Sweet Freedom

Curtis and Cake’s Juneteenth Red Velvet Cake

By Monica O’Connell | Photography by Sunny Frantz

In the beautifully written The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson describes how people brought the Old Country with them as they migrated across the country. They did this through expressions and figures of speech, traditions, superstitions, music, food and ritual. She explains that “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle and other places they went. Even now, with barbeques and red soda pop, they celebrate June 19, 1865, the day the Union soldiers rode into Galveston, announced that the Civil War was over, and released the quarter-million slaves in Texas who, not knowing they had been freed, had toiled for two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.”

From hibiscus tea, to watermelon, strawberries, and barbequed hot links, red foods and drinks continue to be popular in the observation of Juneteenth—the color represents a people’s ingenuity, resilience—and ultimately—freedom. In the spirit of the day, I’m sharing my red velvet cake recipe, which I adapted from the fantastic Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook. Also take note that although I reference gel paste coloring for vibrantly-colored cake, raw beet juice or beet simple syrup works well for a more muted, all natural version!


  • 3 C. cake flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 8 Tbsp softened butter
  • 1 C. canola oil
  • 2 C. sugar
  • 4 eggs (*Consider adding two more for extra richness and moisture.)
  • Red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 C. full fat buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter, paper and flour two 9-inch pans. Next, sift together flour, soda and cocoa. Set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream butter, oil, and sugar for seven to eight minutes until very light and thick. Add eggs one at a time, blending well in between each before mixing in the food coloring, vinegar and vanilla thoroughly. Dry ingredients should be inserted last preferably in thirds while alternating with buttermilk and scraping the bowl. Pour into prepared pans and bake until an inserted knife comes out clean (about 35-40 minutes). Slather once cool with vanilla bean, cream cheese or goat cheese frosting and served with fresh berries for a crowd-pleasing finish.


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