Red Velvet Preliminary Research Project:
This one had been on my radar screen for quite a few months. A red velvet cheesecake was in my dreams, and others have expressed a considerable interest for this one upon my mentioning it. But this presented a special challenge. I did not want to use a bunch of artificial red food coloring. I sought natural alternatives, with Internet research leading me to giving red beets a try. But instead of wasting a full-fledged cheesecake recipe on something that was probably going to require an excessive number of tries, I felt that I would start off by downsizing to crust-only experiments and conducting taste tests on a significant number of people (not just myself). I made up a flyer (click here to download) for this purpose.

This crust would be the same as that used in my more recent chocolate-containing cheesecake prototypes (such as cookies+creme, chocolate chip cookie dough and plain chocolate itself), but with two exceptions. Lemon juice would be added for increased acidity (reportedly helpful for obtaining a redder outcome). And, of course, red beet puree would be used.

For this experiment, four sampling batches would be made up. However, each one would have a different amount of beet puree in it.
Prepare four batches—"samples"—of crust:
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup (8 oz.) lowfat cottage cheese, whipped, no salt added
3/8 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2.2 oz. Bran Buds, ground up

Prepare beet puree (such as in a blender) by using a can or cans of no-salt-added red beets (such as sliced). Use the entire contents, including the water. To each of the above samples, add this puree, as follows:
Sample 1: 1/4 cup
Sample 2: 1/2 cup
Sample 3: 3/4 cup
Sample 4: 1 cup

Recommended: Add this puree, before the Bran Buds, into each of these batches.

Bake at 350 degrees for the approximate durations as follows:
Sample 1: 20 minutes.
Sample 2: 25 minutes.
Sample 3: 30 minutes.
Sample 4: 35 minutes.

Red Velvet Preliminary Research Project (bowls) Red Velvet Preliminary Research Project (beets can and samples)
(Crust mixtures shown left-to-right in ascending order, i.e., from Sample 1 to Sample 4)

Samples 3 and 4 came out so soggy that I further cooked each of them by broiling them in the oven for at least about 10 minutes.

But what a project this has been! So what were the reactions of my taste testers at Living Hope Church (on Super Bowl Sunday 2012) like? I did not want to disclose the red beet puree before the tests were completed. I felt that otherwise, such anticipations by these tasters would psychologically mess up the experiments. I did inform participants that this "secret" red ingredient was either a fruit, vegetable or grain. As I conducted these tests, I had most of the participants start with Sample 1, then progress towards Sample 4 (only a few performed the sequence in the descending direction).

For quite a few, the response was "increasing fruitiness", from Sample 1 to Sample 4. For another it was "increasing weirdness" (this respondent liked Sample 1 the best and Sample 4 the least). While Sample 4 was generally the least liked ("kind of bland" according to at least a couple of tasters, one of which mentioned "soy" on Sample 2 and, surprisingly, liked Sample 3 the most), some did like this one the best ("raisin" commented a respondent, who also remarked, for Sample 2, "squash"). "Chocolaty" was a major response for Sample 1. There were also responses of decreasing "chocolaty" descriptions progressing from Sample 1 to Sample 4. One taster who liked Sample 1 the best could, nevertheless, hardly detect "increasing fruitiness" while ascending through the samples. Other remarks: "fudge", "marshmallow" (texture description here, as opposed to what I wanted tasters to really focus on—flavor!), "cherry".

After I revealed the "beet secret" to a young girl who was eagerly curious, she—or another girl—told me about her guessing "bananas" (somewhat to my surprise) as the mystery ingredient.

So what were my own reactions like? I actually tasted these samples in "raw" form, i.e., before baking. All of them had a beet presence in the taste, from "barely" in Sample 1 to "substantial" in Sample 4. In light of this, I ended up deciding to exclude these raw versions from the taste tests, retaining only their baked counterparts (this would cut the total number of different samples from 8—as originally indicated in my flyer—to 4). But—to my surprise—the beet flavor was greatly diminished after baking. I was unable, from what I best recall, to detect any beets even in Sample 4 (!) upon tasting the samples after a little cooling down. I still easily tasted the chocolate in all 4 samples. In the morning that followed, however (this was when I was conducting the tests with the tasters at the church), I detected a very faint beet aftertaste in Sample 3 and a more pronounced such aftertaste in Sample 4.

Overall, I felt that the tastes were somehow satisfactory.

In the evening of the Monday that followed the church tests, I conducted some additional tests among Lesa's dart group, which had switched its home venue from the Sports Page to the Italian Community Center for the Spring 2012 season. I did not get nearly as many taste testers, but whoever participated gave me feedback that in many ways was similar to Living Hope's. One of the participants could not eat any of my samples due to food allergy issues, but she could still do smelling tests. She gave extensive details, from "mocha, very rich cocoa" for Sample 1, to "very acidic, heavy mocha, almost coffee, no berries at all" for Sample 4. Her remarks for the intermediate samples included comments such as "berries", "attractive wood scent" and "merlot wine". She liked Sample 3 the best. Remarks I got from other guests (one of which also liked Sample 3 the best) included "jello cake" (Sample 1), "a little too intense/heavy" (Sample 4), "bland, but smells of merlot" (Sample 3, from perhaps the only person in this dart group who liked this sample the least) and "cherry" (higher samples).

So that's the report in regard to how the samples tasted. As for the color, that was another story.

Before baking, the samples were, generally, too brown. Sample 4 did have sort of a half-decent reddish brown color to it, but it was still way short of the redness that I had hoped for, based upon red velvet cake batter photos that I looked at on the Internet ("Did somebody use Adobe Photoshop to redden the batter's appearance?" I suspected). Sample 1, at the other end, easily reminded me of a well-known shipping company with the slogan, "What can Brown do for you". I had hoped that the baking process would cause chemical reactions that would produce redder results. Unfortunately, even Sample 4 turned out about as brown as a United Parcel Service delivery truck. This was not what I wanted "Brown" to do for me (Sorry, UPS)!

I sought solutions. I saw recipes on the Internet which used buttermilk and vinegar. According to what I read on Wikipedia, red velvet cake might have gotten its name from reddish looks that resulted due to acidic reactions, supposedly during the baking process, between the cocoa powder and buttermilk. In the late evening on that Sunday, a really terrific idea entered my head: Swap out at least some of the melted,
semi-sweet chocolate for white! What a bright, white idea!! Next question: How much?

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