all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

Yesterday I awoke to a letter telling me I was that same girl from two autumns ago. The letter said it saw me: saw me listless, saw me trilling & giddy, saw me working to the bone. The letter was a tender apology. The night before, I’d skittered up and down the stairs, out into the frigid driveway barefoot in nothing but a slip look, look, looking for my damn phone. I needed the alarm on it. I’m trying to become a morning person, you see. Current status of that project is abject failure. I’ll keep you posted. So I skittered around looking for the phone only to finally find it tucked neatly by the detergent on the laundry room shelf. I’m also trying to do more laundry. It’s one of those ambitious weeks. Still haven’t run yet. But I did 100 lunges, and I can’t walk or sit without almost falling down. I, evidently, succeeded in breaking my legs. So there’s that. Anyhow, I found the phone, crawled beneath the covers shivering the driveway chill off, and then the phone looked at me and wailed my battery is dying! It was exactly 17 minutes before midnight, and I reached for the charger only to remember I’d left it in the living room. It was mostly downhill after that. You can read about it. Or just scroll down to the recipe link at the bottom of the post. I won’t hold it against you.

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

He was sitting on the edge of the bed about to go back down to the office to do more work (he’s a wise night owl). I looked at him, forlorn. Will you get my charger? He sighed heavily, put out. Which put me out. So I said nevermind (oh the poisonous nevermind!) and made a great display of getting it myself and see-wasn’t-that-easy. Then I crawled back into bed and silently pulled the covers over my head. Just that. What ensued was a labyrinthine conversation of what’s wrong and nothings and my feelings were hurt and can’t I just this and all of that super-happy-fun, good-times banter. Almost an hour had passed, and it was nearing one. I felt dejected, my dreams of bounding out of bed the next morning already dashed.

But then, the next morning, I awoke to a letter on that self-same bastard phone (it was, you see, all the phone’s fault. As are so many things.) He’d sent it in the middle of the night. And it said that he was sorry for sometimes being stubborn (me too), and that I’m that same girl he’d loved so dearly two autumns ago. That he loves now just as much. That I’m his first choice. Through some thick and some thin, that is where we find ourselves today. And that, dear friends, beats all the chalky chocolates, pre-ordained bouquets of stodgy roses, and romantic Valentine’s Day gestures in the world. I’ll take a spat & a genuine make up any day. When you and your partner can see your part and admit it….that is romantic.

hanging succulent

baking an all natural red velvet cake

Y75A7069.all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

We don’t observe Valentine’s Day around here. It wasn’t some decision we made or some declaration; it just bores us both, and we’re usually too busy to remember. There’s also the fact that we both have ideas of love and romance that are categorically antithetical to Valentine’s Day in its present incarnation. But then I discovered Lupercalia.

Lupercalia is, to my feeble Wikipedia fueled understanding, one of the ancient Roman festivals from which this, our bland “Valentine’s Day”, springs. It was all saltmeal cakes and sacrificial goats, vestal virgins and feasting. It was both a time for purification and cleansing of the city as well as a time to honor the wolf-mother, Lupa. The mid-February (etymology, interestingly, Februa after the ancient roman purification festival the pre-dates even Lupercalia) festivals, before they were first Christianized; subjected to the medieval ideals of courtly love; and then that final violence, the Hallmark ideals capitalism—before all that mid-February was a celebration of purification and fertility. Which makes sense; seeing as it’s the last bite of winter before spring births the world all over again. The idea that we would cleanse and purify to prepare for this birth as the crone of winter begins to fade away, this makes sense to me.

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

hanging succulents


And this is something I want to celebrate. I want to take time to reflect on the winter, to cleanse, and to intend fertility for the coming spring: fertile creativity, relationships, and earth. My preference for Lupa over Cupid is a personal one, and I don’t frown upon bathtubs of red roses and champagne if that’s your bag. I don’t really frown on much of anything. I’m all about forming each our own, new traditions. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that traditions that no longer suited a people evolved. But these no longer suit me.

So now I’d like to take a fine, fine Southern tradition, Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, and let it evolve with me. I created this recipe for Free People’s blog, and it’s the perfect cake for the season as we know it today, all beating heart red & rich with cocoa. But along with the canned gestures, an entire bottle of chemical dye in my cake also doesn’t turn me on. This cake, instead, gets its deep hue from earthy beets (you can’t even taste them…not that it would be a bad thing if you did), and the icing is made of local goat cheese. And forget the flowers. I’ll go to the nursery and pick out a little family of succulents for the home we share; they’ll long out live a withering bouquet and clean our air besides. So all natural Red Velvet Cake and succulents are our new Valentine’s Day…nay…Lupercalia tradition. What will yours be?

