Red Ingenuity

If you’ve been hanging out here for any period of time, then you can count on two fingers the number of times that I’ve brought you sweets. Never having developed a sweet tooth, I’ll trade my post-meal pastries for savory salt and vinegar chips any day. Today is different however as this treat works with my CSA and comes with a history and a lesson.

IMG_1029

It was the advent of baking soda in the mid-1800s that made cake a possibility for the home cook. Cakes took off. There were crumb cakes, layer cakes, pound cakes, tea cakes, bundt cakes, sheet cakes and angel food. As baking methods were refined and delicate crumb cakes were produced, they became known as velvet cakes due to their smooth texture. Any mention of the color red was a reference to brown sugar, at the time called red sugar and red devil’s food cake was named because of the chemical interaction between brown sugar, cocoa, buttermilk, and vinegar that caused a reddish hue.

Enter the American entrepreneurial spirit where one Michigan businessman, John Adams, founder of Adams Extract and famous for commercializing vanilla, addressed slumping sales by creating large posters of red layer cake and placed them in grocery stores throughout the South and the Midwest. A purchase of two bottles of red food dye included a free recipe and Red Velvet was born. Since that time, red velvets have appeared on all continents and while recipes vary, it appears that a heavy pour of food color was the constant.

When cake ingredients were rationed during World War II, enterprising cooks turned to beets or beetroot to replace Adams’ color. Today, some recipes continue with this ingredient and enjoy the heavy moisture brought on by the beets. Red velvet was invented in response to hardship and then, continued with the same inventive spirit later on. It appears that scarcity provided the incentive for creativity in both cases. So where does that lead us? Are there elements in our daily lives that if removed, might cause us to realize a break-through discovery? Where might you start?

In our town, red velvet is still the rage and I’m much happier making beet puree to whisk into the ingredients that I am using 6 tablespoons of red dye. The only foible is that I shared the ingredients with my children – two of whom tell me that they taste the beets.

Red Velvet Brownies

Adapted from Desert Roots Farm
Serves 9
Ingredients:
  • 2 large beets, cooked and pureed to make about 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, melted
  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbs espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9″ baking dish. Whisk together butter and sugar until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs (one at a time). Stir in beets. In a separate bowl whisk flour, cocoa and espresso. Fold mixture into beet mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chip and pour into pan.  Bake for 30 minutes. Cool and then cut into squares. Because I used such large beets, I cooled and froze extra puree for future use.

IMG_1033

Enjoy while contemplating your next breakthrough invention!

Previous Post
Leave a comment

88 Comments

  1. Sally

     /  June 2, 2013

    Absolutely wonderful. I love the history lesson and hate artificial food coloring. You are doing so much justice to re-living the natural that was created, naturally, not so long ago. And Ahem, delicious!

    Reply
    • I can remember an early little boy birthday party where the cake had some blue frosting and I was forever changed! The FDA says that the existing red dyes are okay but the red velvet cake recipes use so much it that I won’t eat it unless I know it’s beets.

      Reply
  2. Yummy. I love the history. I am a red velvet cake person, if there is such a thing. I love it! I’ve never tried it with beets, but they look great.

    Reply
    • I was amazed that the invention of baking soda came so late. I think you should try this. It’s so moist and heavy.

      Reply
  3. You don’t mention cochineal. Until last year, cochineal was still being used in products sold at Starbucks http://www.livescience.com/36292-red-food-dye-bugs-cochineal-carmine.html Not such a sweet treat for vegans!

    Reply
  4. great history lesson, Tammy! I imagine that the beet puree makes for a moist cake as well as bringing color and nutrition. I’ve seen similar recipes over the years, but have never tried them.

    Reply
    • It makes a heavy moist brownie and would be a terrific cake too.

      Reply
    • Beet cupcakes are honestly the only way I like beets. So, yes, the cake recipes work well, but I only think they are worth the effort if you have CSA beets in danger of becoming compost. I had one summer where nobody in my CSA-splitting group liked beets… there were far more cupcakes than there should have been!

      Reply
      • That’s funny. I have had to work with them a great deal to come up with ways to eat them. Now, it seems maybe our tastes have changed.

        Reply
  5. Interesting! Brilliant to use the beets for color, and they’d add a touch of sweetness and lots of nutrition, too. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Truly my chocolate brownies look chocolate but they do have a hint of red and I love that there isn’t 6 Tbs of red dye in them.

      Reply
  6. Wow – 6 Tablespoons?? I’ve been meaning to try the version in Nigel Slater’s Tender. Thanks for reminding me while I’m using up the beets left in my freezer.

    I was thinking of your no-sweets resolve as I wrote about cream pies this morning – I think I have a problem, :D

    Reply
    • This is a very similar recipe! It’s not hard and I’ll bet you’ll like it.

