Medium Rare Cake – AKA High Altitude Subtle Red Velvet without Dyes

Medium Rare Cake – AKA High Altitude Subtle Red Velvet without Dyes

Red Velvet Cake

Noel requested red velvet cake for Valentine’s Day this year. Now there’s just one little problem I have with red velvet cake: the insane amount of red food dye most recipes call for. I was engrossed in researching cakes made with beets when Noel looked over my shoulder and interjected, “I’d rather have a good tasting cake that wasn’t red.” So, we turned to one of our trusted food blogs, Smitten Kitchen. I love Smitten Kitchen and have made maybe only one recipe of hers that was less than exquisitely delicious. Her only shortcoming is that she, like 99% of the other exceptional cooks in this world, lives at sea level which can lead to complications when you’re using some of her recipes at a mile high. With the help of one of my favorite local cookbooks, I tweaked the recipe a bit and then subbed water for the exorbitant amount of food coloring. I  couldn’t have been happier with the results.


Slice of Cake

I had read that originally red velvet cake was red because of the chemical reaction created by the vinegar used in the cake and was delighted to discover that this cake did take on a red hue. Noel jokingly kept referring to the cake as “Medium Rare” since it was brown on the edges and red in the middle. If you’re looking for a subtle red velvet cake, I highly recommend this one.

Cooper now believes in “smiling” for pictures.


Little Red
Ellen in her festive V-day outfit.

It even  won the approval of these silly people.

High Altitude Subtle Red Velvet Cake Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Butter (for buttering cake pans)

3 3/4 cups cake flour (Actually used this cheat for making cake flour.)

1/2 cup + 1/2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa (Not dutch process – I used raw cocoa powder from Whole Food’s Bulk bins)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 cups canola oil

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar (Measure just barely below the top of the cup.)

3 large eggs

6 1/2 tablespoons water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/4 cup + 1 1/2 TBSP buttermilk (I generally use this simple substitution.)

2 teaspoons baking soda (Measure just barely below the top of the spoon.)

2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 2 round cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides, sprinkle with flour and distribute evenly around the pan by turning it and tapping the edges.

2. Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

3. Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add water and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

4. Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

5. Divide batter among pans and turn extra into cupcakes for the little people. Place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. (About 15-20 for the cupcakes.) Let cool in pans for about 5 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap to seal in moisture. Cool an additional 15 minutes. Then remove from pans, recover with the plastic wrap, and cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter room temperature

3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl. With a handheld electric mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla. Beat, on low speed to combine. If too soft, chill until slightly stiff, about 10 minutes, before using.

Assemble the layers, adhering them together with icing. Ice with a thin layer (can use a bit of water to make the icing less thick) to trap crumbs and put in the freezer for a little bit then finish with a thicker layer. I used this technique to ice the top. Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Medium Rare Cake – AKA High Altitude Subtle Red Velvet without Dyes

  1. Your cake made me laugh! It was perfectly named! But it looks and sounds delicious. And how do you get your cute kids to smile for the camera? I’m lucky if I get even one eye looking in my direction. 🙂

  2. Just made another so called “high altitude” recipe for red velvet cakes. Awful. Didn’t taste them. They just rose up and then sunk so badly I can see the bottom of the pan! So just wondering if I tried your recipe if it would work ok for cupcakes?? I am under pressure ( 🙂 ) to get this done today for a birthday dinner tonight.

    1. I haven’t tried the recipe as cupcakes myself, but the original (not adjusted for altitude) says the recipe works well for cupcakes. Cupcake directions from Smitten Kitchen read: “The yield is approximately 35 cupcakes, with the liners filled only 3/4 of the way, and the baking time should be between 20 to 25 minutes, but check in on them 2/3 of the way through in case your oven gets the job done faster.” Good luck!

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