Sorry to invoke wrath of Southerners, but red velvet is not a cake flavor. It’s a fancy name for a neon novelty. According to legend, the color comes from the chemical reaction of cocoa powder and acid (nowadays, we enhance it with food coloring). That doesn’t sound right, because most recipes only have two tablespoons of cocoa, which isn’t enough to cause a huge change in hue, much less chocolatiness.
Even though the FDA says that food coloring is nontoxic, I have second thoughts when I have to dump a whole bottle of red #40, ground beetles , or whatever into a cake. I’d rather use non-lab produced ingredients, like beets. And seriously, why so stingy with the cocoa? The cake has to taste like chocolate.
I found a recipe that satisfies both criteria: it’s from the American Cancer Society’s Taste More Birthdays Cake Contest . As the name suggests, it’s semi healthy with less sugar and fat but plenty of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. The ingredients sound strange, but the earthiness of the beets goes well with the chocolate, and the fruits add tartness. Just tell your friends that you made chocolate-raspberry cake, and they won’t have to know your secret. It’s so moist and rich that I don’t think it needs frosting. My only complaint is that it loses its bright red color after it comes out of the oven.
I adapted the recipe so the prep time’s cut in half (using canned beets saves more than two hours). I also changed the dried fruits so it’s less expensive.
New Red Velvet Cake
Adapted from Alexandra Mudry 
(Makes one 9”x14” cake, two 8” round cakes or 24 cupcakes)
1 1/2 15-oz. cans unseasoned beets (to make 2 c. purée)
1/2 c. dried dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. prunes, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. expeller-pressed canola oil
3 large cage-free eggs
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee
1/2 c. unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Place beets in a blender or food processor with 2-3 tbsp. water. Purée beets until smooth. Blend in the dates and prunes. Set aside. (Can be made several days ahead and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray baking pan(s) with oil and dust with flour. Discard the excess flour (if making cupcakes, just line the tins with paper wrappers).
Combine the oil, eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric beater on medium speed until smooth and light colored.
Add the espresso powder to the melted chocolate and stir until combined.
Turning the speed down to low, slowly drizzle the melted chocolate into the mixture. Once the chocolate has been added, turn off the machine and scrape the sides of the bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine the cocoa powder, applesauce and beet purée. Add this mixture to the egg mixture. Beat on medium speed to incorporate.
Sift the remaining dry ingredients together and then gently fold into the mixture (don’t overmix or the cake will become tough).
Pour batter into the pan(s) and bake for 40-45 minutes (or 20-25 for cupcakes), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool and remove from pan(s). If not using immediately, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cake can be made a day in advance. (The cake is delicate and crumbly so it’s much easier to work with once chilled. )
Cream Cheese Frosting (optional):
24 oz. (3 pkgs) reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 c. confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Lightly beat the cream cheese and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.
Scrape down sides of bowl then add confectioners’ sugar. Cream together until smooth. Don’t overmix or the frosting will become too soft and difficult to spread.
If using a 9” x 14” pan, cut the cake lengthwise down the middle so you have two layers.
Cover with cream cheese frosting.
Serves 10-12 generously.