Remember when I ranted briefly about my distaste for red velvet cake? And the terrible outcry that came from fanatics, along with a good number of sympathetic voices that can commiserate with my tastes? It would certainly be hard for me to forget, that’s for sure, especially with the way that these things tend to come back to bite me much further down the road.
Not being thrilled with the results of my experiments and with no ideas of how to make them more pleasing to my own palate, I became desperate and broke my cardinal rule; I gave out these baked goods that I was not proud of, and would in no way stand behind. Even worse, the timing worked so “perfectly” that they could simply be included in a bake sale, no questions asked, and make up the cost of ingredients as a bonus. Well, wouldn’t you know, not only did they sell just fine, but ended up being the most popular offering I had that day, selling out long before the mint chocolate cupcakes- The usual favorite.
But it wasn’t enough to challenge my perception of this flavor, no, that’s not the end of the story. Planning to do a little demo for a vegan and vegetarian organization back at my ex-school, it seems that my contact got one of those red velvet cupcakes, and would love that recipe to be part of the show. Many emails have rattled back and forth, many attempts at changing the subject have failed, and now 1 1/2 weeks from now a group of very kind people are expecting to learn about red velvet cupcakes. Well… crap. Didn’t that work out well?
So into the kitchen I went, determined to make natural but brilliantly colored cupcakes that didn’t offend my palate.
[From left to right, first, second, and third attempt. Pay no attention to the size, I was just inconsistent when dosing out the batter.]
Going back to the age-old suggestion of beets, the first attempt went… Adequately. The flavor was just fine, happily, but the cupcakes were red like my dog is “red“; Not really.
Now, color and baked goods have a lot to do with PH, which I know only very basic info about so I’ll keep this brief. Thinking back to traditional recipes, the natural cocoa powder and baking soda is key, as the natural cocoa is much more acidic, and apparently the reaction between these two ingredients may have been powerful enough to create such a deep crimson color once upon a time. Taking this approach, my next batch utilized only baking soda, but nothing else in the recipe was changed. To my dismay, this second batch came out even darker and less red than the first.
Hitting the books, it was then that I realized the problem. Baking soda is in fact alkaline, and an alkaline environment promotes browning. Sliding the PH back the other way down the scale, my third attempt omitted the baking soda completely and added a good dose of lemon juice into the mix, while nothing else was changed.
And when those final cupcakes came out of the oven, it was the most gratifying sight to behold. Undeniably red, and definitely tasty, it felt as though all that hard work had finally paid off. Proof that red velvet doesn’t need artificial coloring, and needn’t taste bitter and twisted!
With all that said and done, admittedly, I’d still prefer the frosting to the cupcake if offered. It may not be my favorite thing, and I might not ever fully understand the appeal, but I’m just happy to find a solution, and hopefully save this upcoming demo.
Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes
1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Natural Cocoa Powder*
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 8.25-Ounce Can Water-Packed Sliced Beets
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
*VERY important, do not use dutch processed for this recipe
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 cupcake tins with papers.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt so that all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout the mixture. Set aside.
Get out your food processor or blender, and toss the entire contents of the can of beets, water included, into the machine. Process the beets for a solid 2 – 4 minutes, depending on how powerful your machine is, until completely smooth. Add in the oil, lemon juice, and vanilla, and pulse briefly to incorporate.
Pour the beet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and mix just enough to combine. Equally distribute the batter between your prepared tins, and bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before applying the mandatory “cream cheese” frosting.