Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes made with Beets

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes | alimentageuse.com - Naturally made, vegan with no artificial food colouring!  #cupcakes #vegan #beets

It’s been about a year and a half since I posted my favourite red velvet cake recipe on Je suis alimentageuse. Since I’ve found that recipe, I use it for my cake pops and truffles not only in red, but also in purple. It is the most well received cake recipe that I have, being both subtle in flavour, as well as a light, fluffy cake that works amazingly with the cream cheese icing. But ever since I discovered the “evils” of food colouring, I have been hesitant to use food colouring ever since. Of course, every now and then, I succumb to the needs of having brightly coloured food, but I wanted to find a recipe for natural red velvet cupcakes made with beets, which surprisingly, was really hard for me to do.

I have odd standards for the recipes on my blog. I don’t want to have to buy extra ingredients at the grocery store that are specifically for one type of cake. Since I had some leftover beets from a recent batch of summer borscht, I wanted to use the boiled and grated beets that I had on hand. Most recipes I found said to either used canned beets, although cooked, the recipes I found wanted to use not only the beets, but also the canned liquid from the beetroots. Another recipe I found wanted me to use RAW beets for the best results. I thought, bah humbug, I’m not going to buy MORE beets. Who do you think I am? Dwight Shrute’s most loyal customer? I mean I love beets, but not that much. Once I finally located a recipe that called for cooked beets (they were roasted, but boiled did the trick for these), I shouted EUREKA! and went on my merry way to the kitchen. Natural red velvet cupcakes with beet goodness, here I come.

On another topic, the history of red velvet cake was slightly interesting to me. Some people told me that beets were traditionally used to colour the batter, while almost all of the recipes by famous chefs in the culinary/internet world used food colouring. If I knew of the proper resources for the history of red velvet cupcakes, I would state with certainty the facts I have discovered about red velvet cupcakes. However, since the only source I had was Wikipedia, the graduate student in me wants you to be wary of these facts and to do your own research.

According to Wikipedia and Leelabean from Leelabean Bakes, the red velvet cupcakes we know today are not the traditional red velvet cupcake. Back then, they were in fact made with food colouring, although similar to today, the distinctive texture of the cake was made with baking soda, vinegar/lemon juice, buttermilk, and cocoa powder. However, when finances were limited back in the day, some bakeries had to resort to using cheaper methods of dying the batter red—beetroot juice for example.

The main difference was in fact, the choice of icing.

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes | alimentageuse.com - Naturally made, vegan with no artificial food colouring!  #cupcakes #vegan #beets

What we see nowadays is often cream cheese icing. Usually only with 3-4 ingredients, and is simple. Just whip up the ingredients, and you get a luscious, creamy, frosting that isn’t too rich or buttery. However, according to Leelabean, traditional red velvet frosting is a roux-based frosting, also called ermine frosting. I didn’t make it to ice these cupcakes, but sounds like a dreamy frosting and I most definitely will be trying it out in the future.

In the meantime, these cupcakes are similar to the other vegan cupcakes that I’ve made, like my green tea cupcakes and my coconut brûlée cupcakes. Although I did not use my typical flax seed meal mixture to replace eggs, these cupcakes use the beets as an egg replacer, not only dying the batter with a bright red, but also making the cupcakes a little healthier by adding some beet fibre, iron, and nutrients.

However, these cupcakes do not use the traditional mixture of buttermilk, vinegar, and baking soda to give the batter volume. Using baking soda would dull the red colour in the batter, as well as the basic pH level of Dutch processed cocoa powder. To keep the colour vibrant and red, make sure you use baking POWDER and not baking soda, as well as natural cocoa powder, which is slightly more acidic than its Dutch-cousin. Go, go, science!

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes | alimentageuse.com - Naturally made, vegan with no artificial food colouring!  #cupcakes #vegan #beets

 

These cupcakes received rave reviews, both for taste as well as healthiness (aside from the cream cheese icing). The cupcakes themselves are vegan, but the original icing I made was not, since I didn’t have any vegan cream cheese on hand. I used Earth Balance anyway (butter is so expensive, and a massive tub of Earth Balance is normally only $10, plus, I got that bucket for free!).

I think the next time I attempt red velvet, I want to try the roux based icing because it sounds very intriguing. I think it would be interesting to see how it works using milk alternatives too, since milk and my digestive system are not the greatest of friends.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this almost chemically culinary post, and I hope you enjoy!


Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Prep Time: 1 hour

Yield: 24 mini cupcakes + 3 regular sized cupcakes, or 12-14 regular sized cupcakes.

Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes

Recipe adapted from My Diverse Kitchen with cream cheese icing recipe from Je suis alimentageuse's Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients

- 3/4 cup freshly puréed beets (boiled until tender, then puréed)
- 1/3 cup oil (I used coconut)
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tbsp natural cocoa powder (NOT dutch processed)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup almond milk (or other milk alternative)
- CREAM CHEESE ICING
- 1/4 cup Earth Balance
- 1 block cream cheese (250g) - use vegan cream cheese to keep vegan
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
- a splash of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Mix the beet purée and oil until incorporated.
  3. Add sugar, vanilla extract.
  4. In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking powder.
  5. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk until incorporated into the batter.
  6. Divide among cupcake liners, filling them 3/4 full, and bake for 15-20 minutes (for mini cupcakes) and 20-25 minutes (for regular sized cupcakes) until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when poked in the middle.
  7. To make the cream cheese icing, whip together all ingredients (add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time until it reaches your desired consistency)
  8. Pipe onto cupcakes as desired. The beetroot may discolour the frosting if left for too long, so if you are piping this ahead of time, do not do so more than 24 hours ahead of time.
  9. Keep the cupcakes in the fridge and let sit at room temp at least 30 minutes before serving.
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See an ingredient listed that’s not in your pantry?

No problem! Check out my substitutions page to see if you can use an ingredient that you DO have in your pantry, or for ways to make this recipe vegan, gluten-free, etc. =)
About Lisa Le

Lisa is the twenty-something, nerdy, procrastinating, feminist blogger and photographer behind Je suis alimentageuse. She loves lemons, avocado, butternut squash, and is a bookworm.

Comments

  1. I can’t wait to try your recipe! I’ve always wanted to make red velvet with beets and now I have a yummy recipe to start with.
    I’ve made the roux based frosting, and it is AMAZING! So smooth and buttery! Here is the recipe I used, from Nicole at Gluten-Free on a Shoestring. http://glutenfreeonashoestring.com/the-best-vanilla-frosting/
    I think you could totally make it dairy free! Use coconut or almond milk in the roux and beat in earth balance? It would be a frosting that everyone could eat!
    Brianna @Flippin’ Delicious recently posted…Gluten-Free Baked Banana Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts (A Guest Post from Sweet Twist of Blogging)My Profile

  2. I love that you used beets in this!
    Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious recently posted…Strawberry Shortcake CupcakesMy Profile

  3. Theresa P says:

    I have been looking for a food coloring FREE recipe for red velvet. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. You are so knowledgeable about food and food chemistry. I love it! These look great. I always wondered what to do with beets…
    lisacng @ expandng.com recently posted…June month-in-review and reader appreciationMy Profile

    • Nothing like a little high school chemistry to help my food blog =P There are so many different things you can do with beets! In May I published a summer borscht recipe that uses grated beets!

  5. michelle says:

    hi, may i know is this cake fluffy without egg? i have never bake eggless cake before. thanks

    • Yeah it is really fluffy =) I actually find eggless cakes of often fluffier than ones with egg

      • michelle says:

        hi, Lisa! its me again, so glad that you respond to me. i had tried your recipe but my cake did not rise much and they were rather gooey and sticking to the liner, not fluffyat all. did colour were nice and taste good. do you whisk with electric mixer? or just mix by hand? how i wish i can bake like you. thanks

        • michelle says:

          oh, i forgot to mention that the batter was runny. is that right? thanks.

        • My cupcakes stuck a little to the liner too, but I think it’s because of the low oil content. I mixed everything by hand, but I used a food processor to purée the beetroot. Did you make a cake or cupcakes? Because I’ve never made these as a cake before and I’m not sure how they’d turn out. If your was gooey, it means you didn’t bake it long enough. Make sure that before you pull cakes out of the oven (cupcakes or cakes), you use a cake tester to check if the middle is done. A cake tester is kind of a long, skinny stick, but you can use a toothpick as well. When you poke it into the middle, it should come out either clean or with moist crumbs stuck to it. If there’s still batter on it, it means you need to bake it longer.

          • michelle says:

            thanks Lisa, i shall try my second attemp later, my mom said eventhough it was gooey but taste really good. she love it.

  6. Chelsey says:

    I just made these this past weekend. I found that the cupcake was really dense and moist (not really fluffy) and the color was more of a faint pinkish when cooked (the batter was bright red though). Tasted delish tho! I was surprised how everyone loved them!

    I used canned beets and drained the juice in the can. Do you think that might explain the color?

    • I haven’t tried baking with canned beets, so maybe that would explain the colour change. I used boiled beets then grated them (for my summer borscht, and then I used the leftover grated beets and puréed them for this recipe), so maybe the canning process changed the chemical structure of the beetroot keratin? Thanks for your feedback though! Sorry to hear they didn’t turn out as red but I’m glad everyone liked them =)

  7. Sara Marie says:

    I tried this recipe last night and was super excited to make it! I’m not a vegan, but I’m an experienced baker who likes to experiment with vegan recipes. what came out was more like a brown chocolate pudding than a red-velvety cake… not quite sure where I went wrong. any suggestions? your cupcakes look lovely!

    • Yikes! Nobody seems to be having the same success that I did with my cupcakes! Did you bake them long enough? And did you make sure to use baking powder and not baking soda? The more acidic the batter, the better the red colour from the beet purée.

