Naturally red velvet cake

Red velvet cake is definitely a dessert with the wow factor – who can fail to be impressed when the first slice is cut, revealing vivid red layers of sponge, sandwiched with sweet, smooth cream cheese frosting?

The only problem is the entire bottle of food colouring that’s used to achieve such a striking effect – I know I’m not the only baker out there who is more than a little hesitant to put that much artificial colouring into a dessert.

Food colouring was never used in the original red velvet cakes, so I decided to attempt a version using only natural ingredients.

In theory, the reaction between the cocoa powder and the buttermilk and vinegar should be enough to turn it red, but I didn’t want to leave it to chance.

As luck would have it, this week the lovely people at Riverford Home Delivery Cornwall sent me a fabulous box of veg specifically for baking, including two huge bags of beetroot – and so the idea of a beet-red velvet cake was born.

I’m obviously not the first person to come up with this idea, and I found what looked like the perfect recipe at Korena in the Kitchen for a 6 inch layer cake.

Instead of a cream cheese swiss meringue buttercream I went for a basic cream cheese frosting, and I kept the cake in two layers rather than slicing into four, but otherwise I followed the recipe pretty much exactly.

I wasn’t totally happy with how it turned out, as the sponge was a bit too dense and the colour was a bit on the purple side, but I think with a bit of tweaking it could work well. I still feel much happier eating this version than one with a whole bottle of food colouring!

Thanks to Riverford for sending me the beetroot – I also received some lovely looking courgettes and avocados, which I have some interesting experimental plans for over the next week or so…

Naturally red velvet cake (adapted from Korena in the Kitchen)

  • 115g butter
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 185g cooked beetroot, pureed*
  • 160g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1/2tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 125ml buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1.5 tsp rice vinegar

For the icing:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g cream cheese (I used light)

*To prepare the beetroot, I washed and peeled about 10 mini beets, and roasted in a pan filled with water and covered with foil for 2 hours. They were still not soft enough after that long, so I gave them 10 minutes in the microwave and then pureed them in a food processor, before measuring out the amount I needed.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the beetroot and vanilla extract and beat again – it should turn an amazing shade of purple!

Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl (flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa) and add the buttermilk, lemon juice and vinegar to another bowl. Fold in one third of the dry mix, then half of the liquid; another third of the dry mix, the remaining liquid, and finally the remaining dry ingredients.

Divide the cake batter between two 6″ cake tins and bake at 170 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

To make the icing, beat the butter to soften, then add the icing sugar and beat until no lumps remain. Add the vanilla and cream cheese, then beat with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes, or until very light and fluffy. Chill in the fridge for an hour or so, until the icing has firmed up a bit.

Spread a layer of icing over one of the sponges, then place the other on top. Spread a thin layer of icing all over to crumb coat, then leave the cake in the fridge for half an hour to set. Finish by spreading the rest of the icing all over the top and sides of the cake, then cut into slices and serve.

tea time treats

I’ve just realised that this cake is suitable for the June Tea Time Treats Challenge, hosted by Kate at What Kate Baked and Karen at Lavender and Lovage – Kate chose layer cakes as the theme, and I didn’t think I’d make something in time but I’m pretty sure this counts!


11 thoughts on “Naturally red velvet cake

  1. I totally agree with you regarding all that red food colouring – yuck!! I hope you can experiment with this cake to get it exactly how you want it. If you go to the original recipe I linked to, there might be some good tips for preserving the red colour, although it seems to be kind of hit or miss/dumb luck!

    • I think I may have made a couple of mistakes with the beetroot that caused the texture/colour issue – mine definitely didn’t look as pureed as yours no matter how long I blended it, which could be because my food processor isn’t the best… I also didn’t have my measuring cups so I had to use a measuring jug which is a lot less accurate so I think I may have ended up adding too much… But I will try again and see if I can get it as good looking as yours! Thanks for posting the recipe 🙂

  2. Thank you ever so much for entering this delicious cake into this month’s TTT! I too am very reluctant to empty an entire container of food colouring into my cakes- thank you for the beetroot tip!

  3. Now, I didn’t know that the red was supposed to come from the reaction between the cocoa, buttermilk and vinegar. I think I’ll use that fact at my next cocktail party.

    Your cake, by the way, looks fab.

    • Well I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s meant to work! I will have to be brave and try another version, relying on the chemistry alone to test the theory…

      I love that you host cocktail parties – and I have a feeling you will like the next recipe I’m due to post!

  4. I’ve made red velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s this year for the first time and was rather disappointed. I knew that the red used be achieved by a chemical reaction but all the recipes I found called for food colouring. I’m not an ‘all-natural-ingredients’ freak but I just don’t see the good in emptying a bottle of food colouring in a cake. The way you tried to achieve the red makes much more sense to me!

    • I agree, and I’m convinced you can taste the food colouring too! There are a few other natural recipes out there but I don’t think they get quite the same vivid red – I’m pretty sure Eric Lanlard has done one so maybe you could try searching for that…

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