Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Red Velvet Cake with No Dye

Valentine's is bearing down on us and with it comes the usual dessert suspects.  One popular dessert this time of year is red velvet cake.

Red Velvet cake has always been made with natural cocoa that reacts with the acidic vinegar and buttermilk to reveal a very slight shade of red in the cocoa's naturally occurring anthocyanin.  This is probably where the "red" in red velvet originated.

The famous cake wasn't always the bright shade of red we expect today and its storied history is debatable.

We do know that the advent of food dyes significantly aided the enhanced appearance of red velvet cake, but many have valid concerns over the use (a whole bottle or two for this cake) of this unnatural man-made chemical.

I set out to find a recipe that used natural coloring and ingredients to recreate this cake while maintaining the bright red color and discovered a blog by Jaime at www.sophistamom.com with specific directions on how to make this cake using beets -- yes, beets.  Jaime adapted her recipe from Amy's recipe at www.bakecakery.com.

I gave Jamie's recipe a try ahead of the big day and it was a hit with our family and guest.  Here are the steps (complete ingredient list is at the bottom):

Buy a bunch of beets from a farmer or store. 
Trim the beets and toss with 1/2 cup of water in an oven-safe dish.  Cover with aluminum foil and heat in an oven for 90 minutes at 350 degrees.
In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur cake flour),  1 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 2 Tbs. of cocoa powder (NOT Dutch Processed with Alkaline).  Set bowl aside.
When the beets are done, use a sharp knife and skin them.  The outside skin should easily scrap off.  You can also skip this step and just peel the beet before heating if you wish.
Once skins have been removed, dice the beet into large chunks and place in the refrigerator to cool.
Grease (I used spectrum organic all vegetable shortening) three 8" round pans and dust with flour.
To dust with flour, I dropped a good amount of flour in each pan and shook the flour around until everything was well coated and then shook the excess off.
Place 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about the juice from one large lemon) into your blender (I used the Vitamix) or food processor.
Pour remaining liquids from your oven-safe dish into your blender too.
Then throw in your cooled beat chunks.
Blend on high for about 20-30 seconds, then add 1 Tbs. of vinegar and blend on low until incorporated.  The consistency should be like ketchup.  I got a little over one cup, but you can use up to 1 1/2 cups.
Place two sticks of unsalted butter and 1 package of cream cheese into your mixer with beater blade attached.  Cream together the butter and cream cheese and the slowly incorporate in 2 1/3 cups of sugar (I used powdered sugar) until smooth.  Then add in four eggs one-at-a-time, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Finally add 1 1/2 tsp. of vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Then slowly add in the flour mixture you previously whisked together.
Finally, add your 1 - 1 1/2 cups of beet blend to the batter until fully incorporated.
Kids love to help make baked goods, but know that beets stain everything!
Spread equal amounts of batter in each of the three pans and place in a 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes on the middle racks.  The cakes are one when a toothpick pulls out clean.
If you greased and flour the pans, the cakes should easily release.  Cool them completely on drying racks.  If you do not plan to frost them right away after they are cooled, tightly wrap each one with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator.
For the frosting, place 2 cream cheese packages and 2 sticks of unsalted butter in the mixer with the beater blade again.  Beat the room temperature cream cheese and butter until incorporated.  Stop and add 4 cups of powdered sugar, 3 Tbs. of heavy cream, 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract and 1 tsp. pure almond extract.  Beat until incorporated.
Scrap down the sides of the bowl and replace the beater blade with the whisk.  Whisk on high for several minutes until the frosting becomes smooth and slightly fluffy.
Lay your first cake on the presenting dish and spread a thick layer of frosting across the top.  This frosting recipe makes plenty of frosting, so feel generous if you wish.
Repeat the process for each layer.
Finally, frost the sides and smooth the surface as you wish it to look.
Your finished!  A delightful red velvet cake using all natural ingredients and no artificial chemicals for coloring!
Now enjoy your work.
Happy Valentine's (or any special day) to you!
Dig in!

Ingredient list:

Beets (enough for 1 1/2 cups of puree)
1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used organic)
1 Tbs. vinegar
2 sticks (16 Tbs.) of unsalted butter, softened
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
2 1/3 cup of sugar (I used powdered)
4 eggs (I used organic free-range)
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur cake flour from any good grocery store)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons (you can use more, but consequently start losing the red color) natural (don't use dark or Dutch processed) cocoa powder

Cream Cheese Frosting:
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese,  room temperature
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 pound (4 cups) powdered sugar
3 Tbs. heavy cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure almond extract

UPDATE (02/13/2012):

I made cupcakes for our son's class using the recipe above.  I made 1 1/2 times the recipe quantity above and it made 30 full-size cupcakes.  The batter doesn't rise as much as traditional batter, so fill each cupcake cup about 3/4 full before baking.

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