almost identical ingredient list as the more famous red velvet cake. But there is one essential add-in that separates the two: cocoa powder. 

Red velvet cake has cocoa powder, and pink velvet cake has none. While you may not notice the flavor of chocolate in typical velvet cakes, some cocoa is almost always present. It remains hidden as the color of most velvet cakes camouflages the russet-hued cocoa in the batter. But the brown would certainly show for a more delicate shade like pink. This raises two questions: why is cocoa used in most velvet cakes, and how can the pink variety still be considered a velvet cake if it doesn't contain any cocoa powder? The answer lies in the history and science behind the first velvet cake, the mahogany cake. 

Pink velvet skips the cocoa powder

The first mahogany cakes popped up in the late 1800s when bakers began combining buttermilk, vinegar, and/or baking soda with natural cocoa powder in their cakes. Through an accident of science, the acidic ingredients reacted with the cocoa to create a reddish-brown, or mahogany, tint. Over time, bakers used modern food coloring to take these velvet cakes to a more extreme shade, creating the deep crimson red velvet cakes of today. Still, while cocoa powder was the original way bakers tinted their cakes, what defines a velvet cake is not its hue but its texture. 

The crumb of a velvet cake is intensely tender, making it appear and feel like a bolt of velvet fabric. This texture comes from the very same acidic ingredients that react so well with the natural cocoa powder. Buttermilk and vinegar are known to give a boost of moisture and fluffiness to every baked good you add it to. On top of that, it imparts a lovely tangy flavor. So, while pink velvet cake lacks the bit of cocoa powder originally used to turn it red, it still has the ingredients that make it so incredibly soft. With that in mind, you can understand how the Barbie-esque cake still makes company with its fellow velvets.