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The Pale, Pale, Pale Red Velvet Layer Cake That Almost Wasn't #FantasticalFoodFight

I love the Fantastical Food Fight coordinated by Sarah of Fantastical Sharing of Recipes. For more information about the event, click here.

I haven't been very good at participating every month, but as this is the final installment, I knew I had to jump in Sarah shared: "I begin my Masters program in February and need to try and give it my undivided attention and decided that February's Red Velvet Food Fight will be the final food fight. I feel like we just started but we've been food fighting since November 2016. Isn't that crazy?! Thank you all for joining in and sharing recipes each month! It has been such a fun journey!" 

So, I started planning, even though Red Velvet is sort of my Moby Dick. Let me explain. But first, here's the #FantasticalFoodFight final line-up...

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The Pale, Pale, Pale Red Velvet 
Layer Cake That Almost Wasn't

Here's the story of the Pale, Pale, Pale Red Velvet Layer Cake That Almost Wasn't. Do you ever get the sense that the kitchen gods and goddesses are telling you to just give up? Well, I was getting the message loud and clear...except that this was meant to be my final post for the Fantastical Food Fight. So, come hell or high water, I was making - and posting - a darn red velvet cake. Or was I!??

When I refer to Red Velvet as my 'Moby Dick, it's because success with that cake has eluded me for years; I have never successfully made a red velvet cake. Never. Not once. Mainly because I refuse to use a bottle of  (chemical) food dye that appears in many recipes. Use beet puree, they said. Tried that and it made a pink-tinged cake. Tasty, but not red. Use alkalized cocoa powder with vinegar, someone else suggested. That didn't work...the cake was as brown as could be. Not even a hint of red.

I decided to wave the white flag and use food dye for this cake. But I wanted to use natural food dye and that is always a little problematic or really just unpredictable. Last week was Valentines' and, in preparation for that, I made some Iced Sugar Cookie Hearts. Look! Just a few drops of red dye made with beets and they were a bright pink.

Then I left the bottle on the counter and the sun hit it all day. I told you it was made with beets, right? The next day I used the exact same bottle of dye for a cookie encore and it had turned purple! They were still pretty, but they weren't pink.

I read an article about how Red Velvet is a cake from the 1950s that is moist and mildly chocolatey. So I decided to go with that. So, I bought a new natural red dye for this project! And, in the batter, it seemed red. Red enough anyway. But I was foiled...

When my cake faded to a pale pink, I thought that the heat from the baking process was to blame. I opted to dye the cream cheese frosting red instead!

As I was beating in the coloring, I caught the cord of my hand mixer on fire. So, I threw it out the front door and ended up with a pale, pale, pale red cake with pale, pale, pale red frosting.

You can call it 'pink'! I think I've finally accepted that, as my Precise Kitchen Elf explained to me, "Red Velvet isn't your thing."

Ingredients makes a two 9" layer cake

  • 12 ounces flour
  • 14 ounces organic granulated sugar
  • 2 T cocoa powder (I used 1 T regular cocoa powder and 1 T black onyx cocoa powder)
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 C oil (I used canola)
  • 1 C buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • 6 T melted butter, slightly cooled
  • 1 t pure cocoa extract
  • 1 T red food dye (I used a radish-based red this time)
  • Also needed: two 9" baking pans, parchment paper

  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 16 ounces butter, softened
  • 1/2 t pure cocoa extract
  • 4 C organic powdered sugar
  • red food dye, as needed (I used a radish-based red this time)


Let all of your cold ingredients from to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two 9" cake pans with parchment paper. 

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, oil, buttermilk, vinegar, melted butter, and cocoa extract. Fold in the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda and whisk until just combined. Stir in the food dye.

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake for about 38 to 40 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for five minutes before inverting. Let cool on a wire rack completely before frosting.

Place softened butter and cream cheese into a large mixing bowl and beat on low until completely smooth. Add in the cocoa extract and the powdered sugar. Add sugar 1 C at a time until fully incorporated and without lumps.

Add food dye until desired color...or until your hand mixer cord sets on fire and you can't use it anymore! No, that's just a note to myself. I hope that doesn't happen to you.

Place one cake layers on your serving platter and scoop a generous layer of frosting on the top. Smooth to the edges and place the second cake layer on top.

Frost the sides and top, then refrigerate the cake so the frosting will set. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve.

There you have it. My Pale, Pale, Pale Red Velvet Layer Cake That Almost Wasn't. "More chocolate next time, Mom," suggested one. I doubt she's ever going to make Red Velvet again, observed the other. We'll see. 

This certainly didn't turn out as I had planned, but I couldn't let the final Fantastical Food Fight go without attempting a cake. Thanks for all the fun, Sarah, and good luck with your Masters program!


  1. Totally loved through reading this post. I had a similar experience for this challenge, but a little different too.. I am too worried about using one whole bottle of synthetic color. I made mine last night and the stain is still on my fingers! I have tried baking with beets and it did turn out beautifully. Just that you need to grind the beets in the water it is cooked and minimally, so that you retain maximum redness. All the best for the next time in case if there are any more chances to be taken... :)

  2. I had wondered if you used the Adams natural colors in this but I see it is another brand. The irony of it would have been that Adams was the company (or so it is said) that got the idea of using red dyes in the cake to sell a lot of food dye way back when- which is a haha in itself. But even if it looks like a strawberry cake or so, I imagine it tastes spot on, even if the kids are jonesing for something more dark chocolate. Maybe a dark chocolate event is in order for somewhere? Glad you made it in for the final FFF.

  3. Pink velvet or not - you sure gave this one 350%!! It looks delicious!

  4. Pink velvet is nice too.....Sorry you had such a rough time. Mine wasn't too red either, more chocolate than dye I guess.

  5. Love it! I am not a fan of red velvet cake because of the red food coloring - it's so overpowering! I didn't even think of using beets - and I'm intrigued that it turned purple :) That's fascinating. Your "red" velvet cake turned out beautifully! Looks super yummy! Thanks for joining in for the last Food Fight and for the well wishes for my schooling!


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