So what exactly do the differing ingredients accomplish in each dessert? Aside from its iconic color, red velvet cake is known for its slightly tangy flavor, which comes from the buttermilk or vinegar addition. In some recipes, you may even find both ingredients listed. While cocoa powder is a staple here, you’ll find much less of it in a red velvet cake recipe than in a devil’s food version (think a few tablespoons versus a cup). That’s because while a chocolatey flavor is an element of red velvet cake, it’s not the star of the show. To balance out the tanginess and subdue the cocoa powder even more, most of these desserts are topped with a thick cream cheese frosting. And unlike the acidic reaction that occurred from natural cocoa powder back in the day, most of these cakes today use Dutch-processed cocoa powder and get their hue from red food coloring.
Unlike red velvet cake, devil’s food focuses solely on enhancing the chocolate as much as possible. Sour cream provides extra moisture and richness, while water is used to prevent milk from smothering any chocolatey goodness. We know that coffee is a key ingredient in amplifying chocolate desserts, and it’s deployed in devil’s food cake to do just that. So if you’re a chocolate fiend, you’ll want to opt for this dessert — but if you like a little tang in your cake, go for red velvet.