The exact origins of the red velvet cake elude food scholars, and misinformation about the cake is widespread. The cake may be fondly remembered from the Eaton department store chain in Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, but there's hearty debate about whether Eaton gets credit for its invention. A long-standing tale associating it with the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York has been exposed as an urban legend. Nor is there a standard recipe. Is the frosting cream cheese or butter cream? And just how red should red velvet cake be? Some say the redder the better, that food coloring was what turned the cake into a craze. Others prefer a more natural look, but even they say some food coloring is essential. Red velvet thrived during the mid-20th century, but by the early 1970s, time-intensive cakes were shuffling to the back of the recipe box. And the red velvet cake really faded from view when the Food and Drug Administration banned the additive Red Dye #2 in 1972, and consumers abandoned red dyes in general. If the red velvet cake's history is sticky, so is the reason for its resurgence, which has struck in waves. Three are three widely observed red-velvet days on the calendar, beginning with its memorable appearance in the 1989 movie "Steel Magnolias." In 2002, a younger generation saw Jessica Simpson choose a red velvet cake for her reality-show wedding to Nick Lachey. And just when it may have needed a boost, a red velvet cake was featured in October 2010 on Oprah Winfrey's "O" list.
Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun