Friday, November 25, 2011

Butterfly (natural) Red Velvet Birthday Cake

Growing up in the south Red Velvet Cake is pretty much the birthday cake, it’s also one of those cakes about which everyone has an opinion… and these opinions are never mild mannered. Generally anyone from the South will think that anyone above or away from the Mason-Dixon line simply doesn’t get Red Velvet Cake and shouldn’t attempt to make it.

Red velvet cake needs cocoa, but isn’t a chocolate cake, it needs cream cheese frosting, some say it needs some sort of nut, most agree on pecans (I personally prefer it nut free), but the biggest point of contention is the food coloring. Nowadays it’s mostly made with red food coloring, and many will swear up, down and around that it’s the only way to get the “right” color red. This seems iffy to me for a variety of reasons, mostly because I simply cannot fathom baking anything with as much food coloring in it as red velvet cake calls for normally and also because red velvet cake’s been around longer than food coloring has, and it’s always been red. Enter the beet. I definitely belong to Team Beet, not Team food coloring.

Since I had recently fixated on making a Red Velvet Cake for the Girl’s second birthday, I searched and searched for a red velvet cake recipe with no food dye and I found it on Sophistimom’s awesome blog.

I highly suggest you go check out her pictures cause her cake looks fantastic. Mine tastes great and the color is perfect but I had to make it into a specific shape for the girl’s birthday so it’s not the beautiful three layer cake you’ll find at Sophistimom. Also, I can’t seem to get my cream cheese frosting to stiffen enough to be able to hold it’s own between cake layers. I’m still working on it! So for the cream cheese frosting, I suggest you try Sophistimom’s directly and not mine (mine works wonderfully for carrot cake though, if you’re interested!).

But the recipe for the cake itself is awesome, and if you can get past the crazy amount of sugar in it and the fact that you’re baking with beets you can enjoy the most awesome Red Velvet Cake and feel no guilt about giving it to your kids or worrying about ingesting a bunch of useless chemicals for no reason.

As usual I’ve converted almost all the measurements into grams for my European readers. Enjoy!

This is what you need:

400grams (1 ½ cups) pureed beets
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
(approx. 1 ½ lemons next time I’ll get the volume in ml)  
1 tbs. white wine vinegar

230 grams (2 sticks - 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, but not quite room temperature

230 grams (8oz.)  cream cheese, softened slightly

480grams (2 1/3 cups) raw cane sugar
- I know that’s A LOT of sugar I actually only used 400grams – 2 scant cups)
4 eggs

1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

250 grams (2 cups sifted) unbleached all-purpose flour

5 grams (1 ½ tsp.) baking powder

3 grams (1 tsp.) salt

30 grams (4 tbs.) natural cocoa powder(not dark or dutch-processed)
½ tsp cream of tartar (optional, and not in original recipe)

This is what you do:

The original recipe calls for roasting beets, but I used boiled beets because that’s the only way I’ve managed to find them here. I buy pre-boiled, peeled, organic beets so I don’t have to prepare them in any way. In fact, I suggest reserving the beet juice in the package cause it makes an awesome pink food coloring for frosting!
The original recipe also used three 8inch cake pans. But I used a butterfly shaped cake pan and a rectangular pan for my daughter’s birthday. I suggest using the 3 round pans though, because it makes a much more elegant, appealing cake. Go ahead and butter and flour your pans then set aside.

Cut up your beets into large chunks (peel them first!). Place in a food processor with the lemon juice, and pulse until smooth and pureed – like baby food, the smoother the better – this may take awhile.  Add the vinegar.

Cream together butter and cream cheese, add in sugar and mix until smooth. Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing well until each is incorporated. Mix in vanilla.

While ingredients are mixing, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Slowly add flour mixture to the wet ingredients. I suggest you set your mixer on the lowest setting and spoon the flour mixture slowly in the bowl as it tends to become airborne if you put it in too fast! 

Scrape the bowl well while mixing, it should have the same color and consistency of chocolate mousse.

Mix the beet puree into the cake batter by hand, making sure it’s well blended and there are no striations in the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans. Tap pans on the counter to remove any air bubbles – tap them well or your cake will be all holey.

Bake at 170°C (350°F) for 20-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Cool cakes completely then wrap in saran wrap, so they stay moist, and refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to frost.

Notes: I used about 2tbs. beet juice to color the cream cheese frosting to decorate the cake. It came out really well, I didn’t detect any beet taste in the frosting at all. I also used about 3tbs cocoa powder diluted in about 4tbs. hot water to color the frosting brown for the butterfly’s body. The rest of the decorations are just various flavor jelly beans.


  1. Looks so delicious!!!! I'm sure your "nena" had a great party! XoXo

  2. Totally love the color of that batter and agree, if you can do it naturally, why not?

  3. The cake is adorable. I've never liked red velvet cake. Maybe I don't get it or maybe I just haven't had the right one. This one looks delicious!

  4. I am so going to try this and the the butterfly came out amazing!  Can you find cream of tartar in Italy?  I can't find it in France for some reason.

  5. I always get it in the States, though there's an online shop in france (toulouse) that has a lot of american foodstuff and shipping is reasonable (possibly free within france...) in case you're interested!

  6. It's the beets... you can eat it and feel virtuous cause you're getting your veggies.

  7. thanks, I usually do a better job with the piping but was rushing around (shockingly, ahem)

  8. I know, I can't resist pink/red batter!

  9. Thanks, she's only two so any party is a great party, but she ate some cake, so good enough for me!