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Call it whatever you want -- just don't call it red velvet cake

August 14, 2009 |  1:30 pm

So last week, the Health Section asked the Test Kitchen staff if we might be interested in testing the American Cancer Society's official birthday cake, a new red velvet cake. A big fan of red velvet cake, I was a little suspicious. (My spider sense tingles just a bit every time someone wants to reinvent the wheel, particularly when it involves food. And health. And a favorite dessert.)

Well, the ACS, or the "Official Sponsor of Birthdays," as its press materials state, had a recipe competition to find a great birthday cake with a healthy twist. The winning recipe boasts fewer calories, fat and sugar than more traditional recipes... but is still supposed to taste great.

We decided to give it a go.

First, we assembled the ingredients, including beets, applesauce, quinoa flour and dried cherries. (Huh?) We roasted the beets for 2 hours and pureed them, then assembled the batter and baked the cakes. While the cakes baked, we made the frostings: a chocolate raspberry ganache and cream cheese frosting. We frosted the cooled cakes then used the finished cake to celebrate a quick surprise birthday in the Test Kitchen, as you can see in the video above.

Our thoughts? Overall, we were less than impressed. There were mixed reviews on the flavor -- from a few thought it was fine (come to think of it, I'm sure they were all from the Health section), to the majority who rated it from bad to awful. (Food's Web deputy -- a passionate red velvet devotee -- said it was "an insult to red velvet cakes everywhere" and it "wasn't worth a single calorie.") Many testers swore each bite had a beet aftertaste. And though the cake was moist with a decent crumb, we didn't feel the end results justified all the time spent on the recipe. (The cake takes well over three hours from start to finish.) That, and the alternative ingredients did not necessarily make this cake that much more healthy or diet friendly than a regular cake. (The Health section broke down the nutritional information and had some other criticisms, in the Booster Shots blog.)

But the biggest beef? THE CAKE WASN'T RED. The finished cake was a beautiful, rich shade of brown -- not even a hint of red.

Our verdict? Treat yourself to a real red velvet cake on your birthday. You've earned it. (And if you know of a place to get a great red velvet cake, or cupcakes, let us know.)  

-- Noelle Carter

Video: Michael Hunte