And in case you’re wondering…I still don’t have a stove. These shots are from my brother & sister-in-law’s house. It’s one of my favorite places to cook besides my own kitchen. Find the recipe here at Free People! 

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

all natural red velvet cake + goat cheese thyme icing (dyed with beets!)

67 Responses to Valentine’s Day Cake: All Natural Red Velvet Beet Cake + Goat Cheese Thyme Icing

  1. Rachel says:

    i’m so glad you keep going.

  2. This looks beautiful and incredibly indulgent. I’ve been trying to make desserts that are not chocolate, so this seems fitting. Also, loving your little plant bulbs! How beautiful! x

  3. This cake is stunning – I love it!

  4. This is just a stunning post from start to finish…the colors, the succulents, the story, that amazing cake and goat cheese glaze…thank you!

  5. Loulou says:

    I’m with Sue … A great post through and through. Gorgeous styling and photography.

  6. heather says:

    oh my *god*. goat cheese + beets are my favorite combination of flavors in the history of flavors. and cake is probably my favorite thing on earth.

    heaven, i’m in heaven.

  7. jensen says:

    Though I’m fascinated with the cake, I’m even more fascinated by Lupercalia. It takes so long for me to come down for the high of holidays, that now is about the time I spend reflecting (rather than at New Years), and was planning on spending Valentine’s reflecting / cleansing / purifying, so thank you for this! + for evolving traditions! Happy happy!

  8. rachel lee says:

    anyone that just skips down to the recipe and misses the story in the middle is missing something far more delicious and tender and romantic than even a slice of cake.

    beautiful, and I cannot wait to give this cake a try.

  9. Sarah says:

    Everytime I see a post from you I have to stop what I’m doing and find a quiet spot to read … every one of them reads like chapters from a novel I never want to end. And your photos….absolutely beautiful.

    I am intrigued by Lupercalia. It sounds way more like what I believe in. I work in a small flower shop and by the end of Valentines Day my whole body hurts from cringing at the absurdity of it all. I like your red velvet cake and succulents day much better!

  10. Theresa says:

    I have always had a problem with the Red velvet craze and wonder why or how a person could eat a cake that had a bottle and a half of Red Dye!! Thankyou for your most gorgeous blog, beautiful recipes and gorgeous photos!!!! Happy Valentines Day!

  11. Rikki says:

    Ah, the greenery adds the most beautiful touch to the richest red of red velvet cakes I’ve seen yet. I adore the sentiment as well, we also do Valentine’s Day somewhat differently, leaving me with admiration of those who break the trending mold.

  12. Caitlyn says:

    This recipe sounds delicious. And you are maybe my favorite type of person.

  13. Chloe says:

    Beautiful, beautiful photos, and your cake tin! Stunning.

  14. Iosune says:

    I tried other natural red velvet cake recipe two weeks ago and it didn’t work :( I’ll try this one! Thanks ;)

  15. You know, I could go on and on about how much I adore and love your way of writing, your photography, and recipes. This post makes no exception. I’m amazed ones more and can’t wait to bake this all natural cake. Who needs food coloring when nature gives us the most amazing colors imaginable? [I posted a whipped lingonberry porridge this week and the color, oh the color!] And I really need to get a cake pan like the one you use in this post. Somehow, I can’t get my eyes off it.

  16. What an unconventional and delicious way to use goat cheese and beets. Love it.

  17. Christy says:

    Oh thank you Beth! I’m going to love this cake-no dye-hooray! An yay to succulents too-I keep mine next to my herbs and they’ve cheered me all this frozen winter. I so enjoy your writing as well as your recipes so I never skip down to the bottom ;) I love the apology letter-so special and can relate to the entire scene (though I am a morning person-please don’t hold it against me) can’t tell you how much I love your blog since I found it this winter and have read all the way through and made quite a few of the recipes

  18. Shelly says:

    Wow – this is the reddest I’ve ever seen a naturally dyed cake… so gorgeous!! Also, the contrast between the red and the succulents is just stunning.

  19. Nora&Laura says:

    WOW!!! this cake just looks amazing!

  20. cheri says:

    I so enjoy reading your posts. I’m right with you about observing V day. My sweetheart of 25+ years, and I choose to celebrate our love most any other day of the week and I’d rather have a live plant or flowers picked from our garden than the pesticide laden ones sold in stores. This beautiful cake in on my list of to makes. Thank you.

  21. […] post about apologies and red velvet cake is one of the most romantic I’ve seen, even though it’s pretty anti Valentines […]

  22. Linda says:

    Such a beautiful story! <3
    And the cake looks just lovely. Too bad im on the non-carbs diet. Will hold this cake to memory, and try it out some day. Love the "colouring" with the beets! And Goat cheese? yumyum! Have a lovely Valentine, sweetie.

  23. Blaise says:

    I have to be honest and say that this cake sounds insane… in a good way. Goat cheese thyme icing?! That’s gotta be to-die for.

    Thanks for always posting honestly. Your photography (and prose) reminds me to slow down. Have you ever done a post about how you shoot/edit? Maybe I haven’t searched enough… but if you haven’t, I’d love to read it!!!

  24. Gaby says:

    I’m in love with your blog. Such a beautiful writing style, amazing photos and recipies. I wish I could go to your workshop in Portugal (but no money for now:).

  25. Maëlia says:

    Gorgeous photos. Red Velvet is my favourite, I can’t wait to try this recipe, chemical dye doesn’t turn me on either! But I have the same problem, no oven. No kitchen as a matter of fact, oh the joys of living in a tiny bedroom under the roofs of Paris!

  26. Joy says:

    You are genius! I’ve wanted to make Red VelvetCake for years. Finding out so much food coloring went into it gagged me. Beets for coloring – absolute genius. Besides the stunning photography and writing from the heart, you have a new fan. Thanks!

  27. andie says:

    Well, I was taken by your blog and decided to make the beet cake for Valentine’s day today. I’m about to make the icing! The red baked out, unfortunately; it’s more of a light brown, maybe a pinkish brown? Darn! I’m sure it’ll be delicious though!!

    • beth says:

      Hmm…did you make it exactly as specified with unbleached flour, non-alkalized cacao (either raw or non-Dutch processed), buttermilk, and vinegar? With 1/4 + 2 tbsp beet puree? The acid and non-Dutch processed cocoa are really important to the color as well as the unbleached flour.

  28. Cherie says:

    Beautifully styled …….must know where is the cake pan from? It reminds me of an antique gelatin mold.

  29. […] red velvet beet cake with goat cheese frosting. i think i can do […]

  30. […] never been so obsessed with a recipe for a food that I can longer eat without pain. Beth Kirby strikes again with her completely, ludicrously sensual piece about an all-natural, red ve…. “Lupercalia is, to my feeble Wikipedia fueled understanding, one of the ancient Roman […]

  31. elise says:

    good god. this is gorgeous. i want this cake right now. and your photos are just perfect!

  32. Francesca says:

    I made your lovely recipe for Valentines Day and it was delicious. Thank you for the recipe. Is your pan vintage? It’s beautiful.

    • beth says:

      So happy to hear it turned out well! Was it quiet red? And yes, the pan is vintage…a flea market find!

      • Francesca says:

        my cake was not as red as yours, even though I used the right cacao. I will experiment next time (I froze extra beet concentrate) with baking in madeline pans and larger shell shaped pans. I’m guessing that the recipe might be delightful for tiny cakes accompanied with fruit drizzled with the goat cheese icing.

  33. […] red velvet beet cake with goat cheese frosting. i think i can do […]

  34. Katie says:

    I have just come across your blog and what absolutely amazing photos you take! beautiful styling! xxx

  35. […] the greatest photos.  You can find the recipe for this wonderful cake at Beth Kirby’s Local Milk blog.  The few photos I did take of these culinary adventures are posted on my Instagram […]

  36. […] If you still have your heart set on a red cake, check out this beauty by Beth at her dreamy site, Local Milk. […]

  37. Pink Ronnie says:

    Hello Beth,
    I’m not sure if I’ve ever left a comment on your blog before, but I’m always left breathless by your words and your photos and your incredible food.
    Ronnie xo
    p.s. Do let me know how you go with the gorgeous Millie kimono! I saw on Instagram that you’d bought one, and I’m still uuming and aahing….

  38. […] Local Milk and Free People for baking directions and more pretty […]

  39. Rosemary says:

    Nevermind. I found it. Looks delish. Love that pan. ID loke to get one like that. What do you call it?

  40. Wow. this cake is gorgeous!!

  41. Miriam Feyga says:

    this is stunning.
    is there a recipe?

  42. Lia says:

    I love beet cake ..and am so happy others are becoming lovers of it too! yours was delicious but as I suspected from previous attempted recipes -it will require an additional red all-natural colour addition to the beet purée {this can be purchased at a natural/organic store} to make it as red as your picture..
    I really really really need your bundt/jelly mould tin in my life!

