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Lichtenauer family birthday “Red Cake”

April 26, 2011

On Friday, I promised you I’d share the other treat I made for Matt’s 34th birthday last week (as if the strawberries weren’t enough, right?). I had to make a cake, obviously, and I turned to a recipe I’d been meaning to veganize for YEARS—my family’s traditional, favorite birthday cake: Red Cake.

The recipe for Red Cake (NOT “red velvet cake,” mind you) originally came from my dad’s side of the family, but my mom’s side, the Lichtenauers (German? Us? Nooo…) usurped it years ago, and it’s since become the go-to birthday cake for any of my extended family. With its moist, tender crumb and old-fashioned cooked icing (never cream cheese!), it’s a universal crowd-pleaser, loved by everyone, and is probably my favorite cake of all time (though it’s got competition). My family members don’t take well to change, so Matt’s birthday gave me the perfect occasion to finally put my own spin on it. I took quite a few liberties (truth be told, it hardly resembles the original recipe); it didn’t come out tasting exactly the same, but I came pretty close. It’s still a very indulgent dessert, so don’t expect this to be low-cal, low-fat, or even “all-natural” (no need to skewer me for using food coloring, k? In my defense, I did try to healthify this cake at least a little!) but as a once-a-year treat, it simply can’t be beat.


For the cake:
1 cup nondairy milk
1 tsp lemon juice
1¼ cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sifted whole wheat pastry flour
2 heaping Tbsp soy flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
6 Tbsp non-hydrogenated shortening
1¼ cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp water
1½ tsp Ener-G egg replacer
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (1 oz.) bottle red food coloring
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

For the icing:
3 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup nondairy milk, at room temperature
½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
¼ cup non-hydrogenated margarine
1 cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a measuring cup, combine the milk and lemon juice; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream the shortening and sugar with a hand mixer. Add the applesauce, water, Ener-G powder, and vanilla…

…and beat to combine. In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder and the full bottle of food coloring. Refill the food coloring bottle with water, then add to the cocoa mixture. Stir to form a paste.

Add the red cocoa paste to the creamed mixture and beat to combine. Add the milk-lemon juice mixture alternately with the flour mixture, starting and ending with the milk, beating between each addition.

In a small bowl (you can use the same one as for the cocoa mixture), combine the baking soda and the vinegar—it will foam up, so quickly stir and then pour into the bowl of cake batter. Fold into the batter with a spatula until just combined. Pour the batter into a greased 9×13-inch baking dish (the traditional vessel for it) or two greased 9-inch round cake pans (my variation).

Bake for 25-28 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

Since I was making a layer cake, I let them cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes, then inverted them onto racks to cool completely.

For the icing, while the cakes are baking (and/or cooling), combine the flour and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until thick, about 10 minutes. Set aside and let cool completely.

When the milk mixture has cooled, cream the sugar, shortening, and margarine in a large bowl with a hand mixer. (People in our family like to stop creaming before the sugar has fully dissolved, lending the finished icing a sort of gritty texture. It may sound weird, but I actually like it best that way!) Add the cooled milk mixture…

…and beat until light, fluffy, and well-blended.

When cake is cooled, frost as desired. I sandwiched some icing between my cake layers (doesn’t that look like a giant whoopie pie?!)…

…and used the remainder of the icing to cover the top and sides of the cake completely.

Finally finished! Yes, this cake is quite a bit of work, but it’s well worth it. Look at that gooey, melty, delicious icing!

Certainly Matt, for his birthday, and I, for all my hard work, deserved to eat this for breakfast both Saturday and Sunday mornings, right? Cuz that’s what we did.

If anyone decides to give this cake a go (and you should!), please let me know what you think. I hope your family loves it as much as mine does.

Yield: 12 slices.
Per slice: 384 calories, 14.9g fat (4g sat), 58.7g carbs, 3g fiber, 4.8g protein.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011 3:54 pm

    I love cooked icings like this. Beautiful classic cake!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:38 pm

      Me too!

  2. April 26, 2011 4:43 pm

    Wow, that looks beautiful. Gentle crumbs. I think it’s hard to get that kind of crumb without any gluten or eggs, so probably it’s helped by the gluten. And hey, if anyone’s uptight about the food coloring, they could use beet juice, right?

    I never heard of cooked frosting before–what’s the difference between margarine and shortening in that context? Non-hydrogenated, of course.

    One more question: in the fifth picture down, with the cakes pre-baking, what is that red appliance on the back right? Some kind of hotplate?

    I love the story of the traditional family cake coming from your dad’s side and being appropriated by your mom’s–and now you’re inducting Matt into the family fold too!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:46 pm

      Oh, I’m sure it is heavily dependent on the gluten. I wish I knew more about GF baking…

      I’m sure I’ll use beet juice next time, but I’d had that bottle of red food coloring in my cabinet for, oh, YEARS. So although I could have thrown it away (waste!) and then used time, gas, and money (more waste!) to go to the store and get a beet, then come home and juice it…I just used the food coloring up 🙂

      I think the shortening is less melty…though I know, that’s not a very technical explanation 😛

      That machine back there is my Senseo! It’s a single-cup coffee maker. I’ve used it for 5 or 6 years now; I love it.

