Saturday, January 18, 2014

Eaton’s original Red Velvet Cake by Margaret Ullrich

When I was the mom of a preschooler back in 1984 I had a dream for my future.
This goal crystallized for me in a moment of crisis.

I was in Winnipeg's downtown Eaton's, on the third floor.
Yes, the third floor where the crystal and fine china were on display.

I had to pay a cashier and had let go of my son’s hand.
In less than a heartbeat he was racing toward the crystal and fine china department.
Of course he wouldn’t be running to anything cheap.
I ran and grabbed him just as he reached out to a crystal goblet.
Financial disaster averted.

And I had a moment, like Scarlet O’Hara had a moment, in Gone With the Wind.
You know, the moment she had at Tara just after she barfed after eating a raw carrot.
When she swore, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Believe me, I was swearing, too, but my food goal was more specific.

I was dreaming of a future when I could go to Eaton’s without hauling a child in tow.
When I could browse through the crystal without picturing a major financial disaster.
A time when I could casually stroll into the Grill Room, and order a lovely adult meal.
When I could leisurely enjoy a well prepared lunch, topped off with Red Velvet Cake.

A time that has gone with the wind, literally.
Eaton’s is gone.
It was torn down over a decade ago.
The MTS Centre is in its place.

Last week Pink performed there.
I know Pink’s received the Billboard 2013 Woman of the Year Award.
I know she puts on a really good show.
It’s just that watching Pink is not what I pictured enjoying as a senior.

Eaton’s is a memory from my past.
Luckily I still have the recipe for Eaton’s original Red Velvet Cake.

                                     Red Velvet Cake

Preheat oven to 350º
Grease well 3 9-inch round pans or 1 9x13-inch pan

2 1/2 Cups cake flour

Make a paste of
2 ounces red food colouring
2 Tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon salt

In a bowl cream
1/2 Cup shortening
Add gradually
1 1/2 Cups white sugar
Beat until light and fluffy.
Add one at a time
2 large eggs
Beat after each addition.
Add cocoa / food colouring mixture.

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon vinegar
Add to the buttermilk.

Add flour alternately with buttermilk mixture to the shortening,
3 dry and 2 liquid additions, stirring just enough to blend.
Mix until smooth and pour into prepared pan.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until done.
Cool cake thoroughly before frosting.

While the cake is baking, prepare


In a saucepan place
5 Tablespoons flour
Add gradually
1 Cup milk
Mix until smooth.
Cook at medium heat until thickened.  
Remove from heat.

While the sauce is cooling, in a medium bowl cream together
1 Cup butter
1 Cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat until light and fluffy.
Add cooled flour mixture to the butter / sugar mixture a spoonful at a time, 
beating well after each addition.
Spread frosting over the cooled cake.

Enjoy with Earl Grey Tea in your best china cup.


  1. I miss the old Eaton's. Ladies in hats used to meet there for elegant lunches. The Red Velvet Cake and the Butter Tarts were fantastic. At Christmas, each store window had a different scene from the North Pole or Toyland, full of magically moving automatons: elves, reindeer, teddy bears.

    These days, Salisbury House has Red Velvet Cake. Not quite the same thing. And they make it with Cream Cheese Icing, which just isn't right!

  2. Hi, Pamela,

    Me, too. Downtown hasn't been the same since they tore down Eaton's. The MTS Centre just brings people in for evening shows, not for the whole day, as Eaton's did.

    It's good that the Christmas Village was saved. How magical it was before we took CGI effects for granted. Oh, the Christmas store windows!!! I love that scene in 'A Christmas Story' - that's what a Christmas window was for children. Big box stores and malls just can't create the same magic.

    You don't know what you've got, till it's gone.

    Cream Cheese Icing? And what do they put on carrot cake?

  3. My grandma would LOVE it if I made this recipe for her! She talks about Eaton's all the time and the treats she enjoyed there with her grandparents. Thanks for sharing! And it's nice to "meet" a fellow Manitoba food blogger, too! :)

  4. Hi, Chrissie!

    Happy to meet a fellow Manitoba food blogger!
    Yes, your grandma would enjoy a slice or two of Eaton's cake! That store was such an important part of our lives back then. Oh, well, time marches on.

    Very impressed by your blog

    Wishing you a great summer!

  5. HI Margaret, can't wait to make this. Any chance you would have the recipe for Eatons carrot cake? I miss Eatons! Many fond memories

    1. I miss it, too!
      I'll look for the recipe for the carrot cake. I have boxes of recipes, so with any luck... :)

  6. My mom and I used to take the bus from St Andrews to downtown just to purchase some Eatons shepherd's pies. Any chance you have the recipe? I'd like to be able to surprise my mom.

    1. Will look for it.
      Hope I hope I find it before Mother's Day :)

  7. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I have fond memories of getting on the bus and going downtown to Eaton’s on Portage Avenue with my Mom and sisters once a month to get a Red Velvet Cake from Eatons.

    1. You're very welcome!
      I'm happy you found this recipe and that it brought back good memories to you.
      I miss going downtown to Eaton's, too.

