Appalachia Appalachian Food

Red Devil’s Cake

This post was originally published in June of 2012. I wanted to share it again since we’ve been talking about Deviled food. The article on The Straight Dope Website that started me on this deviled food journey had this to say about Devil’s Food Cake:

“A recipe for devil’s food cake first appeared in a 1902 American cookbook called Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book (references 14, 16). However, in memoirs written in the early 1900s, a food writer named Caroline King wrote that her family was making devil’s food cake in the 1880s– the Food Timeline Website reprints the original recipe and commentary if you’re interested in making it yourself (references 13, 15). Since this was written some time after the fact, it’s debatable whether it’s the true origin.

The “devil” in devil’s food most likely refers to the cake’s “sinful” nature, or possibly the fact that it is quite heavy relative to angel food cake. Another possibility arises from the fact that early versions of the cake were red in color. According to Linda Stradley of “Linda’s Culinary Dictionary” fame:

Devils food cake is usually thought of in terms of dark chocolate, but originally it was red. This was thought to be due to a chemical reaction between early varieties of cocoa and baking soda, which also gave the cake a soapy taste. Today cooks, using modern processed cocoa, sometimes add a touch of red food coloring to bring back the authentic color.

And in fact an alternative name for devil’s food cake is “red devil’s cake.”


Red Devil's Food Cake


A few weeks ago, Chatter asked me if she could make a Red Velvet Cake. I told her I had never made one and I’d never been especially fond of the ones I had eaten. I tried to get her to make some other kind of cake-but she was having none of that.

Since I’m always thinking about Blind Pig readers-I wondered if any of my Appalachian Cookbooks had a red velvet cake recipe. I don’t think of Red Velvet Cake as a traditional Appalachian recipe-but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to look.

I checked my favorite cookbook first-More Than Moonshine written by Sidney Saylor Farr. The book didn’t have a red velvet recipe-but it had something really close (really the same thing): Mother Farr’s Red Devil’s Food Cake. Even better for me and Chatter-Sidney Saylor Farr collected the recipe from her mother-n-law, Mrs. Farr, who happened to live in Western NC.


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring (we used 2 to make sure the cake was as red as Chatter wanted it to be)
  • 4 tablespoons hot coffee
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Recipe for red devils food cake


Preheat oven to 350; cream sugar and shortening thoroughly.


Beat eggs, add, and mix well.


Mix together: cocoa, red food coloring, and coffee; add to mixture-blend well.


Sift together: flour, baking soda and salt.


Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk and vanilla-mixing well.

Chatter used two 9 inch cake pans-but you could use whatever size you wanted too. Instead of greasing and flouring the pans-we used a trick I learned during my Preserving Mountain Flavors class-we lined the pans with parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes-or till done. Time may vary depending on your oven-and what pans you choose.


While the cake baked-Chatter made a basic cream cheese icing-that she found here. The recipe used: 2 8oz packs of cream cheese, 1/4 cup milk, 1 stick of softened butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 4 cups of powdered sugar.

Mix everything but powdered sugar together-then gradually add powdered sugar until mixture is smooth and creamy. The icing recipe tasted great-but made way too much for our cake. Maybe you could half the recipe-or just use your own favorite cream cheese icing recipe.

Chatter's red devil's food cake


The cake turned out perfect-in fact it was so tasty I can no longer say I don’t care for red velvet (red devil’s food) cakes.



    1. History of Cakes, by Linda Stradley (2004), /History/CakeHistory.htm (refernce 14)
    2. Apicus . “The Straight Dope: What’s up with “deviled” eggs, ham, etc.?.” The Straight Dope – Fighting Ignorance Since 1973. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <>.
    3. “Sidney Saylor Farr Publications.” Silver Creek Writers Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2013. <
    4. The Food Timeline Website, (reference 13 and 16)
    5. Victorian Cakes: A Reminiscence With Recipes, by Caroline B. King, with an introduction by Jill Gardner (1986), p. 35-6 (reference 15)

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  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 21, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    “The Devil wore Red Velvet”. What a title for a book! or a movie! or a song!
    I think there is enough sugar in the icing that you needn’t worry about leaving it out for a day or two. From the looks of it, it ain’t gonna last that long anyway.

