I love an excuse to try a new recipe, really I do… but when my good friend Jenny raved about a red velvet cake with made with beets, I made lots of funny faces – until I realized she was serious. Not to mention that it was her birthday, so I couldn’t possibly say no!

Jenny has been on a quest to get healthier and as her workout partner, I figured I had to oblige her request for a lighter version of this quintessential southern cake (after all she could only save up so many Weight Watchers points!)

The recipe comes from Spotted Salamander Catering in Columbia, SC who introduced Jenny to beet red velvet cupcakes at one of her recent couponing workshops. They kindly shared their recipe, so I set out to recreate it and hopefully not fail at my first encounter with beets.

I had two initial observations. (#1) Fresh beets turn everything fuschia and (#2) they smell remarkably like dirt. No worries, that must mean they are filled with antioxidants and vitamins and stuff, right? Now I know where the phrase “beet red” comes from, just be sure to wear appropriately colored clothing!

As I always do when trying a new recipe, I did some pre-baking research and found lots of details and variations of beet red velvet cake. This post in particular highlighted the effect of pH on the color of the final cake and the chemical engineering nerd in me couldn’t resist an experiment of my own. Beets are naturally red from betalains, compounds whose color is very sensitive to temperature, pH and moisture.

The original recipe from Spotted Salamander really only made enough for one 9″ round cake pan, so I made two layers exactly the same way, but added lemon juice (1/4 c.) to one to see if it resulted in a brighter red cake. (if you stare at the picture below long enough you’ll notice the top layer is darker brown and the bottom layer with lemon juice retained a more reddish tone.. too bad I didn’t have any litmus paper on hand!)

The icing on the cake (heh) is that I reserved some of the beet juice to tint the cream cheese icing on the cake. No Red #40 here!  When I’m piping words I like to print out the size and spacing of the text as a guide and then freehand it. This font is Minya Nouvelle for anyone interested.

Beet Colored Frosting

And of course you need the action shot of the birthday girl blowing out quite a few glowing candles :) The cake was really delicious and thankfully didn’t taste (or smell) like beets at all!

Here’s the full recipe from the Spotted Salamander with my notes added in blue:

Update: If you’d like to know more about the science and history of Red Velvet Cake, check out my guest post on ChEnected.

As it turns out, you can have your cake and eat your beets too!