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I’ve been making this cake for twenty-five years now.  The cake seems to take on a life of its own and will improve every time you attempt to make this grand and elegant southern favorite.  It has long been my husband’s  favorite  birthday cake.  This cake takes time, focus and a clear head, so I set two days aside to prepare the cake in stages, making room on my calendar to do so.    Do not try to answer the phone, text, answer the doorbell or multitask in any way shape or form while in process.


The original recipe was from Marilyn Southard,  my mother-in-law, a wonderful Southern lady from Alexandria, Virginia who last year went home to be with the Lord.  Red Velvet is her birthday cake legacy.  She always made delicious desserts, and whether we traveled to the  mountains, or the beach she talked about her great love of God as we talked, laughed and cried together while cooking for our family.    As great a cook and mother/mother-in-law as she was, I remember her most for her faith in the Lord, strength of character, and her exemplary work ethic without sacrificing anything of her femininity, power and sense of style. For me she defined what it means to live well for the Lord.

Here’s my recipe:

1 c shortening                                            

4 oz. red food color

3 c sugar

4 T. cocoa

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. salt                 

2 tsp. soda

2 c buttermilk

2 T. vinegar

5 c. sifted cake flour


20 T. flour

4 c. sugar

4 c. sweet milk

4 tsp. vanilla

4 c. butter

Cream shortening, sugar.  Add and beat eggs, add salt, buttermilk and cake flour.  Make a paste of food coloring, cocoa and vanilla and beat into batter.  Mix in at last-minute, but (do not beat): soda and vinegar.  Bake in 4 cake pans/ layers at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.  Frosting : Cook flour and milk over medium heat until thick.  Chill.  Cream butter and sugar. Add chilled paste along with vanilla.  Beat until fluffy.  Ice cooled cake.

I made this frosting  the wrong way for ten years, mistaking “sweet milk” for sweetened condensed milk.  I couldn’t understand why I had to pat it on in handfuls until Marilyn, walked me through the recipe very slowly and caught my error.  Turns out “Sweet milk” is a southern expression for whole milk where she grew up.  The two of us would chat throughout the two days leading up to my husbands birthday and although she is in heaven I like to think she can hear my thoughts as I continue to chat  with her.  That’s my hope anyway.  She’s probably busy singing Handel’s Messiah with the angels, but pretty sure Jesus let her know I was making her cake.

( I doubled the ingredients from the original recipe to make four layers)