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Waldorf Astoria Original Red Velvet Cake with Cooked Icing

by on July 22, 2007 · 34 comments

Ah, red velvet cake. Is there a better cake to end the week with? Well, yes. But I had a bottle of red food coloring, a cup of soon-to-be-bad buttermilk, some butter extract and 1/2 cup of Crisco to use up, so I went with red velvet. Besides, a few months ago I’d promised I’d try the authentic version with cooked/boiled icing (as opposed to cream cheese icing), so I can now cross that off my list.

This is supposed to be the recipe for the original red velvet cake served at The Waldorf Astoria. It’s very good even though it doesn’t have as much fat as some. The cooked icing was very interesting and I will definitely use it again at some point. It makes the cake taste like a big red Twinkie. It’s delicious, but a real departure from the thicker, twangier, cream cheese icing I usually use on red velvet. I am looking forward to trying this icing on a chocolate sheet cake.

red velvet cake for blog.jpg


5.0 from 1 reviews
Waldorf Astoria Original Red Velvet Cake with Cooked Icing
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Original Red Velvet Cake
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Serves: 12
  • 1/2 cup (3.4 ounces) shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1 1/2 ounces red food coloring
  • 3 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (carefully spoon and level -- don't pack flour)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with flour-added cooking spray. For a higher ratio of cake to frosting, use two 9x2 inch pans. You may also use three 8-inch pans. If you use three 8-inch or go with two 9-inch, you will probably need to tack on about 4 minutes to the cook time due to the batter being deeper.
  2. Using high speed of electric mixer, beat shortening and sugar until creamy. Beat in eggs, vanilla extract and butter extract, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Make a paste of red food coloring and cocoa powder, then stir that in. Or, do what I did and stir the red food coloring and cocoa in, then beat. When the batter turns red, stir in the salt and beat so that it's very well mixed. Starting and ending with flour, add the flour and buttermilk alternately to batter, stirring so that flour gets absorbed.
  3. Place the baking soda in a little cup. Add the vinegar to the baking soda, then stir the fizzy vinegar mixture into the cake batter to lighten it.
  4. Now, dump the cake batter into the pans, dividing evenly.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs. Let cakes cool in pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Flip out of pans and cool completely. Note: If your oven runs hot, cook the red velvet cake at 325 degrees F. The cakes will turn out dry if overcooked.
  6. Make the frosting. In a heavy saucepan, whisk together 3 tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of the milk until smooth. Whisk in salt and remaining milk. Turn heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thick and creamy. Let it cool completely.
  7. Using your electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the thoroughly cooled flour mixture. Beat and beat until the icing is fluffy and no longer grainy (this may take a while, depending on how good your mixer is). For this recipe, I recommend using a stand mixer.
  8. Cover cake with frosting.

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Published on July 22, 2007

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna July 23, 2007 at 7:27 am

Emilie, the Dr. Pepper cake is really good. Another cake I’ve always had good luck with is this one from Epicurious. I use a different icing recipe, though.

Here’s another one that looks good.

cookleitz July 23, 2007 at 9:33 am

woo hoo for trying the cooked frosting. Will you ever go back to cream cheese??? My sister is a pastry chef in Louisville and she used to make red velvet cupcakes at the restaurant she last worked at. People flipped for them – you wouldn’t believe what they pay for a cupcake.

Jen July 23, 2007 at 9:39 am

Still haven’t tasted or made a red velvet cake yet but anything remotely Twinkie-ish certainly gets my attention.

Anna July 23, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Cookleitz, I like both of the frostings. I think I prefer the tangy flavor of the cream cheese icing, but the cooked icing was very, very good. I can see why people would flip for the cooked type as well.

Jen, yes — it’s definitely Twinkie like.

I kind of wonder if the cooked icing/frosting recipe was originally developed as a poor folks or depression era version of whipped cream frosting. That is, with shortening standing in for the butter. The texture is similar to stabilized whipped cream.

Amy July 23, 2007 at 2:57 pm

Small Batch Baking includes a recipe for a hybrid boiled/cream cheese frosting. I tried it and it was pretty good, sort of the best of both worlds.

Poutine July 23, 2007 at 3:02 pm


Buttermilk is still good for about a month after the expiration date. I like you, always chucked it out when it expired, but my catering boss saved it and used it and honestly it still works.

Anna July 23, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Randi, believe me. I’ve let buttermilk sit in my refrigerator long after the expiration date. The best way to tell if it’s usable is smell. If it’s bad, it’s pretty obvious!

Amy, I thought about adding cream cheese to the boiled icing even before I saw the Small Batch Baking hybrid (thanks to you, I looked it up). I like the thick, tangy, heavy cream cheese icing. Anyone who grew up with the lighter boiled frosting, would probably expect a vanilla flavor. So the “best of both worlds” thing is a fun concept to play with, but I think I will just stick to making one or the other rather than combining those two ideas.

