Not every experiment works, but that's how we learn and reject things, right?
We were talking about lard in general, and the idea that at some point, somewhere, there must have been a cake that included lard. Thanks to the magic of google we found out that yes, there are cake recipes that have lard instead of butter.
So I whipped one up to see what it was like. Texture-wise it was kind of dense, more like banana bread than cake. Flavor-wise it was nas-tee!
It had a weird flavor of something undefinable, which I knew was the lard. It was rejected by my teenage son before I told him what was in it, which says a lot.
I do have to clarify, though, that the recipe called for orange juice, which would probably have hidden the lard flavor to a certain extent. Instead of that I used vanilla, because I wanted to keep the color light, due to the second part of this, the food coloring experiment.
With all the talk about red food color, I decided to see what the common alternatives would do. So I brought out the beets and the pomegranate juice. I cooked the beets and pureed them and added about three tablespoons of the puree to half the batter.
The other half had concentrated pomegranate juice added into it. Both ingredients made the batter only slightly pink, nowhere near the effect that red food coloring has on it.
This one was red food coloring, but only half the amount called for in the recipe.
In looking up recipes I also found one that was an old Southern recipe for a beet cake that had a little chocolate in it. The speculation was that it was the original red velvet, and that it had been adapted over the years. It called for a full cup and a half of beets, so although that's possible I can't believe it tasted good. The beets were nasty and smelled bad when I was cooking them down, so I had no desire to mess with them any more.
As far as using the lard goes, I'll stick with butter and leave the lard for pie crusts. And for now I'll stick with red food coloring for baking, but I could probably get away with the pomegranate juice for pink icing. All of the alternatives that I found online were recommended for lighter colors, and mostly for icings, not baked goods.
So if you have an alternative that actually works let me know. But it can't migrate, fade out, or be pastel. Those are fails and don't count! And it shouldn't involve lard, for God's sake.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA