Thursday, February 14

All-Natural Red Velvet Brownies

For Valentine's Day, I thought I would share with you my recipe for all-natural red velvet brownies.

It all started with a pin, you see. Someone had the idea to make red velvet cheesecake brownies. What a delightful spin on red velvet cake! Being a brownie aficionado, of course I had to try it. But I was annoyed with how much artificial food coloring was in the recipe--a full 1 1/2 teaspoons! I decided I could do better than that, and began looking into the origins of red velvet cake to see what made them red to begin with.

Apparently back in the days when unprocessed cocoa powder was readily available, one could add an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk or lemon juice to a cake recipe that would prevent the cocoa from browning in the oven and make it turn red instead. But now that pretty much all cocoa is Dutch processed, that trick no longer works, so people started using food coloring instead. Cake Mama cited an article in one of her cookbooks that stated that the typical modern red velvet cake uses so much artificial food coloring that it actually changes the flavor of the cake, and it is that flavor that people seek out when they desire red velvet cake. Disturbing, no? Bet you didn't realize you were eating artificial-food-coloring-flavored cake.

So what can we do about this artificial food coloring dilemma? Because if you know me, you know that we're trying to be as close to all-natural with our diets as we can. Well, we can special order an all-natural red food coloring, but I wanted the ingredients in my recipe to be a bit more accessible than that (you never know when an emergency might arise when you need red velvet brownies immediately!).

I elected instead to use pureed beets to "dye" the brownies red. Now don't run away yet--I had several people taste test this recipe for my who said they couldn't taste the beets. But they do a good job of giving the brownies a nice reddish hue. They aren't as red as the brownies in the pin, but it's the closest I could get without resorting to food coloring.

Your best bet for bringing out the red in the brownies is if you use unprocessed cocoa powder (I used Hershey's natural unsweetened cocoa powder). Acid is the key to keep the brownies from "browning" and staying red, and Dutch processed cocoa is usually processed with alkali, which will thwart your efforts for a nice, red color. I also added lemon juice to this recipe to help counteract the "browning" process, but again, it works better with unprocessed cocoa.

All-Natural Red Velvet Brownies
Red Velvet Batter
3/4 cup unsweetened, non-Dutch processed cocoa powder

1 (15-oz) can sliced beats
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Batter
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/3 cup raw sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan.

2. Puree beats in a food processor. Add cocoa and vanilla and mix until smooth. Pour into a bowl and whisk in sugar until fully incorporated.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour and salt. Add to liquid mixture and mix with wooden spoon until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan.
4. To prepare cream cheese mixture, beat cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until smooth.
5. Distribute the cream cheese mixture in dollops over batter in the pan. Swirl in with a knife or spatula.
6. Bake until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Move brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Yield: 24 brownies Calories per serving: 160 per brownie

Happy Valentine's Day!

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