Therese, Duncan Hines has been making red velvet cake mix for quite a while. There’s another smaller company that makes it too, but I forgot their name.

Emilie July 24, 2007 at 5:58 am

Thank you so much! I knew I could count on you. I’m going to try making these. My sister’s baby shower is next month and she wants a chocolate cake. Now I have to go practice!

Virginie August 22, 2008 at 9:05 pm

This is the first red velvet cake that I’ve made, and though the teachers at my school ranted and raved about it, I thought the flavor was rather muted. (I used cream cheese icing, btw). But is that the way Red Velvet should be? Of course, recently I’ve made Guinness cupcakes and Cook’s Illustrated’s devil’s food, so perhaps it’s only in comparison.

Charlotte February 11, 2010 at 9:08 am

Yes! This is the red velvet cake I grew up with in Louisville. I’m in the butter cream frosting camp rather than the cream cheese frosting camp because I think the butter cream recipe compliments the delicate cake flavor without overwhelming it. Your cake recipe is a bit different than mine (the addition of butter extract is interesting), but three cheers for the frosting!

Charlotte February 11, 2010 at 9:10 am

I also meant to say that using extra fine sugar in the frosting helps elimate the potential grainy texture. Nonetheless, mix it well!

Marilyn March 9, 2010 at 11:14 pm

I usually add an extra tablespoon of cocoa to my cake batter and use no butter flavoring.

Try 1/2 butter at room temperature, 1/2 vegetable shortening for the icing. Gradually add the sugar, beat well. Chill the cooked frosting base in the refrigerator until it is cold. Add the COLD flour milk mixture 1 tablespoon at a time, and whip well between additions. That makes a big difference.

dee December 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I think this is the cooked icing my Grandma made, I lost her copy, she always made this cake for Christmas in the shape of a big Chritmas tree and used stencile of a tree with green colored sugar on top, she was from New Orleans and I am hoping this is the southeran cake frosting I grew up with

Lori Ventimiglia December 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

This is my favorite cake! My birthday is today, Cristmas Eve, and I’ve indulged in this decadent pleasure every birthday for the last 50 years! The cooked icing is my favorite as I am spoiled and always have the homemade version…never the cream cheese or God forbid a store bought knock-off! I’ve been told my grandfather bought this recipie from a chef at the Waldorf because grandmother fell in love with the cake. It’s a piece of my family history I always found amusing!

meg February 13, 2011 at 8:48 am

For many years my Grandmother made a red velvet cake with the cooked icing, and I think of her every time I make one…now coupled with the memory of my kids waiting patiently to lick those bowls clean! I have to say that there are so many cream cheese frosted cakes, that I prefer the old fashioned traditional cooked one for this deliciously special cake. It’s the “perfect marriage”!

Nicole July 4, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Thank GOD someone else knows about this frosting. I am looking for a real red velvet cake for my wedding and no one makes them. Or it is close to the same kind of cake (dense, moist) but is a cream cheese frosting. I think cream cheese frosting takes away from the actual cake whereas the cooked frosting only complements it. It is a pain in the butt to make but oh so worth it!

Carol October 1, 2011 at 11:12 am

I am cookleitz’s mom and nothing beats the cooked icing. It is a pain in the hiney to make, but oh so worth it. When the kids were small they liked the icing with graham crackers. I always make a double batch. Used to make the scratch version of the cake, but now use the cake mix. Also at Christmas, the girls and I would make 1 scratch batch into the round layer pans, cut the layers. then we would make 1 scratch batch and add green food coloring, cut the layers and alternate red, green, red green. Haven’t tried the green food coloring with the mix but I am making cupcakes today and filling them with the icing, but will add some green food coloring to the end of the batter and see how it turns out colorwise.

Anna October 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Hi Carol! That cooked icing is good stuff when made properly. Whenever I make it, I wonder why I don’t make it more often. Have fun making your cupcakes today.

Clara February 15, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I have made the cooked frosting which is Wonderful. But, I am having problems with the frosting separating. What am I doing wrong? One batch will be perfect the other will be grainy and separated. Even looks yellow not white. It has been very frustrating because I just love the taste of this frosting. Can anyone help with suggestions?

Anna February 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hi Clara,

That has happened to me too. Are you ingredients at room temperature? Usually, having ingredients at room temperature helps. Also, be careful not to overbeat.

Rachel April 20, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I made this cake tonight for my husband’s birthday. Everyone loved it! It’s delicious! Of the various red velvet cake recipes I’ve tried, this one came out the best. I doubled the frosting recipe so I could put more on top and between each layer.