  • Reply
    October 21, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I have no expertise in cake baking, I just like to eat them. I have always thought of a devil’s food cake as one made of dark chocolate with seven minute frosting and lots of coconut covering the whole thing. Nobody could make one like Granny! Hey, wonder if a bunch of cupcakes made like that would be good?

  • Reply
    October 21, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    My second oldest, Michelle, loves making Red Velvet cakes, especially for our January Three Kings Feast. Bet and I will have to make up this recipe and perhaps we may switch.

  • Reply
    Lola Howard
    October 21, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    THhe cake sounds really good,but I’m not fond of the ones you buy at the store.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes
    October 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    I had a dear friend that passed away a two years ago. She was from Alabama. She always called it Red Devil cake. I had never heard it called that, only red velvet, so I always got a kick out of that. Today you made me smile thinking of her.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Chatter’s Red Devil’s Food Cake
    looks so good! I don’t guess I
    could stop with just one piece.
    She’s so pretty and talented; I
    love to hear her sing and play.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    After reading this post this morning I grabbed a couple of old cookbooks I had sitting behind the desk. In the 1909 White house it refers to Chocolate Cake and French Chocolate cake as such..No “devil” at all.. All are made with shaved chocolate of a bar..?? A Settlement Cookbook (1943)I have, refers to Devils Food Cake…also being made with
    chocolate squares…Then she has a Cocoa Cake listed using 3/4 cup of cocoa and cooked with sugar, egg yolk, milk and cool. Put the rest of the cake together and add the chocolate mixture. I can’t find a Red Devil Cake or a Red Velvet cake in these two older books…It seems that all chocolate cakes in the past were made with shaved chocolate, or chocolate squares..I remember when the Red Velvet Cake became popular back in the 60’s…It was the rage around Valentine’s Day. I never was fond of it (except the icing) cream cheese icing is good on celery sticks..LOL Just kidding!
    I remember Mom making chocolate cakes with squares of chocolate. When she made a cake with cocoa (powder) it had a different texture and color. The Devils food cake of shaved chocolate is dense and dark in color as opposed to Angel food light and white a fluffy cloud texture! LOL
    I a sure Chatters cake was wonderful…
    Thanks Tipper,
    I am going to look for more cakes of this nature. Very interesting post.
    PS…After the red dye food coloring scare…Mom never made another Red Velvet Cake!

  • Reply
    October 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Thank you for the great comments!! Yes I would refrigerate any leftovers of the cake-unless you have a really cool house : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    October 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I never correlated Red Velvet Cake with Devil’s Food Cake. This was quite interesting as I love Devil’s Food Cakes. This recipe reads like a yummy dream, one I need to try, perhaps, during the holidays. Otherwise, I would probably end up eating the whole thing. One question: When using a cream cheese icing, does that mean it needs to be rerigerated?

  • Reply
    Kerry in GA
    October 21, 2013 at 8:57 am

    I made this cake not long after it was posted the first time. I liked it because it didn’t call for cake flour like most red velvet recipes do. It turned out very good. I took it to church and best I remember I didn’t bring any of it back home with us. 🙂

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 21, 2013 at 7:44 am

    That’s a beautiful cake Chatter made, wish I’d been there to help eat it!
    She’s getting to be quite the cook!
    I’ve always thought of Devils Food Cake and Red Velvet Cake as two different things entirely. My experience with Devils Food cake was always dense dark chocolate with chocolate icing. My experience with Red Velvet cake was always red cake with cream cheese icing, just like Chatter made. who would have thought these two cakes came from the same origin.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 21, 2013 at 7:42 am

    I do love both Red Velvet and Red Devil’s Food, to me there is a different taste. My mother used to make Devil’s Food when I was little, not as sweet as the red velvet, the red velvet used canned evaporated milk. I will look for both of her recipes and send to you.

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