The All-Natural Red Velvety Strawberry Cake

A most unique red velvet cake.
A most unique red velvet cake.

Admittedly, the hoopla over red velvet cake has always left me perplexed.

Sure, the dramatic color captures your fancy — for a hot second.

Then, as quickly, reality tells you that’s all due to red food coloring. At which point, I say, “Pass me a wedge of all-real devil’s food cake instead.”

“Red Velvety Strawberry Cake,” though, sparked a far different reaction.

It had me all in from the get-go.

Nope, no artificial anything in this stunning cake. No food coloring whatsoever — only an entire bottle of red wine.

And if that doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will.

Now, that my friends, is a cake.
Now, that my friends, is a cake.

To be fair, this cake doesn’t possess that vivid maroon you expect from red velvet. Instead, the wine, which first gets reduced before being added into the batter, adds the merest bit of rosiness to the dark chocolate-colored cake. The wine (I used a Pinot Noir) also adds a touch of acidity to balance out all the sweetness.

This imaginative cake is from the cookbook Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook” (Clarkson Potter) by New York celeb chef Alex Guarnaschelli, well known for her turns on TV’s “Iron Chef America” and “Chopped.”

The batter has the requisite cocoa powder and buttermilk of a red velvet that give it plenty of deep chocolate flavor and wonderful moistness.

This cake gets its showiness from the diced fresh strawberries plus freeze-dried strawberries along with a splash of red wine vinegar that are folded into a cream cheese frosting. As a result, the otherwise white cream cheese frosting gains striations of pink through and through from the fruit that’s mixed in.

The baked cake layers.
The baked cake layers.

It pays to frost this cake quickly, as the diced fresh strawberries will exude more and more juice as time goes by, turning the frosting softer and looser.

Freeze-dried strawberries from Trader Joe's.
Freeze-dried strawberries from Trader Joe’s.

If need be, frost the entire cake, then refrigerate it for close to 1 hour to let the frosting set up slightly again before serving. That’s a tip I added to the recipe below.

Mixing the fresh and freeze-dried strawberries into the cream cheese frosting.
Mixing the fresh and freeze-dried strawberries into the cream cheese frosting.

Just before serving, the top of the cake gets decorated with some of the freeze-dried strawberries. The original recipe said to hold back 1/4 cup for decorating. I decided to save 1/3 cup to be sure I had plenty to dot the top with.

“Red Velvety Strawberry Cake” is very rich tasting, super chocolatey, and done up to the hilt with a sweet, tangy, berry-licious, creamy frosting.

Pretty in pink against dramatic dark chocolate.
Pretty in pink against dramatic dark chocolate.

This is a cake that will definitely make guests go “Wow!”

And not miss red food coloring in the least.

Moist and rich tasting in every bite.
Moist and rich tasting in every bite.

Red Velvety Strawberry Cake

(Serves 10 to 12)

For the cake:

1 (750ml) bottle inexpensive fruity red wine, such as Merlot or Pinot Noir

1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus 2 tablespoons at room temperature for greasing pans

2 cups packed dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 cup buttermilk

For the frosting:

18 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and finely chopped

3 (1.2 ounce) packages freeze-dried strawberries (2 1/2 to 3 cups)

Reduce the red wine: In a medium saucepan, simmer the red wine over medium heat until it has reduced by about two-thirds to about 1 1/2 cups, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Thoroughly grease the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch cake pans with the 2 tablespoons butter.

Start the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the 1 3/4 cups (3 1/2 sticks) butter with the brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and vanilla on medium speed to combine, 3 to 4 minutes. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is fluffy, another 5 to 8 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one by one, beating until each one is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Finish the batter: In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and cocoa powder. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture, the buttermilk, and the reduced red wine, starting and ending with the flour mixture and using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Do not overmix.

Bake the cake: Divide the batter evenly between the buttered cake pans, smoothing out the tops with a spatula. Place the pans in the oven on the center rack and bake until the tip of a small knife inserted into the center of each cake emerges clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pans and then unmold them onto a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Let them cool for at least 30 additional minutes.

Make the frosting: In a large bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, vinegar, and confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Gently fold in the fresh strawberries and all but one-fourth to one-third cup of the freeze-dried strawberries.

Assemble the cake: Place one cake layer on a flat surface. Frost the top and sides with a scant half of the frosting. Top the first layer squarely with the second one, and gently press the two layers together. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. If the frosting has turned runny by this point, refrigerate the frosted cake for about 1 hour. Then, sprinkle the cake with the remaining freeze-dried strawberries. Serve immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days. (If refrigerating for a long period, let the cake stand at room temperature for 2 hours and up to 6 hours before slicing and serving; and wait until just before slicing to sprinkle it with the remaining freeze-dried strawberries so that they stay crisp.)

Adapted from “Cook with Me” by Alex Guarnaschelli

More Alex Guarnaschelli Recipes to Enjoy: Cherry Almond Cookies

And: Cheese Focaccia

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  • About the frosting recipe, is it 1 eight ounce block of cream cheese, or actually 18 ounces of cream cheese? 18 ounces sounds like a lot.
    I am looking forward to trying this recipe. It sounds amazing. Thank you!

  • Hi Denise: It is indeed 18 ounces. It is a lot of cream cheese, but it’s a sizeable cake. Hope you enjoy it. It’s a fun and decadent cake. Happy baking!

  • Are the freeze dried strawberries sliced or whole? Looks sliced but doesn’t specify. Thanks!

  • Hi Charles: The ones I used were sliced freeze-dried strawberries. I got them from Trader Joe’s. Happy baking!

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