Red Velvet Madeleines

The school playground this morning was full of red noses. Not the usual sore, runny kind that go hand-in-hand with childhood during the winter months, but red noses with glasses, smiley faces and various bits of tape or string added at home to hold them in place on such very small faces. Being too grown-up, L had declined to wear her own red nose for the event. She said there wasn’t any point as it kept falling off anyway and then she’d just lose it. She was probably right – this child does seem to be quite capable of losing just about anything in the most peculiar of places (I won’t talk about purple bunny just yet – we still have hopes that he’s hiding somewhere in the house).

The playground this morning also appeared to be full to the brim with fairycakes (or cupcakes, depending on your side of the Atlantic). Now here, the maths just doesn’t quite add up. To raise money for Red Nose Day 2009, everyone was asked to bring in some cakes that could be sold during the day. And so, there they were this morning, standing dutifully in line, each child clutching the requested batch of 12 or so cupcakes in one hand … and in their other hand, their 20 pence coin with which they would be able to buy one cake at the cake sale. Hmmm. That’s an awful lot of excess cupcakage. These teachers must really love cake!

For our part, we contributed a shiny platter of red velvet madeleines (which gave me a perfect excuse for using the beautiful madeleine moulds that my Mum brought back from a holiday for me some time ago now).

madeleine tray

Maybe I’ve just been somewhere else, but I’ve honestly never before seen or tasted a red velvet cake. I only came across the notion when I started reading other people’s food blogs a few years ago. I’m sure I would have remembered if I’d ever been served such a gloriously red thing as this.

red velvet cake

The name sounds so very dreamy and luxurious that I was taken by surprise by the sheer amount of food colouring a red velvet cake seems to contain. I think I must have confused it with Devil’s food cake somewhere in my reading as I was expecting the red colour to arise from an interaction between the baking soda and cocoa powder. But then, dear old Wikipedia tells me that the two names for the cakes have a long history of being used interchangeably, so I at least feel in good company in my confusion.

I hesitated about the red dye. Some chefs use colouring from beetroots instead, but the effect is not quite as traffic-light red. And it is Red Nose Day and not ‘Mahogany’ or ‘Brown-with-a-Reddish-Hue’ Day, after all. Would I be a really bad mother if I made my one-time-only-for-a-special-event madeleines red with food colouring …?

My conscience was finally silenced by this lovely quote from an article in the New York Times:

Perfect Endings bakes the excellent red velvet cake that Williams-Sonoma featured in its catalog for the first time at Christmas. Mr. Godfrey said he uses a recipe he learned to bake with his grandmother, a native of Little Rock, Ark. “But for the bakery I couldn’t bring myself to offer a cake using red food coloring,” he said. “I tried cherries and beets, but it wasn’t right. Then I decided to honor my grandmother, so I went ahead with the food coloring.”

And the madeleines would be small and gone in a couple of even very child-sized mouthfuls … and I wouldn’t be sticking any candies or sugary frosting on the top … and they would be ever so wonderfully the perfect colour for the day.

Here then, in honour of Red Nose Day 2009 (and Mr Godfrey’s grandmother), are our extremely red velvet madeleines (based on a recipe by Pinch My Salt, except I converted her measurements into weights and used the batter to make about 40 madeleines).

red velvet madeleines

Red Velvet Madeleines

8 3/4 oz cake flour (or kate flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz (5 tbsp) red food colouring
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
10 1/2 oz caster sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 1/2 oz buttermilk
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Lightly oil the madeleine moulds.

Place the cake/kate flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Mix the food colouring (yes, all of it) and the cocoa powder together in a small bowl (I bet you can’t do this without getting your hands red … if you give it to a small child to mix, be prepared for a red-splattered kitchen, too). Stir until the paste is smooth and without lumps. Set aside (don’t you think this recipe is beginning to sound a lot like an EU farming policy?).

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy (about 3 mins). Add the eggs gradually, beating well to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the vanilla and red cocoa paste. Beat then scrape down the sides of the bowl again.

Sift in one-third of the flour mix and beat to combine. Then beat in half of the buttermilk. Scrape.

