I love the tender crumb of Red Velvet, and the ever so subtle hint of cocoa in the batter, but of course the biggest draw is that lush, vampy red color! I'd heard stories of the recipe's origin which credit the red to a chemical reaction between cocoa and vinegar, so you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the blush of color I found so attractive was actually due, in most modern recipes, to several ounces (more than an entire bottle, in some cases!) of red food coloring.
|All-natural red food coloring!|
We really do taste with our eyes as well as our taste buds and I think this striking visual quality is a large part of Red Velvet's appeal. Not content to serve a cake with a side of food dye, I began looking for a more natural approach to Red Velvet. After lots of rabbit trails and false starts, I encountered this show-stoppingly crimson confection at Sophistimom . Not only was her cake gorgeous, but it was also entirely natural (check out her stunning photos and you'd hardly believe it!). Her write-up assured me that 100% of the gorgeous red color comes from cocoa, vinegar - and pureed beets! As luck would have it, I even had a few small beets in the refrigerator - I knew I'd found my recipe!
|Red Velvet Cake's natural color (tastes amazing, by the way!)|
Sadly, all-natural red velvet doesn't come cheap. The recipe is based on a cream cheese pound cake which requires two, eight-ounce blocks of cream cheese - in addition to the block or two required for the cream cheese frosting with which Red Velvet is served these days (fun fact: apparently it used to be served with a roux-based icing). It also requires beet puree, which can be a little fussy and messy to make. Of course, I considered all of this worthwhile for a cake as beautiful and natural as this one promised to be.
|After being well-"beet-en": this looks promising, right?|
As you can tell, I had high hopes for this recipe, but it didn't produce the picture-perfect red velvet I'd expected. I followed the recipe exactly (which required a valiant effort on my part, since I rarely have all the ingredients necessary and can hardly resist the urge to innovate) but all I got, as you can plainly see, was a Pink Velvet Cake. The flavor was great - tangy and lightly chocolate - and I even liked the texture (which is moist, dense and more akin to pound cake than regular Red Velvet) but the color was decidedly lackluster.
|Uh-oh - it's already looking pink|
From the very first, my beet puree was more burgundy than brick red, and though this made for some stunning (and decidedly delicious) batter, it didn't add up to a red Red Velvet Cake. According to the science behind the recipe, this could mean my batter wasn't acidic enough, but I'm inclined to blame my beets, instead, since I followed the recipe that produced Sophistimom's stunning results to the letter.
|Yep, definitely pink|
In spite of my RVC failure, I'm sharing this recipe because it does produce a delicious cake. It appears brown in the photo, but the actual color is closer to a dusty rose - very pretty, even if it is decidedly non-red! I'd love to try this recipe again in the future to see if it really can produce a true Red Velvet cake with no artificial enhancements. If anyone has success with it, please let me know!
All-Natural Pink Velvet Cake
adapted from this recipe at Sophistimom
2 large beets (enough to make 1 1/2 cups puree), washed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 1/3 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 kosher
4 Tablespoons natural cocoa powder (not dark or dutch processed)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Place beets and 1/2 cup water in a small baking dish. Cover with parchment paper and foil and roast until fork-tender, about 60-90 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Allow to cool completely.
Grease cake pans (I used three graduated round Pyrex dishes, but this is recipe will also fill 3 8-inch round pans) and cut parchment circles to fit the bottom of each pan. Grease the parchment circles and place in the pans. Dust each pan lightly with flour and set aside.
Peel the cooled beets (skins should slide of easily, with a little help from a sharp knife) and discard the tops and tips. Cut into large chunks and place in a blender or food processor, with the lemon juice. Pulse until well mixed and smoothly pureed. Stir in the vinegar. Set aside.
In a mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese until very smooth. Add sugar and mix until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. Gradually add dry ingredients to the cream cheese and butter mixture. Stir until smooth and well combined. Fold in 1 1/2 cups beet puree, by hand, stirring until well incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, dividing it evenly. Tap pans firmly on the counter to remove any air bubbles before baking. Bake for 25-35 minutes (additional time needed for glass pans), or until the batter appears set and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes and then invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to frost.
Cream Cheese Icing
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Cream butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Stir in vanilla and almond extract (almond extract is optional, but it really makes the icing - and makes it taste a bit like Angel Food Cake!). Refrigerate until ready to use. If too stiff, allow icing to warm slightly before using.
|I love the little heart-shaped air bubble in this slice - so sweet!|
A few notes: Perhaps I was having an off-day, because I also experienced an icing malfunction with this cake (hence the small amount of icing between layers and the melting snow-man look of the finished cake). I've used similar icing recipes with no problems, but I thought I'd share my issue in the interest of full disclosure. In the hands of a better baker, this whole project might have been an aesthetic success. Appearances aside, I still consider this cake successful - it tasted great and we devoured it enthusiastically. It also gave me a chance to show off one of the cake stands we got for our wedding. What more could a girl want?
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