Red Velvet – Without Food Color

The famed  red velvet cake – smooth  velvety   texture, bright read  color  and  buttery taste with a  hint of  cocoa –   does a  cake  need  anything  more  to make it  irresistible ?  The only problem  I had   with  it  was   the amount of  food  color .  The  synthetic  Red dyes  used  to give it  the  bright  red  color , Red dye 40  most  commonly,  are   derived  either  from coal or petroleum. Like it or  not petrochemicals  are  part of  our  everyday lives.  For  the most part  our bodies can  handle  small amounts  of  these.  But  the  fact  is  many of  these are   suspected carcinogen and   we a re  exposed to it  in a  multitude of  ways – through  beauty  and  health products ,  while  eating  out ,  packaged  foods …  Why add  more  to it   at  home ?

Truth  be  told I am  quite OK  with  using a  drop or two of  food color on occasion,   as  long  as  no one  is  allergic  to it .  But  a couple of  ounces  of  food  coloring  in a  cake ?  Guess  that is  where I draw  the  line . The  origin of  the  red  color  was the  reaction between  acids (vinegar/buttermilk)  in the  batter   and  cocoa  ,  with an  added  bit of redness  from brown sugar or  beet  sugar .  But  I am  pretty  certain that  the  “red” that  started  the  red  velvet  cake  was   not  the  eye popping  color   as  we  see in the  store  shelves  today .

To avoid  all the  color    we  have  to replace   it  with  something .  The  original  recipes   will not   work  as  the  manufacturing  processes  have  changed  changing  the   pH levels  of  products   with them .  One  can definitely try  by substituting  an  all  natural  food  dye , but  I still haven’t   found  one  to my liking .  The  best   red velvet cake  I have  made  so far   is  by using  roasted   and  cooled  beet  puree .   Best  of  all   if  you don’t  tell  anyone  and   they wont  know  that  the  beet  is  in   there . The  key is  to  avoid  disrupting  the  pH balance .  For  this  reason  use  do not   make  substitutions  for  baking  powder  or  the  natural  baking  powder . Hershey’s  natural  cocoa powder   works  well,  avoid  any brand  that  says dutch  processed  .

The  first  step is  to  roast  the  beets .    Wash and peel  the beets .  Yes  your  hands  are  going  to be   red , but  not  something  a  good  wash  with  soap  is  going  to  take  off .   If  you are  very concerned  about  the  color ,  use  food  prep  gloves .   Chop  into   about 1/2 inch  thick  pieces .  Arrange  in a  casserole  dish .  Tightly cover  with a  foil  and  bake in a 350°F for 30 minutes .  The  beats  should  be  fully cooked  by then .  Remove  from the   oven  and  test  with a fork .  If  still firm  return to  the  oven  for  another  5  minutes .  Let  the  cooked  beet  cool  to  room  temperature .  Pulse  it in a  blender . For  our purpose  we  need  about 1/2 C pureed beet .  One  medium  sized   beet  will  yield  more than  enough .   Remove  from the blender , measure  1/2 C  coarsely chopped  beet and  add it  back in . The  remaining  beet  (if  any), can be  used in salads, soups  or add it  to pasta  for an  unexpected  burst  of   color .  Measure 1/4 C  buttermilk  and  add a  few  drops to the   beet mix  and  puree  fine ,  adding more  as necessary . Mix remaining  buttermilk in, remove  from  the  blender  and  set  aside .

Prepare two 8″ round pans by buttering and flouring . I like  to  line  the bottom with  parchment paper as  well  . Make  sure  all the  ingredients are at  room temperature .  Sift  the   dry ingredients  – flour , baking powder , natural cocoa powder and  salt .  Sift twice  and  set  aside .

Beat the butter until light and fluffy . Add the sugar and beat till well incorporated and creamy . To this add eggs one by one , beating in well after each addition . Scrape the sides in between . Add  vanilla  and  mix  well .

To this fold in the flour and buttermilk in parts , starting and ending with the flour . If using mixer set it to the lowest . As the final step fold in the beet puree .

The batter will turn a lovely pinking red in  color . Divide into the prepared pans and bake at 350° oven for about 30 minutes. In this case it took me 25 minutes as I was using a dark pan. The color deepens as the cake cooks . When done a toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean . Remove from the oven and place the pans on a cooling rack . Let the cake cool in pan .

Frost  with cream  cheese  frosting  ,  decorate as  you please , or  serve as  it  is ..

All Natural Red Velvet Cake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: 1 Cake

All Natural Red Velvet Cake


AP Flour - 240 gms (2C)
Baking Powder - 12gms (2 1/2 Tsp)
Natural cocoa - 1 Tbsp
Salt - 2 gm (1/2 Tsp)
Butter - 110 gms (1 C)
Sugar - 300 gms (1 1/2 C)
Eggs - 3
Vanilla - 1 Tsp
ButterMilk - 1/2 C
For Beet Puree
Beets - 1 Medium
Buttermilk - 1/4 C


Peel and and chop the beets into 1/2 inch thick pieces . Take an oven proof dish and arrange the beets in a single layer . Cover tightly with aluminium foil and bake in a 350°F (175°F) oven for 30 minutes or till fork tender . Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.

In a blender pulse the beet till coarsely chopped . Remove measure 1/2 C chopped beets and return to the blender . Slowly add 1/4 C buttermilk to it as needed make a smooth puree. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°F).

Sift the dry ingredients - flour , baking powder, salt and cocoa - together, at least twice . set aside .

Beat the butter until it is light and fluffy . Add the sugar and mix till creamy. To this add the eggs one by one beating it well to incorporate fully after each addition, Mix in the vanilla essence .

Fold in the flour and buttermilk in parts starting and ending with the flour mix. Add the beet puree and gently fold in till incorporated fully .

Divide batter into the 2 prepared cake pans . Transfer into the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or till done . When ready a tooth pick inserted in the middle of the cake will come out dry .

Remove from the oven and place the pans on a cooling rack . Cool in pan .


The beet can be cooked a day or 2 in advance , but make the puree on the day of the bake.







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