Can I Leave Out the Red Food Coloring In My Red Velvet Cake?

Discussion in 'Pastries & Baking' started by bumblebee, Jul 8, 2010.

  1. bumblebee

    bumblebee

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    I have a favorite red velvet cake and frosting recipe. I'm curious if there's any purpose for the red food coloring other than the appearance. I'd like leave it but not sure if it plays a part in the baking process.
     
  2. gunnar

    gunnar

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    I doubt the food coloring has any impact on the baking process. And bless you for taking out the food coloring, for some reason red velvet cake irritates me. It's like a waste of good chocolate cake.
     
  3. siduri

    siduri

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    Can't possibly have an effect on the cake.  I never understood why a chocolate cake should be red.  I want my chocolate brown!  Chocolate velvet cake. 

    I never had or saw a red velvet cake - why is it red, what is the point?  Does it look tastier?  there must be a reason.
     
  4. chefross

    chefross

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    Because originally the cake was made with beets giving it a reddish color.
     
  5. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Originally Posted by Chefross  
    Nope.  Not even close. 

    In the old days, before "Dutch processed" cocoa and when clabbered milk and baking soda were used as the leavening agents, the leaveners would react with the cocoa making it (wait for it) red.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2010
  6. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    That's one possibility, BDL.

    But colored cakes, as Stephanie Jolly notes in her article about the history of Red Velvet Cake (http://baking-decorating-cakes.suite101.com/article.cfm/origins_of_red_velvet_cake), go back at least to the 19th century, and there are several ways the red color can be produced.

    The fact is, however, that red food coloring seems to be a relative Johnny come lately among them.

    All that aside, Bumblebee, the addition of food coloring is strictly cosmetic, and has no effect on the ingredient proportions or baking time.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2010
  7. chefedb

    chefedb

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    It would not have any taste effect. However people eat with smell ,taste, and sight I am sure they would look at you like you are crazy because it is not what they are used to seeing. Would you want Chicken a la king in a red colored bechamel sauce?
     
  8. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    KY,

    Thanks for the reference.  I looked at Jolly's article and it appears her sources (Beard, McGee, et al) and I are pretty much in agreement about how cocoa, before the days of Dutch processing, would react with other ingredients to appear red.  

    In fact, the one early reference she uses to support the hypothesis that food coloring may have been used, The Perry Home Cook Book (1920), contained a recipe for a red, chocolate, devils-food (Red Philadelphia) cake which did not call for food coloring, and a recipe for a different cake which did.  Jolly sees that as evidence that food coloring was used to tint cakes for purely aesthetic purposes.  The paragraph is ambiguous and it's unclear whether Jolly actually speculates that it may have been used in red-velvet cake or not. 

    However, the obvious reading is that if food coloring went into red-velvet cake, the nice ladies of Perry, Kansas who wrote the darn book would have said so.  Furthermore, when all is said and done, Jolly's article strongly supports the explanation I gave.  It also discounts the possibility that beets may have been involved in the color.

    But whatever. 

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2010
  9. bumblebee

    bumblebee

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    If I leave out the red coloring I'm guessing the cake will only be light brown as this recipe only calls for 2 tbsp. of dry unsweeteened cocoa. Might be an interesting experiment to see people's reaction......I'd have to then rename it I suppose.

    Tan Velvet Cake....no

    Khaki Velvet Cake...no

    Beige Velvet Cake...no

    hummmmmmmmmmmmm....
     
  10. siduri

    siduri

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    With only two tbsp of cocoa, Bumblebee, I would be concerned about the taste! 
     
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    would react with other ingredients to appear red.  

    Maybe my response was ambiguous, BDL. I wasn't disagreeing with you, just the opposite.

    What I meant was that baking soda was one of the agents that reacted, but there are others as well. Beets are an unlikely explanation at best---but its more nostolgic; you know, the romance of deprivation during the big war.

    Food coloring really came into its own, in Red Velvet, after WWII, and, I believe, can be pretty much discounted as an original coloring agent.
     