  8. Thank you for the recipe. I worked at the Toronto Eaton's in the accounting department in the 60's and it was my big treat once a month to have a slice of the cake at lunch. So many fond memories.

    1. I'm so glad you found the recipe. Enjoy!!
      Our main Eaton's is still sorely missed. Downtown Winnipeg is just not the same without it.

  9. Looking forward to making this! Reminds me of my Mom. She would buy me this for my birthday and it was my favorite! I also remember they sold something else I loved. I believe they were called duck balls?

    1. I'm happy you found this recipe and I hope you enjoy it. I'll see if I can find a recipe for Eaton's duck balls.
      Thank you for visiting!

  10. What is shortening? It's like butter or vegetable oil.
    Hi I'm from Russia and I was looking for the original recipe of red velvet cake and I want to cook it very much. But I have never seen the buttermilk in our shops... But we have kefir, raspberry and many different dairy drinks.
    I want to get the answer as soon as you can. Thank you.

    1. Hi!
      Shortening is similar to lard in appearance. For every cup of shortening you can use
      1 cup butter or margarine plus 2 tablespoons.

      A substitute for a cup of buttermilk for baking can be made by placing in a measuring cup
      1 Tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice
      enough milk to reach the 8 ounce line
      Stir and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
      It will be a bit curdled and lumpy.

      Hope this helps!

  11. I haven't had Red Velvet cake since they close all the Eaton stores in Canada. So happy to see this recipe and as it has been said there is no other Red Velvet than Eaton's Red Velvet. I did make it but for some reason it doesn't quite have the same texture that I recall seems a bit dryer. And I didn't pour the batter I had to kind of spread it around in the pan. I had to make the large size one because for some reason it has been a while since I made any kind of layer cakes. No frosting on it as of yet but for the first time in over 20 years I was happy to know it and find your blog. As a Winnipeg girl sorry there is no other than memory than going to the third floor cafeteria and having my slice of cake. So thank you for sharing and hopefully with the icing on it it will bring that wonderful happy memory.

    1. Hi, Slygirl!
      I so miss Eaton's. It was a treat shopping there and Christmas wasn't complete without seeing the fairy tale figures in the Christmas village.
      I'm wondering about why your cake came out dry. Did you use all-purpose flour instead of cake flour? Regular flour would make the batter denser.
      You can make a cake flour substitute:
      For every cup of cake flour, measure out 1 level cup all-purpose flour.
      Remove 2 tablespoons flour.
      Add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to the remaining flour.
      Sift the flour and cornstarch mixture twice to make sure it’s blended.
      Hope this helps.

    2. Yes I used all purpose going to get some cake flour and try again. I also won't use the mixer past the creaming and egg stage.

    3. Glad the mystery's been solved, Slygirl.

      I know it's annoying to buy something you don't usually use. Here are links for two other recipes that use cake flour:

      If you type in 'cake flour' in the 'Looking for a recipe? Search here......' attachment at the right of the posts a few more cake flour recipes will appear on the blog.

      Hope you'll enjoy them, too.

  12. Do you have the Eaton cheesecake recipe? I’ve been searching years for it!

    1. Hi, Tricore,
      I found a recipe that claims to be the Winnipeg Eaton's cheesecake recipe. I will post it this week.
      Happy New Year! ~ Margaret

    2. I used to make special trips to Eaton's Valley Room for a "Red Lunch" - Eaton's Tomato Soup & Eaton's Red Velvet. Best lunch combo ever!!! Over the years, I have searched for the recipes - posted on every website I could think of, wrote to an old Free Press recipe, scoured recipe books in new and used bookstores, and asked everybody I knew - to no avail - until now! I cannot thank you enough. Red Cake on the menu! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Any chance you've also got the Eaton's Tomato Soup recipe (or know where I can find it)? Thanks again!!!

    3. Hi,
      You're very welcome!
      I'm so glad you found this recipe. I'll do a bit of digging to see if I can find the tomato soup recipe.
      Enjoy and stay safe :)

  13. I’m going to make this this weekend ..... it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed Eaton’s bake shop goodies!! Use to love the pumpkin raisin muffins, can’t find a recipe that compares to Eaton’s! Also Black Russian Rye bread ... hard to find in the city, but working at Eaton’s for 6 years got me addicted.

    1. Hi, Char,
      Thank you for dropping by. I miss Eaton's, too. We also enjoyed discovering new delicacies in their food section.
      The pumpkin raisin muffins and Black Russian Rye bread sound great. Now you've got me curious about those recipes, too!
      Have a nice weekend.

  14. Loved the Eaton's Red Velvet Cake. It was a special treat for many birthdays!.
    The English pork pie was also a favorite but I cannot find anything even similar. Would anyone have a recipe or place to purchase a "taste alike"?

    1. Hi, Pat,
      Eaton's Red Velvet Cake was a special occasions favourite for many Winnipeggers.
      I'll look for the English pork pie recipe.

  15. Eaton's original Red Velvet cake used beets. The original recipe can be found here..

    1. Thank you for sharing!
      It was interesting to learn that beets were used in Toronto's Eaton's restaurant. This is the recipe used in Winnipeg.
      I wonder why the recipe was changed?


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