As long as there have been humans, there has been love. We’re both classics. So is chocolate. Back in 1,000 BC, long before Godiva and Hershey’s, the Mayans drank cacao as part of a sacred ritual to give them superhuman strength and induce divine visions. Now we know cacao — chocolate in its raw form — is rich in antioxidants and theobromine, but you probably don’t need science to tell you chocolate delights both body and soul. So where am I going with this? A Valentine’s Day red velvet cake made with chocolate, love and a secret ingredient.

The velvet cake is also a classic. It’s sister to the Depression-era wacky cake, a simple cake made with simple ingredients, among them a scant amount of cocoa. The original is not screamingly red, nor is it overtly chocolatey. It has a sweet, earthy flavor all the more beguiling for being elusive, and a velvety crumb — that’s where the name comes from. The reddish tinge may have come from using Dutch process cocoa, which has a rusty color.

One things humans do, though, is explore and invent. We like to play with the classics. Often, this is good — cellphones beat the panties off rotary phones. Sometimes, though, you just wonder. It came to pass we felt we had to justify the name red velvet cake by ramping up the red. With artificial food coloring. Some modern red velvets contain up to a quarter cup of it. This doesn’t seem like progress.

I confess I’ve monkeyed with a classic, too, adding coffee to play up the chocolate. And by adding that promised secret ingredient — a beet. Now, now, stay with me. Before there was red dye #4, there were beets, nature’s red food coloring with the added benefit of imparting sweetness. The batter only calls for half a cup of beet. cooked and pureed. A small-to-medium one will do, and lucky you, they’re in season now.

What to do with the rest of the beets in the bunch? Roast and eat them. Eat the greens, too. Like most greens, they’re nutritionally dense, and milder-tasting than many. Beet greens have a mild chard-like flavor, which isn’t surprising — they’re related to chard. They’re tender and will wilt quickly when steamed or sauteed. Combine the two in this warm dish that uses all the beet, from root to leafy greens, so there’s no waste. It has a little sweetness from the dried cranberries, a little richness and crunch from the walnuts and a lot of visual appeal with the beets gleaming like rubies amid the gently cooked greens. It’s perfect for a classic Valentine’s Day dinner with your sweetie. So’s the cake. The chocolate, the beet and the love are baked right in.

Red Velvet Cake with Beets

Red Velvet Cake with a Twist

Red Velvet Cake (Vegan Chocolate Beet Cake)

If you or your beloved are nervous about a cake made with a red beet, golden beets are milder in color and flavor and one will do the job beautifully.

A single recipe serves 8, certainly enough for you and your valentine. For a big, bodacious layer cake, double the recipe.

Traditionally, red velvet cake is paired with cream cheese icing. Nontraditionally, you can pair it with my chocolate frosting recipe below.And for Valentine’s Day, consider spreading a few tablespoons of seedless raspberry jam as a red, delicious filling to sandwich between the layers.

Satiny Chocolate Frosting

To ramp up the mild chocolate flavor of the cake, I went with . . more chocolate. My go-to recipe for chocolate frosting recipe is luscious, satiny, easy, quick and vegan.

It keeps covered in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for a month or two, guaranteeing awesome chocolate delivery when you need it. Bring to room temperature then stir and spread on cakes, dip cookies, fruit, your finger.


Love and Red Velvet Cake: A Classic Remastered


  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt (optional)
  • 1 smallish beet, cooked* and cooled
  • 1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk or other nondairy milk (or use cow milk if you’d rather).
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened soy or almond milk
  • 4 ounces bitter (unsweetened) chocolate, chopped small
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly oil an 8-inch cake pan.
  3. In a bowl, sift together unbleached flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa and optional pinch of salt.
  4. Puree the beet in a blender or food processor. Pour in coffee, oil, vinegar, plant-based or dairy milk and vanilla and process just until they reach a creamy, milkshake-like consistency. With a light hand, mix the wet ingredients into the flour dry till they coalesce and form a thickish batter.
  5. Pour into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.
  6. * To roast your beets, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice the beet root from the greens. Wrap the beets (sans beet greens) tightly in foil. Place in a baking dish and roast for an hour, just as you’d bake a potato. In fact, you can do both at once. Make baked potatoes for part of tonight’s dinner and throw your beets in there, too. I think of it as culinary hitchhiking, (proper name: passive cooking). Remove from oven and let cool. When beets are cool enough to handle, the skins should slip right off.
  8. Heat soy or almond milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to just boiling. Add chocolate. Turn off heat, cover pot but leave it on the burner for 10 minutes.
  9. Remove lid, stir chocolate, which has now melted, into the nondairy milk. Stir until combined, then pour in evaporated cane sugar. Gently stir in the coconut oil and vanilla, continuing for a few minutes until frosting becomes smooth and glossy.
  10. Let frosting cool slightly then pour into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to thicken, then frost as desired.
  11. Makes 2 cups, enough to frost 2 8-inch layers lavishly.

image of beets by Tracy Olson