  12. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Originally Posted by KYHeirloomer  
    Probably me. 

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2010
  13. chefross

    chefross

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    Here's some history on the cake from Wikipedia:

    Red velvet cake  is a cake  with a dark red, bright red or red-brown color. It is usually prepared as a layer cake somewhere between chocolate and vanilla in flavor, topped with a creamy white icing. Common ingredients are buttermilk, butter, flour, cocoa, and red food coloring  or beetroot; although beetroot is traditionally used, many prefer food coloring since it is seen as more appealing.

    James Beard's 1972 reference American Cookery[2]  describes three red velvet cakes varying in the amounts of shortening and butter. All use red food coloring, but the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin  in the cocoa. Before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and similar names for chocolate cakes.[3][1]

    While foods were rationed  during World War II, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture.
     
  14. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Chef Ross,

    Please do not take offense.  Your argument with my post is not well taken,   My post was very clearly pointed to your claim that beets were the original source for the red color of red velvet cake. 

    As I quoted the relevant portion of your one sentence post which unambiguously referred to how the cake was "originally" made, a fair reader will conclude it was not likely I was confused or misread you in any way.  

    Please note I neither said not implied that beets were not ever used to to make red velvet cake red; also that my response was limited to discussing the origins of the dessert.  Furthermore, the Beard article you extensively cited not only supports my contention and contraverts yours, but also implies that, whatever their current popularity, beets were not commonly used until the sugar rationing days of WWII.

    I sincerely hope our discussion here, which has become more about us than the subject itself, is not off-putting to those who might otherwise be interested in the topic. 

    Again, nothing personal here.  All references are to the ideas only.

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2010
  15. siduri

    siduri

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    A side question- would beets actually make the cake red?  Beets react with substances that turn them blue, for instance, and anyway, the color of beets is more of a purple rather than what red food coloring would look like. 

    Also once i tried a making a beet chocolate cake (looked interesting - wasn't) and i don't remember any particular redness - though it was a long time ago so i may be wrong.  I imagine it was put there for its moisture rather than color (other than darkening the batter somewhat).
     
  16. philosophos

    philosophos

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    Very good question.

    This should tell you at least part of what you want to know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betanin

    And this is handy too: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119662962/abstract

    At the center of the cake you'd probably be looking at 100C for 30 minutes no problem. Even twice or three times over though, it's just not going to be enough to kill all of the red. pH wouldn't kill it either; as KYH's link points out, the red in red velvet may have come from the pH sitting around 4.5-5.5 (for toying with anthocyanin and color change: http://www.chemie.uni-regensburg.de/Organische_Chemie/Didaktik/Keusch/p26_anth-e.htm).

    Now what I'd like to know is the thermal degradation rate of anthocyanin phrased in a similar way as the betanin. There's lots of sources, but they express things quite differently.
     
  17. chefross

    chefross

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    You are right that this is more about getting the right information than anything else. I am not offended in the least but will admit that I too have learned something about this.

    I have no formal documented proof to back up my statement other than the notes I took in culinary school back in the 70's.

    My instructor was a no nonsense German pastry Chef who gave us this information.

    Perhaps, at the time, he too, was looking at it from the perspective that since sugar was scarce and a sweetening was needed, sugar beets came into use.

    This use fell out of favor as sugar became more available.

    So it is, in a sense, both true about the use of beets and also true about the chemical reaction between the buttermilk, vinegar, and baking soda.

    Is it possible that the use of red food coloring came as a result of dislike for beets, in any form....?

    Thanks for you wisdom and professional manner.
     
  18. siduri

    siduri

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    I don't know - sugar beets are white not red.  So that doesn't seem like an explanation. 
     
  19. ishbel

    ishbel

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    All I can say, is..... as a foreigner, the idea of eating a 'red' cake which purports to be CHOCOLATE.

    Blech!
     
  20. danbrown

    danbrown

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    Arguing about the origins of a lousy practice is silly.  Food coloring is not an valuable ingredient, as it only disguises what you are actually doing, or fixes an error in preparation.  Either way, it's dishonest.