What’s made with cocoa but doesn’t taste like chocolate, and is a brilliant ruby-red hue but has no added food coloring? If you said red velvet cake, then you sure do know your desserts! Something of a pop culture sleeper hit, the red velvet cake is said to have originated from war time scarcity, a humble confection made of the most basic of staples that just happened to turn red due to the strange alchemy between natural cocoa powder and baking soda. Most modern renditions rely instead on some artificial augmentation, but with a little bit of baking know-how and an eye towards natural alternatives, it’s easy to stack up layers of any shade, no questionable additives needed.
Considering the meteoric rise in popularity of this colorful cake and all the curious permutations it’s been subjected to, it’s rather surprising that we don’t see more variations on the classic cake itself. Sure, we’ve got red velvet cookies, red velvet pancakes, and yes, even red velvet lattes, but no one seems inclined to put a flavorful spin on the cake itself. Well, consider that line officially crossed: It’s cranberry season, and I can think of no better taste to dress up this stately southern bell for the holidays. Enter the cranberry red velvet cake.
Taking advantage of the naturally red fruit, these tart berries lend both their subtle coloring and bold, tangy flavor to batter, dotting the finished cake with chewy bites of whole stewed cranberries. No red velvet creation is complete without a bit of cream cheese frosting, and this vanilla-infused topper is the perfect sweet foil to such an unconventional cake. Denser and darker than the standard crumb, just a sliver will satisfy any craving… And yet, you may just find yourself reaching for seconds of this vegan cranberry red velvet cake nonetheless. If you’re looking to revamp the classic dessert offerings at your next holiday celebration, consider your search complete.
Special Diet Notes & Options: Cranberry Red Velvet Cake
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, nut-free, peanut-free, vegan / plant-based, and vegetarian.
For a soy-free and vegan cranberry red velvet cake, be sure to use your favorite soy-free dairy-free milk alternative, and for the frosting, select soy-free varieties of margarine (Between Earth Balance and Spectrum you will find a few buttery alternatives) and cream cheese alternative (such as Daiya).
- 2½ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 small steamed beet (about ¼ cup finely diced)
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- ⅔ cup plain dairy-free milk alternative
- ¼ cup beet juice
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup natural cocoa powder*
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 (8-ounce) packages dairy-free cream cheese alternative
- 1 cup dairy-free margarine (such as Earth Balance), at room temperature
- 5 cups powdered confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- To prepare the cake, preheat your oven to 350ºF and lightly grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans.
- Combine the cranberries, brown sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir periodically and allow the mixture to stew for 10 -15 minutes, roughly mashing the cranberries against the side of the pan to help thicken the mixture. Once it reaches a jammy consistency, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and let cool for at least 15 minutes.
- In the meantime, toss the cooked beet, oil, milk alternative, beet juice, vanilla, and vinegar into your blender and puree on high speed. Blend until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Make sure that all of the dry goods are equally distributed within the bowl before adding in all of the blended wet ingredients along with the stewed cranberries. Stir with a large spatula to bring everything together into a fairly smooth batter, being careful not to over-mix. A few remaining lumps are just fine.
- Distribute the batter equally between the two prepared cake pans and slide them gently into your oven. Tent the pans loosely with foil to prevent the tops from browning, and bake 28 - 32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before frosting.
- To prepare the frosting, simply combine the vegan cream cheese and margarine in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment installed. Beat the two together thoroughly until smooth and homogenous before adding in half of the confectioner's sugar with the vanilla and salt. Start the mixer on a low speed to incorporate the sugar, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula. Add in the remaining sugar in the same fashion, giving the mixer plenty of time to blend it in. Turn up the speed to high and whip the frosting for a full 5 - 10 minutes, until light and fluffy. Apply to your cake as desired.
- Because this frosting is fairly soft, it's advisable to store the finished cake in the fridge just prior to serving if you want to make it in advance.