  3. April 26, 2011 5:02 pm

    I love that you used “old fashioned” icing on this! (I’m not a cream cheese icing fan) I love boiled icings, so I bet this one would be right up my alley! Looks like an amazing cake recipe, too!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:47 pm

      Yeah! I don’t like cream cheese much either, even the vegan stuff.

  4. April 26, 2011 5:57 pm

    Oh my gosh how decadent and incredible looking… you know what, who cares if it’s made with ingredients that aren’t exactly completely healthy. Once in a while, as a treat is great! Rev’s up that metabolism, right? 😉

    Looks great!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:49 pm

      Absolutely, you gotta loosen the reigns and treat yourself every now and then! 🙂

  5. April 26, 2011 7:32 pm

    heaven on a plate! I just love that color. Thats a good birthday cake meant to be SAVORED!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:49 pm

      You got that right! 😛

  6. April 26, 2011 8:27 pm

    I love that shade of red, it’s perfect! I bet it was yummy.


    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:49 pm

      Thanks Whitney! 🙂

  7. April 26, 2011 9:47 pm

    Love the colour of this cake. I made you treats the other day that you posted for April in the Raw. They were good. I need to make something with this colour. It looks great.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:51 pm

      Aw, so glad you made the almond butter truffles, Sasha!

  8. April 27, 2011 5:41 am

    So, Lichtenauer, hey? Because I’ve never learnt the German language, I pronounced this in my head as “Lick-ten-ehr”. And then I decided that my pet-name for you from now on, which I shall whisper to you as I pat your head before going to sleep when I visit in future, is Licky. I feel this adequately encompasses our mutual love for naughty euphemism words.

    So, Licky, red cake! I’ve never had red (velvet) cake, as it’s clearly a very American thing. Also, no one in my family has ever had an iced cake for their birthday. I don’t think we’ve ever had layer cakes either. I’ve never made a layer cake. I’m starting to feel sad, Licky, the further I wander down this train of thought.

    You know, that doesn’t actually seem like that high a calorie count for an layered icing extravaganza either! Double woot!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:56 pm

      My family says it “Lick-ten-our,” but that’s probably not the authentic pronunciation 😉 I specialized in romance languages, so I can’t say for sure! Either way, “Licky” works 😛

      I’ll make you a red cake when you come visit!

  9. Matt permalink
    April 27, 2011 11:04 am

    It was sooo yummy and thus it existed in a very brief window of time. 😉 Thanks again, lover!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:57 pm

      So glad you liked it, honey! :*

  10. April 27, 2011 12:58 pm

    That looks super-tasty–love the name of it and the giant whoopie pie photo

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 8:59 pm

      It was tempting to just pick it up and eat it like a whoopie pie 😛 but I resisted!

  11. April 27, 2011 3:30 pm

    Yummy!!! The cake looks and sounds so good. Nothing’s better than old fashioned icing like that. It reminds me of helping my mom when I was a kid.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:00 pm

      It reminds me of that too! 🙂

  12. April 27, 2011 7:18 pm

    So red and fluffy looking! Awesome that you adapted the family recipe. I have some German in me too.

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:01 pm

      High-five for Deutschland! 😛

  13. April 29, 2011 12:01 am

    Beautiful job, Amber. Turned out perfect!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:01 pm

      I’d like to think you would’ve approved 🙂

  14. April 29, 2011 12:53 pm

    Looks better than any cake I have ever made or bought!!!!

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:01 pm

      Wow, now that’s a compliment! Hehe, thanks Jen!

  15. April 29, 2011 1:10 pm

    Wow! I love the redness!! 😀

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:02 pm

      It wouldn’t be Red Cake without it! 😛

  16. April 29, 2011 9:25 pm

    I love making a healthier version of family favorites!!! 🙂

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 6, 2011 9:02 pm

      Me too! It’s so gratifying.

  17. April 30, 2011 7:51 pm

    This sounds like a vegan version of the cake my fam makes at Christmas! Thanks for veganizing it for me, now I’m all set for next Xmas?

    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 5, 2011 9:11 pm

      Cool! Glad I could help! 😀

  18. Jaz permalink
    May 5, 2011 12:03 pm

    Beautiful cake but you really shouldn’t be using food dye! That stuff is awful for you! I’d use beet or strawberry juice next time, or this:


    • Amber Shea @Almost Vegan permalink
      May 5, 2011 9:10 pm

      Hehe, no worries, I’m well aware. That’s what I tried to address in the intro to the post…I’ll be the first to admit I’m less than perfect! But that years-old bottle of food coloring had to be used or thrown away, so I figure I saved some energy by just using it up. 🙂

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