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12 Feb 2010

And it was that the four Velveteers were born

Who are we? A new secret gastronomical order equivalent to the Illuminati? Can’t really answer that, unless you pass your initiation ordeal. What's our purpose apart from messing up our kitchens? Work together around a theme, a recipe; explore its different sides shone by our different cultures and life stories. Who are we? Aren’t you curious! Oh well, since secrecy doesn’t really exist in the virtual world (let alone the real one) here we go: Aparna, Asha, Pamela and me.
The first challenge was to create a Red Velvet Cake preferably using only natural colorings; that is why Pam came up with the Velveteers nickname.
Recipes for this cake often call for the use of two entire bottles of artificial coloring (that might indeed produce such a red cake that will be worth serving to Santa Claus). There aren`t really many vegetarian ingredients characterized by a bright red, enough intense and stable to heat to act as coloring in baking.
The first to come to mind are indeed red beets. Who hasn't had his/her fingers or tablecloth stained by these roots? Other red things are actually fruits; namely strawberries, raspberries, peppers, tomatoes, pomegranate etc. My job was that of trying the raspberries. Easy job you might think, until you realize how sour they are. Yes we use sugar to cover it up; exactly COVER it up. Sugar doesn't make raspberry puree any less acid (in other words more alkaline); our gustatory papillae simply don't perceive the sourness that much under the great sweetness. My task was then to balance this acidity with the alkaline ingredients already present in the recipe.
Here we go hands at my old chemistry book to look for pH definition and example of use; Google from its side provided me with the relative pH for each of the aforementioned ingredient. So hands at pencil and papers or rather keyboard and Notepad document to try and solving the riddle.

Few ingredients found commonly in baking along with their pH values.
Ingredient pH
Baking Soda 8.2
Buttermilk 4.41-4.83 (4.62)
Dutch Cocoa 7.0
Milk 6.6
Normal Cocoa 5.8
Raspberry Purée 3.3
Vinegar 2.4

It took me roughly 2 days of work before getting to realistic values (you can't have a negative amount of cocoa added to a cake, can you?). The mistakes were a few, namely the balance of pH and pOH and forgotten important ingredients from the original recipe.
So let's start from the beginning, why this entire rattle? Acidity (the pH) of a cake batter influences protein coagulation: the more acidic it is, the faster the coagulation. This means that the more the cake has a lower pH (the more acidic it is), the less time it will have to leaven in the oven before the protein matrix could set (cook). I should add that protein coagulated in an acidic environment usually produce a softer matrix: the cake will be more crumbly.
Despite the variety of acidic food that a cook has at its disposal, the alkaline ones are not as many (furthermore they often have a repulsive soapy taste); the only reliable one is baking soda (still soapy but effective). In chocolate cake you may also count on Dutch processed cocoa which is quite more alkaline than normal cocoa (that makes it reddish in color).
This is the ingredient list from the original recipe ingredients list taken from The Joy of Baking website

Original Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (250 grams) sifted cake flour;
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt;
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder;
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature;
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar;
  • 2 large eggs;
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract;
  • 1 cup (240 ml) buttermilk;
  • 2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring;
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar;
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda.
From these, the ingredients that will mostly influence the final pH are: the Dutch cocoa, the buttermilk, the vinegar and the baking soda. Being the raspberries sour by themselves, I tried to substitute the vinegar with them and, since they are still more alkaline than vinegar, I dropped the baking soda from the calculation.
Vinegar and baking soda in this recipe do not work only as pH regulators, but they produce gas (CO2) that will help the cake leaven; this means that I have to add a little bit of baking powder to the mixture (not much since the cocoa and the raspberries will still produce CO2).
So here you have my recipe for the:

Raspberries Red Velvet Cake


  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature;
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar;
  • 2 1/2 cups (250 grams) sifted flour;
  • 9g baking powder;
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt;
  • 2 tablespoons (15 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder;
  • 2 large eggs;
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract;
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) milk;
  • 120g seedless raspberry puree.
If the eggs are right out of the fridge, put them in a glass or bowl covered with warm water; allow them to come to room temperature for 15-20min before using.
Cut the butter in small cubes and put them in the bowl of a mixer equipped with the paddle attachment and start whipping it. It may take a while to get it fluffy, so you will have to free the paddle from the butter and scrape the bowl every now and then. Little by little, add the sugar to the butter waiting for it to become fluffy again before adding some more sugar.
In the meantime mix together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder; to do so it is sufficient to use a whisk and work the mixture for 30s at least.
Warm up your oven to 180C and butter and flour a springform. This batter though, is enough to make 2 separate layers.
When the sugar will all be incorporated add the first egg and allow the mixture to come together before adding the second; whip it then for 1-2 minutes longer. Little by little (proceed like you were doing a mayonnaise) add the milk. Now, at the lowest speed available on your mixer, add alternating the raspberry puree and the flour mixture in 2-3 times. Before the second addition of flour, delicately scrape the bottom of the bowl properly, to assure a uniform mixing.
Pour the batter into the buttered and floured springform levelling the top. Drop the cake tin on a hard surface (but not brittle) from a 10cm height or so, so to eliminate any big air bubbles trapped within.
Cook in the oven for 30minutes or so, until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake won’t come out clean. Once of the oven drop again the cake from a 10cm height. This will prevent it from collapsing as it is cooling down. If you want to know why, just ask…

I baked my cake in a single glorious 4cm high 24cm wide wheel and it took roughly 40min.
The result? When still warm, it is fluffy like clouds; absolutely delicious! It has a brown-purplish hue sort of milk chocolate with some purple hues. The hints of raspberries are simply perfect. When cold, the cake cuts itself pretty easily and clean (better if a day old).
Since I found this recipe a bit too sweet, I wouldn’t put frosting on it; at most I would company it with some cream cheese diluted with a bit of milk or cream. The creamy tanginess of pure cream cheese balances very well the sweetness of this cake.

As concerning the colour, I was hoping for more of a mahogany hue; so next time I will try doubling the quantities of cocoa and raspberries (adding some baking soda probably).

All considered, I may declare this a success! Why not gifting it to your special one?

And now, let's see what the other three Velveteers have come up with:

  • Aparna used red beets making delicious eggless red velvet cupcakes;
  • Asha used also raspberries for her Valentine's red velvet cake;
  • Pamela also used red beets for her heart shaped cake.


  1. Wow! Too cool! Chemistry has kinda lost me. LOL! Your RVC turns out great! Hub asked me why didn't I try raspberries instead, that way at least get some taste of it in the cake. :) LOL!

  2. @C.Ninja: I kinda liked the texture of the result, the taste must be improved though. Totally understand hub ;)

  3. Love the chemistry lesson!!:)) Fantastic creation.. Perfect fit for a Valentine ;-)) So whoz it gonna be?????!!!! Tell Tell!

  4. @Asha To tell you the truth, we will be in 3: Me, Myself and I LOL :P

  5. Ha, ha. Like the Gastronomic Illuminati bit, makes us sound very............ (you know!) LOL

    Your cake looks gorgeous. Now I understand yur spending the better part of your day getting pics. Wish we got raspberries here. :(

    Really good chemistry lesson there. And thanks for correcting my chemistry too.

    Btw, Me, myself and I sounds good. Don't have to share the goodies with anyone!
    Looking forward to the next one.

  6. Back to the books Alessioooooooooo...what fun! Love the molecular gastronomy turrial, though the Ph goes right over the top of my head. Coincidentally, I made a red roll cake yesterday, but used a tbsp of food colour. I've dreamt RVC for too long, and finally found a recipe that used just 1 tbsps as compared to bottles of colour. Next time will try the beet way!
    You've done brilliantly. Love it!!

  7. Brilliant--all four posts have really inspired me and it's nice to see you each take a different take on things. What is that jelly-heart outside your cake, though? So interesting looking! Also, are you using floor tiles in the photos? Very clever.

  8. @Aparna: To be real Illuminati now we need to create our brands :P

    @Deeba: Pam's beet version of RVC does look great! I will experiment with this for a while trying to get the right intense colour ;) (though raspberries are expensive lol)

    @Sarah: Sarah you are right, sorry :P didn't mention the jelly things. They are simple raspberry purée jelled with agar. The tiles are not actually floor tiles but slate plates used as tray ;) Cute no? :D

  9. I love the science bit! I was wondering about the jelly too but pleased to see you have explained above. You got it in a really neat shape.

  10. Wow - not only food p0rn, but making my brain work too!! Interesting chemistry lesson (we forget how much of baking is actually down to chemistry!) and GORGEOUS red velvet cakes!