      Reply
  7. I made a puppy cake that had beets in in it like this! Because all of the ingredients were human grade, I had to give it a taste…

    Reply
  8. Love the history lesson! And using beets – who knew?! I haven’t been eating much cake or cookies or pies for the past few years (a huge departure from my previous life…) but red velvet cake was always a favorite. Thanks!

    Reply
  9. Kathy

     /  June 3, 2013

    I have a fabulous recipe for Red Velvet Cake using pureed beets that’s always a requested dessert for special occasions. I found it in Jan D’Atri’s column in the Arizona Republic; evidently it was an original recipe from the Waldorf Astoria, but you won’t find it online anywhere (I’ve tried once when I thought I had lost my copy) So glad to see a similar recipe for brownies – I can’t wait to try it. I just wish I had your lack of a sweet tooth, Tammy! :)

    Reply
    • Very good and a piece of the history. The Waldorf Astoria gets credited as the first institution to put it on a menu. Give these a try and tell me what you think.

      Reply
  10. Tammy, I love the history! Thanks for sharing. I am never been a fan of Red Velvet as they always tasted funny to me, sort of like chemicals. Now I understand why. But I love beets and this sounds like a great recipe. I also recently discovered coconut sugar and really like the taste, almost like brown sugar. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • I am not sure what the deal is with coconut sugar but it is the new black! It worked well in this recipe although at first, I didn’t think it would.

      Reply
  11. These look good! I have a recipe in one of my cookbooks for a chocolate beet cake that I meant to try last summer but I never got around to it. I’m going to try this as soon as my beets are ready to harvest.

    Reply
  12. I am amazed go find that baking power showed up so late. No wonder great grandma Sarah baked “soda biscuits” every morning. I just thought she liked soda better. Speaking of making desserts with vegetables, I started to make a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie for my family and when I reached for the pumpkin, the cupboard was bare–but I had butternut squash. I always use about half the sugar in my pumpkin pie recipe and the squash pie was–WOW! Now I prefer my Thanksgiving pies with squash.

    Reply
    • Exactly right, Faith! Biscuits were the cake before we got the baking powder. Great use of squash and it would be equally good in a yellow cake recipe.

      Reply
      • There are just all kinds of things i never think of. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of squash in a cake, but I’ll bet it’s wonderful.

        Reply
  13. Lisa H

     /  June 3, 2013

    Beets are a great idea to make the cake red! I made my first red velvet cake using my neighbor’s recipe (she’s over 70 yrs) for my daughter’s birthday. It was so fun to make. Coffee was my original “secret” ingredient, but I think I’ll try the beets next time. Great history lesson–I always wondered how the red velvet cake came about.

    Reply
  14. That looks amazing! I never use dye in my food either – and don’t worry. The kids can’t taste the beets, they just know it’s in it so they can get to be picky :P

    Reply
    • I know they can’t and I’m mad that I told them it was beet! Oh well, more for those wiling to eat it.

      Reply
  15. I love learning lessons from you! :) I had a cooking flop yesterday . . .but will try again and follow the directions more precisely. That might help! haha! Thanks for sharing, Tammy!

    Reply
  16. 1. I’m with you about avoid red dye in food. Beets = Better!
    2. I’m also with you on the salty crunchy snacks vs. sweets. Pass the chips.
    3. My mom used to hide ingredients in food too. She called Zucchini Bread by it’s code name ABZ Bread when we were around. She also tried (and failed) to disguise eggplant as French fries. :mrgreen:

    Reply
    • You and those eggplant Nancy! I may have to try some brinjal muffins!

      Reply
      • Muffins are an EXCELLENT disguise for all manner of fruits, veggies, nuts, grains, and seeds. Enjoy!

        Reply
  17. Beets are a big favorite in our house too. I once diced and boiled down several to make a red dye, then stained some wood with it. I used the wood to make a bunny playhouse, and he loved gnawing on that thing!

    Reply
    • That’s funny about the bunny! I don’t cook enough to know what the right replacement is for eggs but I’m better that this can be modified to be vegan very easily.

      Reply
  18. Those look good! I posted a sweet recipe today, too. Very unusual for me. I NEVER make sweets, but it’s hard not to with all the delicious strawberries in season right now. I LOVE brownies; can’t wait to try this recipe.

    Reply
    • I think you’ll like these Rachel! I’m popping over to see what you’ve got going right now.

      Reply
  19. Loved the article! I’ve always wanted to bake a red velvet cake – never have! You certainly are inspiring Tammy. By the way where did you find coconut sugar? thanks!

    Reply
  20. Tammy,
    That extra puree would make a lovely pizza crust . . . I’m just sayin’ . . .
    I’ve made “red velvet” cookies using shredded raw beets, and got no complaints from the kids, though I did have them iced with cream cheese icing. Those were back in Feb/March, but I used my final bag of 2012 frozen shredded beets just last week to make chocolate beet muffins for the first CSA pick up and they went over well.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • So, you’re way ahead of me! Do you cook the beets before you shred them and freeze them? I shouldn’t have told them because they would never have known about the beets. AND, I love the idea of the putting it in pizza crust… hmmm.