  43. Ooh, this actually looks and sounds really good! I really love the pan in your picture, too cool. Thanks for sharing your recipe! Sounds delicious!

  44. […] pretty red velvet cake is striking, but it’s beauty is not skin deep. This cake is all natural; it does not use […]

  45. Brittny Alys says:

    I love the idea of using a delicate cheese like goat cheese and turning it into a sweet glaze. What a fantastic idea. Love your blog and your photography as well is magnificent.

  46. […] de remolacha y queso de cabra)! I took my recipe and inspiration for this cake from Beth at Local Milk. I look forward to all of her posts and her approach to each day is refreshing. I knew when I saw […]

  47. This is such a well written post. Found you through Amanda at What’s Cooking and am glad I did; I am hooked.

  48. […] Get the recipe on Local Milk […]

  49. […] with what is quite possibly the most gorgeous food photography i’ve ever seen. (like this red velvet beet cake. seriously. the photos are the very definition of […]

  50. Jennifer says:

    I made your cake yesterday for my sister’s birthday and oh my goodness it was delicious! Honestly, my all-time favorite cake. Really, wow. Mine also did not turn out as red. I baked it in two round cake pans and the top was a pretty reddish color, not quite as red as yours. I did grease AND flour my pans (oops!) and that made the outside brown. I just cut that part off. Maybe my purée was not as concentrated? How much puree did you have before you reduced? Thanks so much for the recipe!

  51. […] particularly keen on the idea of a cake soaked in red food colouring however so, after reading Beth Kirby‘s beautiful recipe for naturally coloured Red Velvet, beetroot juice took the place of all […]

  52. […] amazing Beet and Goat Cheese Red Velvet cake for Valentine’s day is, without question, the most beautiful bundt/tube cake I have ever laid […]

  53. Alex says:

    Hi There–beautiful pictures. I made this cake 2 times following your instructions very carefully. I could not achieve that color you are posting in your images. Are you sure you didn’t use any food coloring for the pics? I am an accomplished baker and have worked in food media for over 10 years. I ended up with a pinkish/brown color. Additionally, my cake was very wet. It puffed and then deflated quite a bit as it cooled. First time I made the cake I thought I made a mistake, but then I couldn’t get it to work a second time. Any thoughts?

    • beth says:

      Hey, first of all…I’m sorry you’re having trouble! I’ve done a little digging and it seems this problem comes up with many beet colored cakes, and I know others on the site have had the same color issues. There is definitely NO food coloring in this cake…all beets! Did you use non-alkalized cocoa? That’s important. As well as the buttermilk & vinegar. Given your background, I’m sure you did. But that’s where I start when trouble shooting. The idea is to extract beet juice and to then concentrate that. If you have a juicer, I would suggest reducing half cup of pure beet juice to 1/3 cup, but most people don’t have access to juicers, hence the method here. The first thing I would do to try to amp the color you are getting is increase the amount of beet concentrate…because I 100% promise this color was achieved with just that! And yes, the puff and slight deflate is normal and this is a very moist cake. I’m going to revisit this and do some testing of my own. In the three tests we did, it always came out red, but I’ll see if I can figure out what’s up! Hope that helps for a start.

      • Ariana says:

        Hi Beth! What an absolutely beautiful post all around. A couple of years ago I experimented with a natural red velvet using beets as well and had beautiful luck with the color. The cake turned out well, but it tasted definitively too beet-y for my tastes (and I like beets). I had used a significant amount of beet puree (I cup for a recipe scaled about the same as yours it appears), so I’m going to experiment in the next few weeks and see what I can do to alter my recipe for flavor, using yours as inspiration. When I did my research, I found a lot of info. saying that to maintain the bright color, in addition to using non-alk cocoa and acid, the beet puree should be raw when added to the batter, as the more heat is applied to them, the more likely the pigment will be peter out and turn brownish. Did you read anything about this or experiment with raw beet puree in your recipe development? I love the idea of using a concentrated version of the puree, but I wonder if the necessary heat applied to get the concentrate might be affecting pigment results for some bakers? Would love your thoughts! xx

  54. […] You’ll never go back to boxed red velvet cake again after making this natural version with beets and goat cheese-thyme glaze. (Local Milk.) […]

  55. […] You’ll never go back to boxed red velvet cake again after making this natural version with beets and goat cheese-thyme glaze. (Local Milk.) […]

  56. alex says:

    This is amazing looking! I’m wondering if you’ve tried making this GF? If so any suggestions?

  57. mary says:

    I followed this step by step and turned out with a brown cake. I noticed many commenters on the Free People blog stated the same thing. Too bad!

  58. A great post says:

    […] Image source […]

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