I’ve been trying to find the perfect red velvet cake recipe that doesn’t involve food coloring, and still tastes chocolate-y. I found this beautiful looking recipe on pinterest a few years ago, that involved a goat cheese and thyme frosting instead of your typical cream cheese and beets for the redness. It had some mixed reviews as to whether the cake actually maintained its color, but I saved it anyway figuring I’d eventually get around to trying it. I finally did in 2015, making a one layer cake instead of the artisanal bundt pan it was photographed in (because I don’t have a fancy bundt pan). It was delicious! Moist, with a very flavorful frosting, and it even kept some color, more pink/mauve than red. But I wouldn’t call it red velvet; it didn’t taste like red velvet. Although what does red velvet cake really taste like other than red food coloring most of the time?
Last year I got a craving for cake and thought about trying this recipe again, this time as a layer cake. Big mistake. The goat cheese/thyme frosting is more of a glaze than a frosting, so I added in some cream cheese to thicken it, but it was still too thin to hold in between the weight of the layers. It squirted out everywhere. I think I put too much powdered sugar in it (it was too sweet) and I also may have iced it before it cooled properly, in my impatience. All wasn’t lost. I did read up on red-velvet cakes and methods for bringing out the color. I added some more acid to the recipe and this time the color was redder than my first pinkish brown attempt. This attempt had a nice flavor and nice color, but not an ideal texture and a nightmare to plate. We both just ended up pulling the layers apart and dipping it in the glaze.
Before making my most recent attempt I decided I should look up other beet-based recipes to compare to my existing recipe. I found a NYT recipe that had some slightly different proportions of ingredients, more acid than the pretty pinterest recipe. So I created a hybrid recipe of the two and decided to use the cream cheese frosting recipe I have for carrot cake.
The texture of this attempt was a MAJOR improvement; it was less dense, had more of an airy crumb, and had more thickness in the layers. The flavor was still a bit too moist, too beet-y, and a little bit bland–like there should’ve been more depth and richness. I also didn’t love the all cream cheese frosting with the flavor of the cake; it was way too sweet.
Since I’m not a huge fan of store-bought cake (save for the Berry Chantilly at Whole Foods), maybe I’ll give this another shot for my 30th birthday. I took some notes last year about the changes I should make. I’ll post an update if I decide to go for it.