      Reply
  21. I didn’t know that about baking soda. I thought it had been around for much longer. I love salt and vinegar chips too! xx

    Reply
  22. Renee

     /  June 4, 2013

    So interesting about the baking soda. And these brownies look delicious! I need to give them a try!

    Reply
  23. LOL, I got the same responses from a couple of family members once they found out a very moist chocolate cake I’d made was loaded with zucchini.

    Reply
  24. HIDE THE BEETS WITH CHOCOLATE! I like where your head’s at- I will be trying this one! Beets are one of the things I struggle with when I get them in my box…

    Reply
  25. Thank you for this short lesson in the history of cake! :D In fact, Red Velvet hasn’t made it over to Europe, so I only learned about it via blogs and have never tried one. Using beets as a natural color is a very nice idea! :D

    I actually have a very sweet tooth (you can haunt me with vinegar chips and salty stuff, haha), but since I’ve started eating healthier it has more and more disappeared. Nowadays it’s mostly satisfied by smoothies. :)

    Reply
    • These brownies are so good that I even ate one and I really would prefer cheese and crackers.

      Reply
  26. Holy moly, so excited about this. I still struggle with beets as a vegetable. But as dessert? I can maybe get behind that.

    Reply
  27. I love them! I just happen to have fresh beetroots in my fridge, ready to use up & I didn’t know what to do with them & now, I do! I love, love beets in brownies & I also love to use spelt flour but you do know that! :) xxxx

    Reply
  28. I never knew where the name “devil’s food cake” came from! I would also rather use beets than food dye :)

    Reply
  29. Reminds me of my chocolate beet cake experiment where one of my kids put two & two together! But I am so with you on not putting tablespoons of red dye into my cooking!

    Reply
  30. You have officially changed my life :) Thanks for introducing me to my new favorite indulgence.

    And thanks for linking up!

    Reply
  31. Who would have imagined beets as the secret ingredient in a dessert? Wow! I would like to try this. My mother and husband, like you, are not sweet-teeth. Am thinking that a sweet-tooth so often falls in love with a salty-tooth.

    Reply
    • I hope you do try it Kathy. I think you’re right about the sweet and salty love combo.

      Reply
  32. Mmm – beets and baked goods, always a winning combination in my book! I always thought that red velvet was made with beets (unless you used a boxed cake). I can’t imagine dumping that much food dye into a cake!

    Reply
  33. I have grown beets, but never tried them this way. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  34. Learned this last year when I was forced to confront more beets than the family wished to consume. We made everything. They were in salads, just roasted, you name it. I made cupcakes and we ended up making them again for birthday cakes by request. I also made pancakes, which came out the loveliest shade of pink. A heart cookie cutter and you’re set for the morning on a girls’ sleepover. And! We made cookies. The trick was to put a Hershey’s chocolate drop on the top. They were gone very quickly. Thanks for the brownie recipe.

    Reply
    • pancakes are a very good idea (as is Kristen’s pizza dough above). I just think my kids would still taste beets?

      Reply
  35. You left a LIKE on our blog–thank you–so I thought I’d stop by. I’m not by nature a fan of browniies, but these looked interesting to me (we love beets), but your recipe makes me feel like a dolt. I’ve never seen coconut sugar–can I substitute regular sugar? And espresso powder? Is that just ground espresso beans? Thanks. Ken

    Reply
    • Haha! I change up the recipes so that they are adaptations rather than copies. Yes, regular sugar will be fine. For espresso powder, I use the Starbucks instant variety.

      Reply
  36. Thanks for the background info and the recipe. I don’t mind if I can taste the beets.

    Reply
  37. Wow these look delicious!! Definitely need to try this recipe!

    Reply
  38. I wonder how I can adapt this recipe to my no grocery-store-summer rule. :) Since I dislike beets but keep getting them in my CSA, I’m trying to figure out ways to eat them. I have regular sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract in my pantry, but the spelt flour and espresso powder may be difficult to find without going to a grocery store. Hmm. I have coconut flour in my pantry… maybe I could use that? I don’t drink coffee, but I could steal a few Keurig containers from the office (does that work?). Haha

    Reply
    • Yes, that will all work! Have you made beet fritters? I didn’t use to like beets and fritters helped me ease in.

      Reply
  39. I haven’t! I’ll try that out. I just got a bunch more in my CSA.

    Reply
  40. Reblogged this on What's in the Box? and commented:
    Reblogged because… beets. I will try this out before the weekend!

    Reply
  1. What’s in the Box? #75 | In Her Chucks
  2. Our Imperfect House | Jane Ward's Food and Fiction
  3. Our Imperfect House | Jane Ward
  4. Half Truths | Agrigirl's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: