Red Velvet Cake Recipe Without Red #40 for Fearless Friday

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Fearless Fridays are all about pushing boundaries in the kitchen. It’s trying new techniques, recipes, or ingredients. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. All of you are welcome to share your recent kitchen adventures either in the link list or by sharing in the comments. A lot of people forget that cooking is a skill that takes practice, they throw their hands in the air saying, “It’s hopeless.” Good cooks make mistakes. The difference? A good cook tries to figure out what went wrong. So on the first Friday of every month join other Home Ec readers as we try new things, even though they don’t always work out so well.

This June’s Fearless Friday had mixed results. Totally delicious but not quite what I was hoping for. My four-year-old has an intolerance -as in it’s not a true food allergy where we need to carry an epi-pen- to Red Dye #40. I don’t know if it makes him feel unwell but has extreme behavioral effects. So much so that family knows the threat is, that if he has red dye at their homes, he gets to spend the nights. We’re all about logical consequences, no?

So, the poor kid never gets to have anything red or purple unless I shell out for the big buck organic stuff and why bother when it’s just a treat we shouldn’t really be eating in the first place? This irks him, so I thought I’d work on finding an alternative.

I stumbled across the idea of using beets for red velvet cake recently, and while I cannot find the original source where the author had great success. This recipe was moderately successful. The taste? FABULOUS? Unfortunately, the red was muted by having too much cocoa powder and the cake was too richly chocolate for the cream cheese frosting I chose. Next time buttercream frosting (or heck, nothing would have been fine).

Not So Red But Oh So Velvet
It’s a very deep, reddish brown, but it’s plenty velvet

When I make it next week, I will eliminate the baking soda and reduce the cocoa by 1/4 cup, increasing the flour to keep the moisture constant.

Not So Red, but Oh So Velvet Cupcakes Recipe

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup unbleached, plain flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa, Do Not Use Dutch Process it changes the pH
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup beet pureed or finely shredded (raw & peeled) I used a food processor
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs @ room temperature, beaten
  • 1 TBSP plain or Greek style yogurt
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 and spray or line a 12 cupcake pan.

In a medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Exciting.

Why yes, it is a natural red.

In a food processor or blender, puree a beet or two if they are small, you need just 3/4 cup, I firmly packed the beet puree. I rinsed and dried the food process and returned the beet puree. To this, I added the vegetable oil, yogurt, and buttermilk. Once everything was mixed well, I added the eggs and pulsed until they were incorporated.

This batter depends entirely on a chemical reaction for height, so get these cupcakes scooped by th 1/3 cup full and into the oven.

Velvet Batter

Bake at 350F for 15 – 18 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

Velvet Cupcakes

Frost when completely cool and enjoy.

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13 thoughts on “Red Velvet Cake Recipe Without Red #40 for Fearless Friday”

  1. Heather, last month I tried a ceviche for my Dress4Dinner event. I love ceviche, but I'd never "made" it before. The recipe calls for cilantro which I love; but when I made mine, a house guest had left some flat leaf parsley so I used that (by accident) and not until I had it chopped (because my mind was elsewhere) did I realize that it did not smell of cilantro. It was a happy accident and made a very mild ceviche. The link to the Citrus Scallop Ceviche is here

  2. Pingback: Red Velvet Cupcakes Without Red #40
  3. Last time we went to the grocery store, I bought a big ol' bag of masa harina, since it's an ingredient in a gluten free AP flour combo I want to try. At about 4am a few days ago I was struck by an overwhelming craving for the gooey, savory, texturally-lovely pockets of Salvadorean delight called "pupusas" that they sell in trucks all around the area in MD where I used to live.

    *Used* to live. As in, don't anymore. It was apparently time to break out the bag of masa harina and try making some myself. How hard could it be?

    …Actually, not that bad at all. The dough could definitely have used some salt, and I'll need to work on my technique to improve the ratio of filling-to-dough, but they weren't that bad at all. The Boy ate a small pile of them, and the leftovers reheat well for quick, cheap, non-preservative-filled convenience food.

    There's no real recipe, and if you're a novice at working with dough you might want to google a recipe with actual measurements, but this is the page I used:
    I started out using equal proportions of masa and water, adding a little bit of each until it's about the consistency of play-dough. And be sure to let the dough rest for five or ten minutes, because the corn really needs a bit of time to soak up the water and homogenize.

    As I said, next time? A little salt in the dough would be nice. And either more filling or a more flavourful filling. And I'll make more, so I can freeze them and see if they work well for times when I'm too busy to cook.

  4. Coming from the Great White North, I've always been skeptical of red velvet cake. there's this instinctive feeling i get that says nothing that red can be tasty or good for you.

    I'll have to try this one out without the beets

  5. Waldorf Red Cake is what I grew up with. It was Red Velvet Cake made during one of the WWs, when cocoa, butter and eggs were rationed. (Tradition has it that Waldorf Astoria Hotel restaurant invented this version) The recipe had only 2 Tablespoons of cocoa, but a whole ounce of red food coloring (the whole bottle). We lived on a farm, so had butter, eggs and milk to spare. Still a yummy cake, even without cocoa, eggs and butter.

    • I suppose, if you cut the cocoa in half, it'd be closer to a traditional red velvet cake. All I know for sure is that these were tasty, if not brilliantly red. As I noted, we can't use red dye.

  6. Heather,
    My son has a similar intolerance but he also can't have yellow #5, blue lake, MSG, or fake sweeteners. Makes shopping so. much. fun!

    Thanks for posting this, we'll have to give it a try (and actually, the child in question LIKES beets!)

    PS – blackberries, crushed and strained, make an excellent pink. More vibrant than strawberries.
    And when I lived in M.C., I found a lot of dye-free stuff cheap(er) at Big Lots. Just a heads up. And Dollar Tree carries Florida Naturals fruit gummies, also dye free.

  7. Even though I'm a southerner, I never really understood the whole love of red velvet cake thing. It's a chocolate cake with a truckload of red food coloring. It tastes exactly the same without it. So why worry about recreating it? Just make a really good chocolate cake and move on.

    • My 4yo doesn't get a whole lot of red foods, since so many use Red #40 which are off limits for him. I'm trying to do it as a surprise for him.
      Aside from that, sometimes it's just fun to experiment.

  8. Love this and am going to try it this week! I experiment all the time too and have had to remove all artificial colors which was a huge chore for me at the beginning but the results and temperments in my children and even my husband and myself have been SO worth it. Thanks for the recipe and I look forward to reading more. I invite you to come by my blog. I am very new but looking forward to sharing my families experiences with others!
    My recent post Victory!

  9. It’s the baking soda that’s changing your PH!!!! It is alkaline and turns the red to a brown. Eliminate it and you’ll be good 🙂 Also add some lemon juice to beets before putting it.


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