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Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Natural Red Velvet Cupcake photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free If Desired 

OK, so I’ve read that there’s no truth the rumor that beets were ever used to give Red Velvet Cake its color (Stella Parks at Gilt Taste has put together a history that seems sound), but when I saw this recipe in Sunset Magazine last year, I knew I’d have to give it a try. I’ve never had real Red Velvet Cake, on account of the artificial red food coloring involved. Even if artificial red dye didn’t make one of my children channel a very nasty being from an alternate dimension (a being who speaks only in growls and whose one desire is to attack people), the possible carcinogen and other health impacts angle would keep me on the artificial dye-free path. That means I can’t tell you how these compare to the version with artificial red dye, I can only tell you that they’re delicious, and they’re a beautiful bright pinkish-red.

What exactly do these taste like? I’m not sure there’s a one-size-fits-all answer. Both of my children adore beets; one thought these cupcakes tasted “so much” like beets, the other didn’t notice the beet flavor at all, simply describing them as “delicious!” I thought they had a mysterious, almost floral, flavor the first day, with the beet flavor coming through more obviously (and not in a bad way) when the cupcakes were a full day old.

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes, based on the original recipe from Sunset Magazine.

  • 1 pound beets (raw, whole beets – canned, steamed, or boiled won’t work)
  • 2 cups unbleached wheat flour or all-purpose gluten-free flour blend 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely-ground sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons raw organic sugar, rapadura, coconut sugar, or your preferred dry sweetener (adjust quantities as necessary) 
  • 3 large eggs, beaten lightly with a fork (that’s 3/4 cup of egg, total, if you’re using eggs from backyard hens who don’t lay to match standard factory farm egg sizes)
  • 2/3 cup coconut, grapeseed, or olive oil 
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

First step – Prepare the Beets. This can be done a day or more ahead of cupcake baking:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Wash the beet roots (save the greens and steam them for dinner; they’re delicious drizzled with a bit of vinegar), but don’t worry about peeling them.
  3. Wrap each beet in foil, or just put them together in a casserole dish that has an oven-proof lid – You want them to roast in their own steam.
  4. Cook them until they’re so tender, a fork or table knife will slide right into them; this usually takes 1 – 1 1/2 hours, but check them around 50 minutes if you have a convection oven or small beets. Let them cool completely. 
  5. When the beets have cooled, use your hands to scuff their skins off. The skins should slide off easily, leaving you with tender, bright pink roasted and peeled beets. Wear gloves or lightly oil your hands to keep the pink from staining your skin. 
  6. Cut the peeled beets into even chunks and puree them in a food processor or blender. Measure out 1 1/4 cups of beet puree, measuring and freezing any leftovers for a future batch of cupcakes (I froze my leftover puree in a Mason jar, leaving some room for expansion at the top). 

Second Step – Make the Cupcakes: 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F. 
  2. Line a standard muffin tin with 12 paper liners – Unbleached paper liners can be composted after the cupcakes have been eaten, and they’re healthier for people and our planet all along their production cycle. 
  3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside. 
  4. In a large bowl, combine  1 1/4 cups of beet puree with the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Blend well by hand, then stir in the flour mixture about 3/4 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. If you’re using gluten-free flour, go ahead and mix to your heart’s content, until the batter is well and truly smooth; with wheat flour, take it easy and stop stirring as soon as the batter is only just smooth. 
  5. Ladle the batter evenly into the prepared cupcake liners and bake at 350 until the center of a central cupcake springs back when pressed down gently, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs on it. 
  6. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes, then remove cupcakes from pan and let them cool completely on the rack, on their own. 
  7. Frost as desired – We made a batch of  buttercream frosting with orange and vanilla extract, but decided that we liked them even better plain. 

If you bake these and you do know what traditional Red Velvet Cake tastes like, I’d love to know how these compare!

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes, Fresh from the Oven

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes, Fresh from the Oven

2 comments on “Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

  1. Can’t wait to try, as it sounds lovely on its own. For comparison to the artifical dye version (guffawed at your description of its pediatric effects), it could only improve: to me that cake has always had a strong chemical taste.

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