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 a 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.
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
- 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.
Enjoy while contemplating your next breakthrough invention!