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 .
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 ..