Anna April 21, 2012 at 7:45 am

Hi Rachel,

Thanks for the review! This is one of my favorites as well. The other one you might want to try is Aunt Mildred’s.

June November 8, 2012 at 8:16 am

Hello ladies,
Just wanted to share with you when I was in highschool my home ec teacher introduced us to this beautiful and delicious red velvet cake. But, her name for it was the Waldorf Red Cake with boiled frosting. It was magnificent and I have made it many times after graduating high school. However, through the years I have lost this recipe and have never been able to replace it. I am hoping this is the same recipe which from memory looks to be for the cake, but I am not sure about the frosting. I really don’t remember it being difficult to make, but time consuming and the boiling on the stove. But soooooooooooo worth it. For those of you who decide to make this cake, I know you will love it too. Enjoy!!!!

mary January 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

We always called this cake “Waldorf Astoria cake”. If you leave out the red food coloring you get a chocolate cake! This has been my favorite since I was 7yrs old. My mom made the icing with Crisco instead of butter. I prefer the boiled icing recipe to the cream cheese icing. One summer you couldn’t buy red food coloring. We made blue and green ones for our summer birthdays!

Darlene January 12, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I am so happy to have found this recipe again. My Mom used to make this cake with the boiled frosting. However, she added ground pecans to the frosting. She used 9″ square cake pans, when they were completely cooled, she used a piece of thread and cut the cakes horizontally making 4 layers. She always made it for my birthday, ( one of my sons loved it and asked her if we could have my birthday every month.) I have tried the boxed red velvet cake mixes, but found them dry. To remedy that, I used International Delight Amaretto coffee creamer in place of the water and that made it more moist.

Jane January 23, 2013 at 3:36 pm

I am in my early 60’s and I grew up on this recipe of the Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake. We always had it (in a heart shape) for Valentine’s Day and at Christmas. I have been making this recipe for years and just filled a request from a friend for her daughter’s 17th birthday. I can’t imagine eating it with cream cheese frosting, however. Sometimes I cut each layer in half and make a double batch of frosting. That makes for a nice tall cake and lots of frosting!!

Anna January 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Yum, you’re making me want to go bake one right now!

Karen February 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

My mom also made this cake when I was young, I have made it numerous time over the years. The only difference is she used almond extract in the frosting instead of vanilla soooooooooooooooooo delish. I am making this cake tonight with my granddaughter in heart shaped pans for valentines day.

Karen March 26, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Please Help !! My aunt used to make this for us when I was young & although we have the recipe, for the past 30 years various family members have tried to make it without success. I want to try again however the problem I/we have had is that the top & sides will cook or dry out & the middle is the consistency of “play doh” Can you advise me on what I may be doing wrong? We love the cooked frosting but can’t get the cake right.

Anna March 26, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Hi Karen,
This recipe is trickier than some of the others out there because it has less fat. If you are a beginner cake baker, you might want to Google Cake Man Raven’s recipe. It has 1 1/2 cups of oil and is pretty much fool proof. This one requires meticulous attention to detail. Here are some tips. #1. Make sure to measure your flour with a light hand or weigh it. This recipe calls for sifted cake flour, which means you sift the flour and THEN measure it. If you have a scale, each cup should weigh about 3.7 ounces. Don’t try to use all-purpose. Use cake as directed. Another tip, use the shortening. Butter or margarine doesn’t work as well in this particular recipe. And finally, based on your description of how the cake is baking (dry sides, doughy middle) it sounds like it’s baking at too high a heat. Either your oven is running hot or you need to move the rack down slightly. Most likely, your oven is running a little hot. You might want to try reducing the heat to 325F. And finally, it could be whatever pan you are using. If you are using a black pan, it’s always a good idea to reduce the heat by 25 degrees. Good luck!!!

Karen March 27, 2013 at 8:19 am

Thanks Anna

I will try again. I think my biggest problem was the flour. We always sifted (3times per the hand written family recipe). But that was after we measured it LOL. I can’t wait to try again. I may be the hit of Easter this Sunday!

Miriam June 5, 2013 at 5:16 am

Hi can u tell me what am doing wrong? I always have the cocoa powder seperated from the red food colouring in my red velvet cake when it’s baked. Red colour up and cocoa colour down. Meanwhile, here in Nigeria, I can’t get buttermilk so I substitute with milk and lemon.

Jacqueline Gnott August 24, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Since the frosting has milk in it, does this cake have to be kept refrigerated? Maybe since it’s cooked frosting it doesn’t. Thanks in advance for letting me know….

Anna August 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

Hi Jacqueline,
I do like to keep my cakes refrigerated simply because of the weather here in Texas. If it’s cool where you are, it can sit at room temperature for a few hours.

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