Richest Red Velvet Cake

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Makes one two-layer cake.


We love that dense, impossibly soft velvet crumb with a passion, but we aren't a fan of adding bottles of food coloring to our food. Monica Rogers has an excellent piece detailing the pre-dye origins of red velvet at We found that, indeed, using raw cacao powder and reduced beet dye produces a beautiful red color in the bowl and a rich mahogany-tinted cake. A sprinkle of food chemistry makes this recipe a pleasure to make, though it is more intensive than some. Inimitable vanilla-with-a-hint-of-chocolate flavor? Check. Impeccable texture? Check. New addiction? Check.


Beet dye

  • 3 large beets, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups water

For the cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) grass-fed butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao or undutched cocoa powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt


In a 2-quart saucepan, bring cubed beets and 4 cups water to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes. Remove beets and continue to simmer liquid until reduced to a little more than 1/2 cup. While the liquid is reducing, grease 2 cake pans (we used 8-inch square pans but 8- or 9-inch rounds should also produce a beautiful cake) and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper as well. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix eggs and sugars in a large bowl for 3-5 minutes on high speed until fluffy. Add butter and vanilla extract and beat until mixture is fluffed and smooth.

Place cacao powder in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup hot beet liquid and stir to a paste. Add buttermilk and combine. Stir in baking soda and salt, at which point mixture will bubble and expand. Pour into the butter mixture and beat until smooth. Add flours gradually, mixing at low speed until combined and homogeneous in color. Pour into prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (top of the cake should spring back at light pressure). Allow cakes to rest 5 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack and removing parchment paper. Cool completely, then serve as desired.


Delicious served with a cream cheese frosting or no frosting at all.