Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "The Champagne of Red Velvet Cakes"

Photo by Jen Knowles
Evil Cake Lady

If we learned one thing this week, it's that most Alpha Bakers are pretty squeamish about using artificial coloring.  More squeamish than they are about blue cheese, which at least is naturally blue.  And many of the bakers don't have the "Rose" bundt pan and were reluctant to add to their already sizable bundt pan collections.  So a fair number of Red Velvet Roses were neither red velvet nor rose.
Even so, the cake garnered generally good reviews.

Because "using anything synthetic" is not how she operates, Glori roasted "giant" or "mutant" beets to get her cake batter "Pepto-Bismol" pink, but alas, when it was baked, it became a "lovely beige."  Going totally "renegade" with the beige cake, she decided to forget about the raspberry sauce and doused it with chocolate syrup.  She liked the flavor of the cake and thought she'd try a natural food coloring next time, but as a "beige velvet" cake, it was pretty good.

Even though she's not a "fan of red velvet cake," faithful Faithy baked it anyway.  She doesn't like the "scary amount" of red food coloring and doesn't much care for the cake itself, seeing it purely as a vehicle for the cream cheese frosting, "ultimately the main feature of the cake."  She didn't get enough beet juice from the two roasted beetroots (Americans say beet, and others say "beet root."  This has no significance; I just thought I'd point it out.)  She thought she'd achieved at least a pretty pink cake, but when she turned it over, it "turned blonde."  It turned out the cake was pretty good, and the raspberry sauce, which she cooked long enough that it became jam-like, at least made the outside of her pink-blonde cake red.

Milagritos also went the beet(root) route.  It should no longer come as a surprise that Milagritos had "high hopes" when she saw the cake batter of achieving that sought-after red color without using Red Dye No. whatever.  It should also no longer come as a surprise that when the cake came out of the oven, it was no longer red, but "a regular golden beige.  Actually, it was pink on top and golden beige on the bottom.  Still, with the raspberry glaze, it was "so shiny, so gorgeous, so very, very red.  In a good way."  Milagritos was crazy about the raspberry glaze.

Vicki, a fervent label-reader, didn't want anything to do with bottled redness, but she wasn't sure she wanted the beet option either, so she got some of India Tree's natural colors.  Like the beet-colored cakes, it was a "beautiful shade of red" going into the oven, but coming out, it "looked like a spice cake."  Spice cakes are wonderful in their own right, but maybe not the best color for a red velvet cake.  But Vicki noted that the "cake has a wonderful flavor and light crumb.  Honestly, it doesn't need any coloring at all."

Like Vicki, Orin found a "new organic, vegetable-based food color," and like Vicki, she discovered that natural food color doesn't give you the "bright red" color that unnatural color does.  She decided not to remake the cake but instead to rely on the raspberry syrup to give "just the right red color that [she] was seeking."  And it did.  Orin looked at the suggested whipped cream accompaniment, and decided she could go one better, so she made "the Raspberry Italian Meringue from the upside-down cake recipe.  She also added rose water to the meringue for even more hints of rose.  The result?  The "uptown version" of the traditional southern Red Velvet Cake.

Jeniffer was not about to be fooled by the beet option.  She had tried it before, and added extra cocoa, and ended up with (surprise!) a "nondescript brownish hue."  This time, she "went with less cocoa and with red food colour."  In fact, Jeniffer's photo of the cake is probably the most colorful of anyone's, served with ice cream wedges "sprinkled with freeze-dried raspberries and grated chocolate."  Although she liked its "great light texture and the raspberry sauce, she probably wouldn't make it again, "unless someone requested it."  If someone sees the pictures, they just might.

Jen used the red food coloring, although she couldn't help noting that it contains "terrible chemicals that may or may not make you crazy."  Let's all hope for "may not."  Jen upped the cocoa amount for a more pronounced but still "lightly chocolatey" flavor.  She couldn't quite "gather the energy" for making the raspberry sauce, but she opted for white ganache, a fancier version of plain whipped cream made with white chocolate instead of sugar.  It sounds like a perfect match.

