Four takes on Red Velvet Cake: top left=Dutched Cocoa w/Red Food Coloring, Top Right=Dutched Cocoa w/Beet, Extract Bottom Right=Standard Cocao w/Beet Extract & Puree, Bottom Left=Standard Cocoa w/Red Coloring
Finished Red Velvet Cakes, tagged for visual comparison.
Left to Right: Beet Extract, Red Food Coloring, Beet Puree (about 1/2 cup), and Dutch Processed vs. Standard Cocoa (Dutched is on the left)
In pursuit of Red Velvet Cake perfection, Hot Kitchen tested four different variations on the old recipe from the 30s. I had read about the history of the Red Velvet Cake and ran across a few recipes that used beets and claimed gret results. Naturally, the prospects of making a red velvet cake sans artificial ingredients delighted this cooking show hostess! I also read how dutch processed cocoa is inferior to standard cocoa, and would have detrimental effects on the color of the finished product. This of course led me to the question of how do beets interact with dutch processed cocoa vs. standard cocoa.
So I made the base cake, and proceeded to try four variations:
Standard Cocoa, Red Food Coloring (the Control)
Dutch Processed Cocoa, Red Food Coloring
Standard Cocoa, Concentrated Beet Extract, Beet Puree
Dutch Processed Cocoa, Concentrated Beet Extract
The results were surprising! The control and the dutch/red variation both came out brilliant red. The two variations with beet extract were a boring brown. The test subject that had both beet extract and beet puree was the most inferior, it was dense, heavy, and very brown. The test subject dutch/beet turned out a reddish brown, with a fluffy texture consistent with the other three tests.
Taste varied between the four tests too. The control was the best with the softest, finest crumb, and distinctive notes of chocolate on the end. The dutch/red was pleasant to eat, but had a courser crumb and less pronounced chocolate. The dutch/beet was also tasty, but really no different than the dutch/red. The standard/beet/beet puree was pleasantly dense, like pumpkin bread, but not at all the texture one expects from Red Velvet Cake.
Ultimately, I chose the control for the show because of the great results. I’m sure that beets can be used to make a red velvet cake, but I am not interested in pursuing it for the show. In order for the beets to work, I would have to find precisely the right p.H. in the batter, and would have to increase the leavening to counter the density of the beets. In addition, the recipe would likely need the enzymes and higher acidity of raw cacao powder. Raw cacao is on my list of ingredients we don’t use in Hot Kitchen because it is expensive and difficult to find. The result of all these natural additions would be a very persnickety recipe that would be difficult for any baker, much less someone trying to squeeze a night of food and fun into a busy life!