My son LOVES red velvet cake and asked for his birthday cake to be red velvet. As a person who is rather opposed to artificial flavors and colors, red velvet cake presents a conundrum. It’s a really good cake with my favorite cream cheese icing. But… the dye. It’s a horrible ingredient. The birthday boy picks his cake, of course, but can I make it without the dye? Red velvet red just isn’t a natural color. All over the internet there were recipes with beets or pomegranate used in place of the dye. Neither one is really going to wow my son. However, I thought beets might add some moisture and deep color, so maybe that was a better choice if it needed to be a really red cake.
I looked for red velvet recipes in my older cookbooks and found plenty of “velvet” cakes, but nothing specifically “red”. Across the internet, there are various origin stories for the red velvet cake. One is that it became popular when Adam’s Extract included a recipe for the “red” velvet cake in order to promote the sale of various extracts and dyes. The original recipe from Adam’s Extract can be found here. If I’m hesitant about using red dye, the artificial butter extract and vegetable shortening wasn’t too appealing in this recipe. Other stories said the “red” was really more of a reddish brown and only recently came to mean food color red. So, the old cookbooks were of little help, because my son wanted “red” red velvet cake.
I came across several recipes for red velvet that used beets and had no artificial ingredients, which was exactly what I was looking for! My son gave his ok to use beets for the coloring, but I had to guarantee that if it was terrible I would make a “regular” red velvet cake. A money back guarantee, if you will.
I found a very simple recipe from Domino Sugar and tweaked it ever so slightly. The cake came out rich and extremely moist. It’s a deep red and simply divine.
Red Velvet Cake
Makes: two 9 inch layers or 24 cupcakes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
1 ¼ cup – Granulated Sugar (Domino recommends Domino’s)
¾ cup – (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 – large eggs
1 ¾ cup – cake flour or all purpose flour
¾ cup – unsweetened cocoa powder (NOT dutch processed)
1 ½ tsp. – baking powder
½ tsp. – baking soda
1 tsp. – salt
1 cup – buttermilk
1 tsp. – white vinegar
2 tsp. – vanilla extract
2 cups pureed roasted beets or canned beets*
*Beets: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash 6 medium beets and trim off the tops. Roast beets for 75-90 minutes until soft. Cool and then remove outer skin. Puree in food processor until completely smooth. I can’t speak to how well this recipe works with drained, canned beets that are pureed. I’ve only used fresh roasted beets.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter and coat with flour. If you would prefer to make cupcakes, line two cupcake tins with paper cups and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until fluffy and lightened. Add each egg, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another medium bowl, combine buttermilk, vinegar, and vanilla. Whisk to blend well. Fold pureed beets into buttermilk mixture.
Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk-beet mixture alternately to creamed butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing well after each addition. Pour into prepared cake pans or cupcake tins. (Fill cupcake tins 2/3 to 3/4 full.)
Bake about 25 minutes (cupcakes) to 30 minutes (cake layers), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake or cake comes out clean.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting with Cream Cheese Frosting, without the cocoa powder!!