For the longest time, I belonged to the befuddled group of people, who do not understand the appeal of Red Velvet Cake. How can the color of a cake make such a huge difference to its taste? I analyzed it, very minutely, maybe it was the Cream Cheese frosting or maybe the buttermilk in the cake or the reaction caused when the acid in the cocoa meets with the Vinegar or the citric acid in lemon juice that lends to it the brilliant color and light texture. And then I tasted a Red Velvet Cup Cake at a high-end bakery in my city. It was a mini cup-cake, but I loved the flavor of both the cake and the creamcheese.
Despite all my misgivings about using color in food, I decided to try it just ONE time,
If for nothing but to demystify its appeal. I baked the Red Velvet Cake to gift it to my husband’s boss on her birthday because Red is her favorite color. I baked the cake using the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and I had so much batter that I made extra cup cakes with them. It was summer back then so I struggled with the runny cream cheese frosting while icing the cake, I struggled with the frosting for hours, resting the cake in the freezer every time I thought it would just melt down. Trying to smooth the frosting was a very frustrating exercise and an unending one. I got my husband to taste the frosting to ensure that it was okay and he declared that it was little on the salty side and his boss and her family used very little salt in their cooking, so this might not be suitable for them. So the plan to send her the cake was discarded, instead my husband, sent her flowers and I breathed easy. The cake rested in the freezer for 15 days or more, while I kept eating the scraps and bits of the unfrosted cakes, which I have to admit, were yummy. Then one fine day, with nothing sweet to eat around the house, the husband tasted the cake and he was blown away.
Then started that big dilemma, of how I would add it to my menu without compromising my principles of not using artificial coloring in my food. I toyed with the idea of making this cake the only exception to my no-synthetic colors rule, simply because it looks so gorgeous with the maroon-red cake contrasting with the off-white cream cheese frosting.
Recently, a friend wanted me to bake a special cake for her daughter’s first birthday, she chose Red Velvet with Cream Cheese frosting. I am aware of the potential ADHD issues that food colors can cause in children, so there was just no way I was going to use artificial color. Instead, I searched the internet for a recipe that was a crowd-pleaser and didn’t have the harmful effects of red dye. I found one and it worked very well. I did have my reservations about using beetroot puree, as beets tend to have that strong tinny, sometimes bitter, chemical taste that can be off-putting. But I am happy to report that despite 1.5 cups of beet puree added to the cake, it turned out great, with none of that bitter-chemical flavor I feared. The cake is a little dense, due to the added cream cheese and the beet puree, but is rich, moist and sweet and so very tasty. I am loving snacking on the scraps of remaining cake. The cream cheese was the best part of the experience. I used Cheryl Rajkumar’s recipe for home-made cream cheese and adjusted it to make the amount of cream cheese I needed. I made it a week ahead of baking the cake. I could make 600-700 grams in under the price one tub of the locally-made cream cheese, wasn’t overly salty (as it didn’t need preserving for months) and was thick and best of all, l just took be total of 30-60 minutes for the entire frosting (including crumb coating).
Here is the original recipe that I used to make the cake, and below is my slightly modified version
All Natural Red Velvet Cake
(Makes 3 8-inch layers, I cut three 6 inch layers out of them to used some scraps to crush and sprinkle on and around the cake)
You Will Need
For the Cake
- 2 very large or 2 medium and 1 small-sized beetroots to yield 1.5 cups of puree.
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 226 grams softened unsalted butter
- 225 grams cream cheese, softened slightly
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups All-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons natural (preferably not dark dutch processed) cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s)
For the Frosting
- 448 grams cream cheese
- 226 grams softened unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
- 2-4 cups (You can vary this according to the I used two cups) icing sugar
- 50 grams white chocolate
- 2-4 tablespoons heavy cream
How to Make It
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Peel the beets and place them in a small baking dish and add a 1/2 cup of water. Cover with Aluminium foil, and roast for about 90 minutes. Allow to cool completely. You can do this a day ahead.
- Take 3 8 (or 6) inch cake pans. Cut out parchment paper circles and place in the bottoms of the pans. Butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pans and dust with flour. Set aside. Cut the beets into large chunks. Place in a juicer with the lemon juice, and pulse and grind to smooth puree Measure 1.5 cups from it and add the vinegar. Set aside.
- Using a hand-mixer or a Kitchen Aid, cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar and beat till smooth. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well until each is incorporated. Mix in vanilla.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Slowly add flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Add the beet puree mixture, and fold into the cake batter. Divide the batter equally between the cake pans. Tap pans on the counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Invert cakes onto cooling racks, and allow to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to frost.
- Beat the butter till it is softened
- Melt the white chocolate using a double-broiler and allow to cool stirring constantly to make sure it doesn’t get lumpy again. Don’t worry if the melted chocolate is a little grainy.
- Add in the icing sugar and stir till it is roughly mixed with the butter
- Add the cream and Vanilla and beat to form a smooth mixture.
- Add in the cream cheese and the melted and cooled chocolate and mix till smooth.
- Chill (not freeze) in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.
Assembling the Cake
You can refer to some videos on Youtube on how to crumb coat and frost a cake. Here are links to the videos I refer to.
To make the Cream Cheese – Will take 5 days to make it
(Yields 600-700 grams)
- 1.5 litres of whole milk (non-pasteurized)
- 200 grams of cream (I used Milk Mist)
- 3-4 tablespoons of curd
- ¾ teaspoon of salt
Day 1: Heat (not boil) the milk and the cream together and pour into a Pour the mixture into a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling wrap, then wrap a few kitchen towels around the bowl and place it in a warm spot. After 24 hours, the cream mixture forms a firm curd. It should not be wobbly when the bowl is tilted. If the mixture is not a firm set curd and you see water floating on top, then let it sit for another 6-12 hours. It took a 1.5 days for me to set the curd.
Day 2: Pour the mixture onto a colander lined with a sterilized and wet cheese cloth (I used a porous cotton towel) over a bowl. Drain for 15 minutes. Fold the cheese cloth over the cheese. Drain the whey out and place the colander back over the bowl. Cover with cling wrap and place it in the refrigerator for another 12-14 hours. Ensure that you do not store anything strong smelling next to the bowl.
Day 3 and 4: Remove the curd from the refrigerator and pour it into a mixing bowl. The cream cheese should be firmer now. Add in salt to taste. Line your colander with fresh cheese cloth. Pour the curd back into the colander. Cover the colander with cling wrap and place it back over the bowl. Place the cheese back in the refrigerator and let it sit for 36-48 hours, depending on the consistency you want.
Day 5: Place the finished cream cheese in a container and keep it refrigerated for up to two weeks.