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What makes a Red Velvet Cake red?

Terry asks: I just made a red velvet cake using both pureed beets AND some red food colouring, according to a recipe from the New York Waldorf Astoria, 1920’s I found on the net.

When the cake was done, it came out chocolate BROWN, instead of RED. Can you tell me what happened? I baked it in 3 9″ pans for the required 20-25 minutes and then left it in for another 10 minutes because they weren’t quite ‘done’. Is that where I went wrong?

Baking S.O.S. says: These days, red velvet cake recipes use anywhere from 1 to 2 WHOLE BOTTLES of red food coloring to make the batter red.

The recipe you used sounds more traditional, given that it dates back to the 1920’s.  The addition of beets to the recipe is probably a more natural way to tint the cake batter, rather than relying on artificial, chemical food dyes.  However, when baked, cake batter that has been tinted with beets loses almost all of its bright pink or reddish hue, mellowing into a light brown color in the finished cake.  So my guess is that your cake turned out more brown rather than red because it relies more on beets than red food coloring to tint the batter.

Personally, I do not make red velvet cake because the thought of using 1 or 2 whole bottles of red food coloring seems so unnatural and appalling to me.  I would much rather make your recipe that relies more on natural food coloring that massive amounts of artificial coloring.  (but that’s just MY opinion)

For me, the bigger question is: How does your cake taste?  If it still tastes delicious, then you have nothing to worry about.  You can simply tell your guests that your cake is more traditional.  After all, the Waldorf Astoria has a long history of culinary excellence.  One of my own favorite chocolate cake recipes comes from there, as well!

1 comment to What makes a Red Velvet Cake red?

  • Mary Collins

    I always laugh when people insist a red velvet cake tastes different than a chocolate cake for this very reason—-Since food coloring has no taste! 🙂

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