Katya also used food coloring, and, unlike most of us who wrung our hands about using chemicals in our food, Katya cheerfully admitted to "lov[ing] gratuitous food coloring" and also being partial to cream cheese frosting and whipped cream, so she should have been a happy baker.  But the "baking genius," as her friends call her when she serves a cake from a specialty bundt pan, unfortunately bought an off-brand of baking spray, which resulted in a two-part cake (one part on the serving plate, one part still in the pan).  So she tried again, and this time she ran out of red food coloring.  Her cake was intact, but the color was not the "glaring artificial red" she'd been hoping for.

Kim not only used the possibly evil food coloring, but also used the Rose bundt pan, so she's one of the three or four who actually made the Red Velvet "Rose."  It was Kim's first red velvet, and like the rest of us, she wondered, "why is this cake red?"  Somewhat to her surprise, she liked it:  "Tasting it baked, it was light, fragrant, soft, tangy and delightful.  Much better than a butter cake, toothier than an angel food cake, fresher  than a shortcake or quick cake."  She even thought she might make it again - without the food coloring - but would anyone get excited about a White Velvet Cake?

Nancy used the Rose pan, the food coloring, and the additional cocoa, but even with the extra cocoa, the cake was still a very bright red.  Nancy didn't miss the cream cheese icing because of the raspberry sauce, "which adds both a flavor punch and additional moisture to the cake."   In fact, one of her tasters told her that the cake was "fine," but "next time, just bring the raspberry sauce."  Nancy has used her leftover sauce on yogurt and on other fruit, and is "looking for more places to incorporate the wonderful bright raspberry flavor."

Tony approached the Red Velvet Rose with excitement, not the trepidation that some of us felt, because he remembered when red velvet cakes were a "cutting edge idea," when making a red velvet cake was "an event to get excited about and call your neighbor from the huge, black wall phone in the kitchen while looking at your avocado green appliances."  What nostalgia.  He had no trouble with the cake, but balked at spending hours coaxing puree out of raspberries.  He got plenty of raspberry flavor by reducing the juices and adding his favorite raspberry liqueur, Drillaud.

Next week, there will be no worries about food coloring.  The only question for next week is how much chocolate can you consume at one sitting?  The Double Damage Oblivion will either delight you or test your tolerance.  It contains both the fabled Chocolate Oblivion plus layers of the Deep Chocolate Passion cake PLUS a nice chocolate ganache glue.  You'll need both a nine-inch cake pan and a nine-inch springform, and you'll need to do some advance planning if you want to serve it for dinner.  And you'll need lots and lots of chocolate.


  1. To clarify, I am just permanently entranced by gel coloring and its magic powers. Don't care for regular plebeian grocery store stuff.

  2. Such a beautiful photo, congrat's Jen! This cake went over huge in my house from kids to adults. Everyone loved it and no one cared it wasn't bright red! They only cared that it disappeared too fast.

  3. Thanks for the photo honors! I think Kimberlie described the texture of this cake the best. It was a wonderful texture, just so dang RED. And I will be writing "the champagne of red velvet cakes" next to the recipe in my book :)

  4. Fantastic round up of the red velvet and the wonders of food colouring and beetroot (singular and plural) vs beets! I suspect beetroot is from the uk as this is what they are here and also in New Zealand. Posting soon!

  5. Fun weekly round up, interesting to hear the views on food colouring and beetroot (beets) … and a little bit glad it's chocolate this week :) ---- Jeniffer

  6. what a beautiful picture you choose this week, absolutely the champagne of all red velvets...we couldn't stop eating the cake..

  7. Marie! Did I already say how you never fail to astound me with your brilliant write-ups?! I can't wait to see what you do with the double damage. When Woody came up with the combination my first reaction was "over the top." But I immediately reconsidered especially when that perfect name came to me. And when I tasted it I absolutely fell for it.