Sift and beat in another third of the flour mix, then the rest of the buttermilk. Scrape.

Finally, sift and beat in the remaining third of the flour mix. Scrape.

In an egg cup or small bowl, mix together the vinegar and baking soda (fizzzzz – T liked this part!). Add the fizzy potion to the cake batter and beat to combine thoroughly.

Fill each madeleine mould with the batter until about 3/4 full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the centre of the oven. Leave for 2 minutes in the pan before releasing each madeleine with a palette knife and transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Leave a comment


  1. Your red nose day Madelaine’s look lovely. And you are right…it is only for a small cake and a special day.
    Such a coincidence that you should talk about red food colouring and red velvet cake. I went to Bath today and attended a cupcake course at The Bertinet Cooking School. I was on the table making red velvet cupcakes! She said we didn’t have to put in the food colouring if we didn’t want to. Our table voted not to use it. I will do a little write up of the day. I had fun and a good day out but there was very little teaching and tips to pick up on. Although, I can now do a pretty good marzipan rose for decoration.
    You are so right about primary school economics and fund raising. They don’t make sense. They would be better off if we just donated a fiver and called it a day. But that is not in the spirit of the day!
    Nice close up photos, by the way.

  2. Oh my… gorgeous!!!

  3. I look forward to reading about your latest day in Bath, Melinda. I’ve never been to a cookery school (and I have to admit the idea terrifies me – too many flashbacks to disastrous home economics lessons at school. Honestly, I was the worst in the class. If there was something to do wrong, something to forget to add, something to drop … that was me doing it. I got awful grades in cookery – I think my teacher must have been a saint!).

    Thanks for stopping by, ButterYum 🙂

  4. The cakes look lovely. We recently donated some equipment to the local school for Red Nose, so well done for the fund raising.

  5. Thanks, Funky Chef. L’s school apparently raised twice as much as they’d hoped from the cake sale, with very few cakes left over.

  6. Lucy

     /  March 21, 2009

    The boys at Eltham went mad over RND this year too. They sold and ate cakes all morning and were therefore impossible to teach in the afternoon lessons: their parents had no qualms about putting any manner of additives, sugars and treats on the cakes! All in a good cause though, we raised over £2,000!! Luvnhugs, Lucy

  7. Hi,

    Just came across this post while on roses’ blog. I have been really stressed about the red food coloring for red velvet cake. I live in Norway, and up here… the red food coloring is nothing like the red food coloring in US. So my red-velvet trials have been more brownish,orangish then bright red.

    Which food coloring do you use? I have bought some red colorpaste from UK….. but am coming to UK on a holiday in a couple of weeks. Can you recommend a good red food color?

    (PS! your kateflour has saved me)

    Thanks!! 😀

    • I’m so pleased to hear about your successes with ‘kate flour’ – thanks for letting me know 🙂

      For the red velvet madeleines, I used Supercook (now Dr Oetker) cochineal food colouring, which I found in both Tesco and Sainsbury’s (we don’t have a local Asda supermarket, but it’s probably available there too). The only other red food colouring I’ve ever tried has been the red paste/gel from the Wilton icing colouring set I bought many moons ago in a specialist cake decorating shop … I’m not sure you’d find this so easily when you’re over here, and the Supercook dye worked well enough (in fact, splendidly so) for the madeleines anyway. It depends, I guess, on whether you’re looking for a paste or a liquid dye.
      Hope that helps 🙂

  8. Malina

     /  February 4, 2010

    Hi, I was just looking for a recipe for Red Velvet Madeleines when I came across this site. The recipe and the photos looks great, but I was wondering if you could explain to me why you are all so apprehensive about the food coloring?

    • Artificial food colourings have been linked to increased hyperactivity in children (see, for example, this Lancet study from 2007), so it’s only natural that parents may prefer to find alternatives for their children. I certainly didn’t want to incur the wrath of the entire parent body at the school when I fed such obviously artificially-coloured cakes to kids that weren’t my own, but I reasoned that the small amount that each child would consume would probably not have any significant effect in the long-term!


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