Aunt Bernice’s Red Velvet Cake

Holiday Traditions

Mrs. Bernice Hodges

This is my adopted aunt, Bernice. Her actual niece, Eureka, is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We met in 1986, having both decided that we wanted to be members of the same sorority, and found ourselves to be line sisters. The epitome of a lady, Aunt Bernice must have thought me to be a natural born hooligan. All she could do was shake her head, which she did quite often as she watched me attempt to maneuver through what I thought was adulthood.

She taught me to make a Red Velvet Cake in classic southern tradition. If Tuskegee University was the best thing that ever happened to me, then living with Aunt Bernice while I was a student there was the next best thing. In her loving honor, here is Aunt Bernice’s Red Velvet Cake with pecans, not walnuts, because they grew in her back yard and why not?


½ cup (one stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature

½ cup of vegetable oil

3 eggs, also at room temperature

1 ½ cups of granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

2 ½ cups Swans Down cake flour, sifted three times

¼ cup Dutch cocoa powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup full fat buttermilk (or 1 cup sour cream and ¼ cup milk)

1 Tbs vinegar

2 oz liquid red food coloring (2 small bottles)

Prepare two 9” or three 8” round pans with butter or Crisco. Dust with cocoa powder. Use parchment paper to line the bottom of each pan.

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

Add butter and oil to a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for one minute. Add sugar and continue to beat until smooth. Crack eggs into a small bowl to avoid getting shells in the batter. Add eggs to the butter and sugar mixture one at a time. Allow eggs to incorporate into the mixture before continuing. Add vanilla and stir.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

Combine buttermilk, vinegar, and red food coloring.

Alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients to the creamed butter, sugar, and eggs beginning with the wet ingredients and ending with the dry. It’s not necessary to wait for flour to fully incorporate before adding the remaining liquid.