Whenever I bake something, I usually don’t give much thought to the resulting color. However it turns out is just however it turns out. Most baked goods though are some shade of brown because of such a thing as the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids. (Ooh the chemistry behind baking!) There are a few colorful cakes out there, like Battenberg cake or Red Velvet and nowadays Blue Velvet, but all of these use artificial dyes. My goal was thus to achieve a brightly colored cake naturally, and after much experimenting and an unexpected lesson in pH, the product was magnificently vibrant in color and even mochi-like in texture. I present:
Makes 8 servings
- 1/3 cup beet puree (directions below)
- 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- 3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 80g all-purpose flour
- Scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- Scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Note: They key to maintaining the bright red color after baking is acidity. The batter itself is magenta, but the final product is a true red. Don’t use baking soda or Dutch processed cocoa powder as substitutes because these ingredients are alkaline, and you’ll end up with a brown final product.
Regular cupcake liners don’t work well because the cooked batter sticks to the paper. Instead, use a flattened cupcake liner to trace out circles on parchment paper. My ¼ cup measuring cup worked perfectly so that I could then press each cut out piece of parchment paper into the cupcake well before filling with batter.
Making the batter
- For the beet puree: Roast a small beet wrapped in aluminum foil at 400°F for 1 hour or until tender. Let cool, cut into small pieces, and roughly puree.
- Measure out 1/3 cup of beet puree and add this back into the blender, along with lemon juice, vinegar, and up to a tablespoon of water if necessary. Blend till smooth.
- In a separate bowl, combine the next four ingredients from flour to salt and set aside.
- In another bowl, mix together the last six ingredients using an electric mixer.
- Add in the blended mixture from step 2 and mix till well combined.
- Slowly add in the dry mixture from step 3 and mix till just combined.
- Divide batter evenly amongst 8 liners and bake for 40 minutes at 350°F. After 40 minutes, turn off the heat, but leave in the oven for 20 more minutes. Allow to fully cool before dusting with powdered sugar. (To achieve the heart pattern, I cut out a heart shape with aluminum foil, placed this cutout in the center of each piece, dusted over the top with powdered sugar, and then carefully removed the aluminum heart.)