I want a beet-filled red velvet cake recipe!
October 6, 2007 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Your best red velvet cake recipe! The caveat: I want to make it the traditional way, with red sugar beets instead of red food coloring. I've heard the beets add a moistness that simple cakes with food coloring cannot hold up to. Does anyone, anywhere, have tried-and-true recipes? I have Googled a few but know not their reliability.
posted by schroedinger to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
i am a southerner. i believe food coloring -is- the traditional way. ;)

some chefs on a natural-foods kick have successfully substituted beets. i think if you roasted, peeled, and mashed some red beets, mixed them into the batter in place of most of the sugar and some of the oil or butter, it would work.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:54 AM on October 6, 2007

I've always heard that food coloring is traditional, especially since beets of any sort aren't really a Southern crop (and sugar beets are white, BTW). I personally would look for a recipe that has the smallest proportion of beets, because red beets definitely have a flavor of their own.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2007

I don't have a recipe available, but I can confirm that beets do work and that they don't take over the flavor of the cake. Don't let the naysayers discourage you.
posted by dismas at 10:10 AM on October 6, 2007

There's a nice chocolate beet cake recipe in the Moosewood Book of Desserts, but it doesn't come out bright red like with food coloring -- more of a rich brownish red. Still tastes great, though!
posted by nonane at 10:19 AM on October 6, 2007

(From what I've read, "traditional" red velvet cake is leavened with baking soda and buttermilk, and the red color comes from a chemical reaction between the acidic buttermilk and the cocoa. Apparently, the reaction is stronger if you don't use dutch process cocoa. Now that dutch process is basically all you ever see, people have taken to supplementing the color with food coloring.

On the other hand, using fruits and vegetables to moisten chocolate cake is pretty common. My family has one recipe with applesauce and one with beets, and I've seen ones with prunes, tomatoes, baby food and all kinds of other things. Chocolate is strong enough that the veggie flavor won't stand out.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:31 AM on October 6, 2007

Beets are traditional? As a half-southerner, I agree with thinkingwoman - a whole bottle of red food coloring (plus some cocoa) is traditional for the color, and buttermilk + vinegar for the velvety smoothness (which sets it apart from just a 'white cake with food color').
posted by lovecrafty at 11:33 AM on October 6, 2007

Yeah, I don't remember my great-grandmother ever putting beets in hers, and she was a. a big fan of beets and b. made an awfully kickass red velvet cake. That said, please post any good recipes you find, I'm always up for something new!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:16 PM on October 6, 2007

I agree with nebulawindphone, my understanding is that the "red" comes from the acid/cocoa reaction, but it's not really red, it's more of a muddy reddish brown.

I don't have a recipe with beets, but I will tell you this: I'm a pastry chef, and I used to work at a bakery that was trying to get a wholesale contract with a (major national) health food store. We couldn't use artificial coloring, so we tried to develop a recipe using only natural food coloring, mainly different formulations with beets. I thought every single attempt was nasty. Even the cakes that didn't taste exactly like beets still had that earthy undertone. I sincerely hope your attempt goes better, because my beetcakes nearly turned me off red velvet forever.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2007

Nebulawindphone is totally right: the redness comes from the buttermilk acid reaction. Through it you'll get an irony-mud color, but nothing to write home about. Using a decent quantity of industrial/professional strength red dye can improve the hue dramatically. And it tends to have less bad crap in it than the consumer food colorings. Cooks Illustrated had a fantastic recipe they published earlier this year -- see if you can dig up an old issue? Another option (with which I've had limited success, and limited experimentation) involves using ketchup for some of the sweetener. The taste'll disappear wholly, and you'll still have a unique ingredient w/o resorting to beets.

Two years ago my girlfriend and I experimented w. using beets in bread-dough for color and while the results were attractive, the earthy-beety flavor was inexorable.
posted by mr. remy at 3:51 PM on October 6, 2007

I like beets, but I only ever see it made with food coloring.

Also, not horribly related, but I'll second nonane's endorsement of the Moosewood book. All the Moosewood books are great, fun to read, and have an emphasis on "old-style" ingredients and methods. I usually hate cookbooks.
posted by rokusan at 4:51 PM on October 6, 2007

Even the cakes that didn't taste exactly like beets still had that earthy undertone.

Yes, that's exactly it- earthy was the word my waking up brain was struggling to find. OK for some savory, rustic breads I think, but I once had "banana" bread made with beets, and it was... earthy.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:46 PM on October 6, 2007

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