Today Hannah and her best friend celebrated their last day of Spring Break together by baking a Waldorf Astoria or Red Velvet Cake. When we were growing up, Mom allowed us children to choose our birthday meal. Although we occasionally chose this mildly chocolate cake, I was impressed that it was the only birthday cake that Aunt Delma baked for her family. In my mind, it made the cake even more special.
The first urban legend that I ever heard was about this particular cake. Mom said that she had heard that the cake acquired it’s name from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where the cake was rumored to have originated. A customer had asked the restaurant staff for the recipe, and later noticed that her hotel bill included a $100 charge for the recipe. Consequently, in order to to get her money’s worth, she passed the recipe on to as many people as possible.
The Waldorf Astoria story was circulated in the 1950s, but the recipe first appeared in 1902, as Devil’s Food Cake, in an American cookbook called Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book: A Manual of Housekeeping by Sarah Tyson Rorer. Mrs. Rorer was the Rachel Ray of her day.
There are a variety of Waldorf Astoria cake recipes, but I wouldn’t consider using any but Aunt Delma’s.
WALDORF ASTORIA RED CAKE
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 2-ounce bottle red food coloring
2 tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup unsalted butter
Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, beat well.
Make a paste of food coloring and cocoa. Add paste to creamed mixture.
Sift flour and salt. Stir vanilla into buttermilk. Add buttermilk to creamed mixture, alternately with flour and salt, ending with flour.
In separate bowl, add soda to vinegar. Stir foaming baking soda and vinegar into batter. Blend—don’t beat.
Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool on rack. Split layers into four pieces.
Cook flour and milk until very thick, stirring constantly. Cool completely.
Cream sugar, butter, and vanilla until very fluffy.
Add creamed mixture to cold, flour mixture. Mix until well blended. It should look like whipped cream.
Fill and frost four-layer cake.
Hannah used three 8-inch cake pans. She also followed Aunt Delma’s suggestion to use 1 ounce of red food coloring and 1 ounce of water. One hot November, I made the cake for Andrew’s birthday. The icing was a runny mess. I had to throw it out and start over. If it’s really warm, quickly cream the sugar and butter, and place in the refrigerator to chill before continuing.