Where to Find Red Velvet Cake in NYC, Just in Time for Juneteenth
And support these Black-owned bakeries in the process.
Juneteenth is the oldest-known celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. While it’s widely observed across the U.S., the holiday actually originated in Texas, marking the date in 1865 that news of the abolition of slavery reached the state (despite the fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863). During the two and a half year gap, slave owners kept this information hidden from slaves in order to reap the continued benefits of unpaid labor.
Juneteenth is still not recognized as a national holiday, but locally it’s celebrated with gatherings, parades, and feasts that specifically feature red foods and drinks. Barbecue, baked beans, watermelon, and red drinks such as West African Hibiscus tea, strawberry soda, punch, and lemonade made with strawberries or cherries make appearances on park and backyard tables around the U.S. every year.
I talked with Michael W. Twitty, culinary historian and the voice behind Afroculinaria, about how West African culture influenced the tradition of eating red foods on Juneteenth.
“The color red is very interesting because it’s a color that’s very deep to the African roots of our people,” he said. He went on to explain a significant amount of West African ethnic groups such as the Yoruba and the Congo, were brought to Texas via Cuba. These two groups are deeply spiritually rooted countries in West Central Africa.
Twitty explained that red for the Congo people symbolizes spiritual power, resistance, protection, struggle, fighting, and blood. For the Yoruba, the meaning is similar but also emphasizes creativity, love, power, and persistence.
While an array of food and drink is served on the holiday, my favorite Juneteenth treat is red velvet cake. Much like the history of ancestral backgrounds of many African-Americans today, the exact origins of where the color of this bright dessert came from are unknown. One theory is the scarcity of cocoa during WWII led cooks to use beets to add color and flavor to desserts.
The theory I’m most familiar with however involves it having Southern roots, as I was born and raised in Georgia, where serving red velvet cake slices made with buttermilk was common during post-church service meals and at family gatherings. My grandmother would even send me back to school with a container full of homemade red velvet cupcakes when I would visit her.
But since I’m celebrating Juneteenth in New York this year, I sought out the best Black-owned bakeries to grab a slice (or in some cases a whole cake). Pair yours with Bad & Boozy Cocktail Co.’s red “Bey’s Lemonade” or Ode to Babel’s “Sorrel Not Sorry,” -- both of which are available to go. Remember to abide by each bakery’s social distancing rules.
Upper West Side and Harlem
There’s something unique about a bakery that uses family recipes, especially when those recipes combine the southern flavors of Alabama and Mississippi with the soul of Harlem. This is what creates the magic at Make My Cake, which has been featured in Essence, The New York Times, and Black Enterprise. Although Make My Cake serves a variety of desserts like German chocolate cake, key lime pie, sweet potato pie, New York-style cheesecake, and an array of cookies, the red velvet cake is what you need to order here. The rich red cake topped with buttercream frosting will turn you into a regular customer for sure. Try it as a cupcake, a slice, or a whole cake.
How to order: Place an order on Seamless, Uber Eats, DoorDash, Grubhub or pick up in-store
Chances are you’ve seen BCakeNY all over your Instagram and watched in awe at how a cake can take so many forms and still remain 100% edible. From Jordan sneaker boxes (and the shoes) to an ultra realistic Yoda cake, this shop located in Prospect Heights can pretty much create a cake of anything. But if you’d rather start off with baby steps, try one of BCakeNY’s cake jars which comes in an assortment of flavors including red velvet, vanilla, lemon, carrot, blue velvet, and Hennessey. There’s a limited amount of cupcakes available in-store daily, so give the store a call ahead of time to make sure red velvet is one of them. You can also order a dozen cupcakes ahead of time online here.
How to order: Order online through the website or call 347-787-7199
If you’re near the Fort Greene area, visit The Brooklyn Sweet Spot to try one of the “Sexy Lady” red velvet cupcakes. It would be wise to get to the shop early as the red velvet cupcakes are one of the more popular flavors so they disappear quickly. If a big Juneteenth party is in your plans and you need a custom red velvet cake, please order online at least 72 hours in advance to allow time for the staff to fill your order. If you arrive just after the last of the red velvet cupcakes have been bought, try the Sweet Spots, which are buttery shortbread cookies filled with homemade strawberry preserves or a strawberry cheesecake jar.
How to order: Place an order on Postmates, order on the website or pick up in-store
Owned by Akim Vann, the daughter of Grammy award-winning songwriter and producer Teddy Van (who gave us “Santa Claus Is a Black Man” and co-wrote Luther Vandross’ “Power of Love/Love Power”), The Bakery on Bergen’s sense of community is what makes it stand out. Vann and her team host special events and classes to empower the Brooklyn community through baking and education. If you aren’t too full from the red velvet cupcakes finished with cream cheese frosting, make sure you grab a chocolate chip cookie made with smoked sea salt.
How to order: Pick up in store or order on Grubhub
Craig Watson, owner of Baked Cravings, is also a father who made it his mission to create desserts more accessible for children with nut allergies. According to their website, Baked Cravings’ facility is nut-free and all ingredients are sourced from nut-free vendors. This means even if you have nut allergy restrictions, you can still enjoy red velvet cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes in a jar.
How to order: Place an order through UberEats, Grubhub, Doordash, Postmates or pick up in store
The Bronx and Manhattan
Don’t let this name of this charming bakery fool you. Lloyd’s Carrot Cake does in fact sell more than delicious carrot cake. What started as Lloyd Adams’ hard work to perfect a carrot cake recipe passed down from his mother, turned into an iconic staple in the New York community. In 1985, the late baker opened his first location in the Riverdale area of the Bronx. After his passing, his wife, children and staff continued his strong legacy. Today, the small but bustling storefront is famous not only for its carrot cake, but also the pies, muffins, and other cake flavors -- including red velvet which comes in slices, cupcakes, sheet size and round. The line for Lloyd’s is known to wrap around the block so plan accordingly.
How to order: Pick up in store or order through Uber Eats (Bronx location and Manhattan location)
The first cake Myriam Nicolas made when her baking journey began was a red velvet cake. Nicolas went on to continue baking these red delights out of her home and eventually opened Brooklyn Baby Cakes in Bed-Stuy. Nicolas says the red velvet cake is still the most requested and is the top seller in her shop. Each red velvet cupcake is topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting and also comes in mini sizes if you think you’ll want more than one (which you probably will).
How to order: Stop by in-store or order through Uber Eats, Seamless, or Grubhub
“Home of the Bean Pie,” Abu’s Homestyle Bakery is known for its bean pies which date back to the 1930s. The use of navy beans to create dishes was popular throughout the National of Islam, and the bean pie and bean soup were two of the most prominent. Abu’s bean pies and other desserts like whole red velvet cakes, cupcakes, and slices are available in-store and can also be shipped directly to you when you order on their website.
How to order: Order on the website, call 718-230-1115, or pick up in-store
Doc’s Cake Shop was originally founded as “Doc D’s Southern Desserts” in 2010 by Darrell Oswald Christopher Darwood, also known as “Doc.” In 2012, he opened up the Bainbridge Street location in Bed-Stuy where he developed and improvised recipes passed down from his grandmother, Joyce Darwood. You can get cake by the slice in flavors like German chocolate, lemon, Oreo, strawberry shortcake, and of course classic red velvet. If you’re on the go, opt for the red velvet cupcakes instead.
How to order: Pick up in-store
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