Red Velvet Bars With No Artificial Color


Red velvet cake is beautiful, isn’t it? Those cupcakes piled high with cream cheese frosting are some of my favorites, if for no other reason than they’re gorgeous.


Have you ever made a red velvet cake though? The amount of food coloring most recipes call for is slightly alarming, in my opinion. We don’t have a pristine, completely dye-free diet around here, I know, but still… I’d just as soon NOT dump an entire bottle of red food coloring into my batter.


The beets in our CSA got me thinking, though. The color was so deep, so intense, so lush. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of their flavor (though my husband and sister both like them), but the color was intriguing.


I boiled some up (though roasting works just fine too), and pureed the heck out of them. Once that had cooled, I got to work.


This recipe is a balancing act. There’s some chemistry involved. There’s also the fact that, if you add too little cocoa powder, you won’t taste the chocolate; if you add too much, you lose the color. I was also a little worried that the beet flavor was going to shine through, so I went heavy on the vanilla. We like vanilla (as do most people, really), so I think I was a good choice. If you’re not a fan, you could always scale back on that.


The batter was lovely:


I worried that it would lose its luster as it baked. Happily, it stayed pretty red and lush as I pulled it from the oven:


I whipped up a quick buttercream, because I didn’t have any cream cheese, and it was very tasty. Next time, I’ll probably make a cream cheese frosting, but this simple buttercream was perfectly yummy, too.


And here they are again:


Yum, right?


So let’s get baking…




(for bars)

1/2 cup pureed boiled or roasted beets, cooled

1 cup white sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 scant tablespoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 cup flour (I used unbleached all-purpose; shoot for something LIGHT, if not white, here.)


(for buttercream)

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk



Preheat oven to 350. Mix together pureed beets, sugar, milk, and egg in a large bowl. Add baking powder, salt, and vanilla. Stir in cocoa powder, then slowly mix in flour. Pour batter into greased 8″- or 9″-square baking pan. Bake for 18 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.


For buttercream, beat butter, sugar, and milk for three minutes until perfectly smooth and fluffy. Use spatula to spread in even, thick layer over bars.


I like to keep these in the fridge this time of year; in winter, I might not bother.


These have a dense, cake-like consistency and have a sweet, mild chocolate taste. They do NOT taste like beets… but they sure do have the color!

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