Red velvet is chocolate cake. Did you know that? It seems that most people don't. The vibrant red cake served in certain chain coffee shops across the country is very often light on cocoa and heavy on colouring. Why? Because it's name says it's red so therefore red it must be.
To achieve such a striking colour takes a significant amount of food colouring - particularly when used in what is essentially a sour cream chocolate cake. The legal limit for food colouring is just 3g per 1kg of cake or icing. And yet many red velvet recipes (including the one from the Hummingbird Bakery) call for a whole bottle to be added to the recipe. Depending on brand, this could be anywhere between 10g and 25g of colouring!
Image copyright: The Hummingbird Bakery
The ingredients list of one of the brands I use for colouring red gumpaste roses is thus:
Vegetable Glycerine E422, Mono Propylene Glycol E1520, Water, Ponceau 4R E124, Allura Red E129. E124 & E129
Sounds nice, doesn't it? I was always told as a rule of thumb to try to avoid eating stuff I don't know what it's made of. So I'd be okay with the water and vegetable glycerine just about but after that... And this can seriously affect the flavour of the cake too. Particularly when it reacts with other ingredients in a chocolate cake (the cocoa and buttermilk) or when copious amounts are added to a delicately scented vanilla sponge.
Red velvet cake first came about in the US in the Victorian era (source Wikipedia). The velvet texture was achieved in a chocolate cake through the use of cocoa rather than chocolate. During the war, when sugar was a hard commodity to come by, people started using beetroot to add flavour and moisture to cakes and so the red colour started to appear. In addition, traditional methods of processing cocoa in the US meant the chemical reaction deepened the red flavour. Today (and particularly in the UK where we use cocoa that is not processed in the same way) the red colour is achieved through the use of food colouring.
As I'm not a fan of the sour-chocolatey taste of the cake and nor do I like adding more than legally allowed amounts of food colouring to my cakes, I am therefore removing red velvet as an option for your cakes. I hope you understand. Or, if you love red velvet that much and appreciate it won't be ruby-red but have that velvety chocolate flavour, I will ask you to confirm this at the time of booking.
Given that there are so many great natural flavours out there, I'm sure we can find a solution.
Many thanks for your understanding.