Red Velvet Cake With Natural Color

I am so excited to at last share this recipe!

It all began when Rose asked for Red Velvet mini-cupcakes for her birthday party last year. We checked out all the baking books we could find from the library (this took up most of the floor space in the yurt), spent some time on various internet search engines, and made the unhappy discovery that Red Velvet cakes were an early marketing ploy of food coloring companies – previous recipes were called Auburn Velvet cakes, and relied on a tiny bit of red color created by mixing cocoa powder with sour cream and vinegar . This “red” color was very slight, more like a mildly chocolate cake than a red cake, and we gradually had to admit that a naturally colored Red Velvet cake seemed not to exist.

Of course I just assumed no one had thought of using beets, and I set to work modifying and combining several different recipes at once to use cooked, shredded beets. Rose had an anxiety attack while hovering over me in the kitchen, watching me measure things out and then add dashes of more. She likes to follow directions exactly – which is generally a good practice.

I found that the problem with beets was that the batter would turn very beautifully red, but always baked up to be a golden brown, no matter how many beets I packed into it! It tasted wonderful – very rich and buttery – but it wasn’t a Red Velvet cake. I pondered publishing my own version of Auburn Velvet Cake with beets.

Mayo Indian amaranth sprung up wild in my garden last fall, and I thought about what beautiful color it would make – so I harvested the flower heads and boiled them down into a very red dye and added that to the batter. When we put the layers into the oven, they looked so red I was sure I had found the answer at last! Unfortunately it turned out to be a less tasty version of the Auburn Velvet cake we had eaten so often already.

This spring I was making a salad with different colors of grated carrots – yellow, orange, red, and purple. I always love to grow the Black Nebula carrots from Baker Creek – first of all because they are very beautiful, secondly because they are very easy to grow, and mostly because they are one of the rare one-season carrots that go to seed here in the spring time in North Florida. Carrots are generally biennials and require two years of growing before flowering, making it difficult or impossible to grow them out for seed here as they die back in the intense summer heat. The flowers of the Black Nebula carrots are also striking and beautiful in bouquets, and are incredible attractors for beneficial insects.

As I poured a dressing of vinegar and olive oil over this multi-colored salad, I noticed the dark purple carrot shreds turning bright red, and the sparkle for yet another attempt at a red velvet cake glimmered in my eye!

It took several attempts – it is impressive how the color of these carrots reacts to pH! They turn very dark purple when exposed to something basic, and red with acid. The first attempt at using these carrots made a beautiful dark purple cake (Violet Velvet Cake?). I had to remove the baking soda and use baking powder alone to retain an acid pH in the batter to keep the red color. It was quite a fun exercise in kitchen chemistry! I spilled some of the carrot juice on my recipe journal, and it will always be easy to find as it is the page with dark purple splotches on it now.

At long last, I made a REAL, naturally-colored (and all organic and some home-grown!) Red Velvet Cake for my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day! Note: I made a half-recipe/one layer cake for the photos, so I wouldn’t kill my in-laws with cake. I usually make a double layer one though. Here is the recipe:

Naturally Colored Red Velvet Cake

2 good-sized Black Nebula carrots, grated

1 cup of water

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons flour

1 2/3 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

3 eggs

2/3 cup of sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Prepare two 9-inch cake pans with buttered parchment paper.
  2. Grate the carrots and cook down at a boil for about 10 minutes with the cup of water. Set aside to cool.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cocoa)
  4. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sour cream, vanilla, and apple cider vinegar.
  5. Add 1 cup of the liquid from the grated carrots, squeezing out the liquid to extract as much color as possible, and saving the cooked carrot shreds. Add the 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to the carrot juice, and watch it turn red!
  6. Mix the carrot juice in with the sour cream and eggs. Add 1 cup of the cooked carrot shreds.
  7. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir well to mix. Pour into cake pans and bake at 350F for about 25-30 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Cool before removing from pans.
Yay!!! Red!!! And tasty too.


The classic Red Velvet frosting is Ermine frosting, or boiled milk frosting. I have to say, it is a very tasty frosting and pretty easy to make. I do buy maple sugar for it – a natural sugar that has a light color so the frosting will turn out the usual attractive white. You can also use plain white sugar, if you don’t mind that.

1 cup maple sugar

5 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 cup softened butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

  1. Whisk sugar, flour, salt and milk together in a sauce pan, and cook over low heat until the mixture is thickened. The whisk should leave little lines in it for a moment when you are stirring it – sort of light pudding texture. Stir it constantly, and keep the heat low!
  2. Cool completely.
  3. Either in a standing mixer or with beaters, beat up the butter until fluffy. Add a spoonful of the pudding mixture at a time and beat in well. It becomes creamy and white. Beat in the vanilla last of all. It is helpful to chill the frosting before frosting a cake with it – it behaves itself better.
Decorated with homegrown blueberries and borage flowers!

I lost the sunlight here at the end of the day, but you can see the beautiful color still!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. John Sobol says:

    Now that looks tremendous!!

    Great job and glad your helper like’s, to follow directions. As noted sometimes we must go off trail to find the beauty in many things of life.

    Love to all, John and Laurie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Very true, and well said. Love to all you guys too.


  2. Thanks so much for the recipes. I have often wondered about food colouring & hence very rarely used it. The cake looks so gorgeous & fun.


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