  8. Hi your recipe sounds delicious and images look fab.
    any chance you could send me the measurements in grams – in the UK we work in grams not cups.

    thanks

    • Hi Anita! Thank you so much for commenting =) Unfortunately, I only created my recipe using volume and not weight (I know, I know, weight is just so much more accurate). The best thing you could do is use an online converter to change from cups to mL, and it might be better to work that way. I think there are converters that go from volume to weight, but you’d have to go through each ingredient individually and find out the density of the ingredient to accurately get their weight. E.g. 1 cup of icing sugar is obviously going to be less dense and therefore lighter than 1 cup of cream.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help! Let me know how it works for you.

  9. Hello- I have a quick question, when using Earth Balance for the frosting, am I correct to assume you are using the original buttery spread? thanks!

  10. So very lovely!! Any Chance you have recommendations for making this grain free (via almond and coconut flour).

    • Hi Meagan! I haven’t really given it a try yet, but I’ve had successes with other recipes with my GF flour blend (see the Substitutions page linked between the post and the comments, or under Tips & Tricks)

      I have a feeling that using almond flour may make these cupcakes a little too dense, but I think coconut flour in combination with a bit of xanthan gum would be good.

  11. Made these for a party! Love them! Substituted organic 2% milk for the almond milk (it’s what I had in the fridge), added a little bit more of the beet puree (around 1 cup), added some chocolate chips for extra chocolatey goodness, and ground almond powder (about 2 tablespoons – to account for the extra beets). Came out great! It yielded about 35 mini cupcakes. Thanks for your recipe!

  12. I made these a few days ago. I was a hair model at a training session where they were trying out reds so I thought to match the colour theme I’d bring these along for everyone to eat while waiting for hair colour to process. Well, what can I say, I had people hovering around them all night, sheepishly asking if they can have another one. A smash hit! Great texture and taste, and fantastic contrast with the cream cheese icing. 5 stars (and I’m pretty fussy).

  13. mmmmmh looks yummy!!! I must try this recipe!
    Nathalie – AppsForWomen recently posted…Music Interview: Murray & Faulknau, a good sound for your mobileMy Profile

  14. These look great, I’m on the lookout for a red velvet cake recipe that uses beetroot instead of food colouring. Just one question, what the heck is Earth Balance? (I’m English lol)

  15. Hello Lisa! I am so glad I found your website! Even Martha Steward’s recipe called for food colouring… phhhttthhht… NO NO in my household. :p

    I love your writing! Your cakes look so pretty and I bet they are super delicious too! After looking at your pictures, I have an impulse of running out to buy the cone-shaped decoration thingi for icing (sorry I don’t know what it;s called!)!! :p

    Anyway, what is the difference between natural cocoa powder and dutch processed?

    • Hi Ting! Thanks for reading and commenting =) I agree, I’m trying to phase out food colouring in my kitchen, although pretty icing for special occasions is sometimes hard to resist! I’m not an expert on different types of cocoa powder, but from my research, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans that are washed in a way that neutralizes the acidity, then roasted and ground. Natural cocoa powder is simply roasted and ground. Dutch-processed produces a darker cocoa powder that’s also stronger in chocolate flavour (IMO), but good quality natural cocoa powder is great too.

      For the purposes of this post though, since Dutch-processed is less acidic (therefore more basic on the pH scale), it reacts with the natural pigments in the beets to turn it into an orangy brown. Natural cocoa powder’s acidity means that it helps retain the natural beet pigmentation.

      As for the cone-shaped decorational thingie, I typically call it a piping bag, haha. There are different sizes, I own both a 14inch and a 16inch one, mostly so that there’s less waste, but you can buy disposable 12 inch bags that are great for quick piping jobs. I also use various couplers and piping tips, hm. I should really write a post about that haha. Anyway, thanks for reading! Sorry for this novel of a response, and I hope to see you around my blog in the future! <3

      • Hello Lisa! Ok Piping bag!! Got it! Words escape me today… haha

        Thanks for the explanation about dutch and natural cocoa. I am pretty sure the one I have is called dutch cocoa… and I thought I cannot use it in your recipe… For acidity, can we put some lime or lemon juice to prevent changing colour?

        • Hm, that’s an interesting solution, it might work =) If you want something that’s neutral in flavour, using a little vinegar would work too. Red wine vinegar would be good for colour too I think.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Hello- I’d like to make these for my sister’s birthday party on sunday but i just want to make sure- these dont taste like beets, right?

    • Hi Elizabeth! To answer your question: yes and no. If you’ve ever replaced the eggs or butter in a recipe with applesauce, you’ll notice that whatever you made will have kind of an apple-y sweetness to it. These cupcakes are still red velvet cupcakes, with a hint of beety sweetness, since beets are naturally quite sweet. It’s not overwhelming, but yes, it’s there.

  17. Hi Lisa,

    I tried to bake these today but they didn’t turn out as red as yours did, and they came out of the oven quite flat… :-( I think I’ll add some apple vinegar next time, might help with both problems…. I topped them with soy whipped cream by the way, to keep them vegan :-)

    The taste was great though :-) and yours look so perfect and elegant! Can’t wait ’til my next try…

    • Hi Silke! Thanks for sharing, I’m glad they tasted good, and soy whipped cream sounds wonderful =) I’m not quite sure why they turned out flat. How old is your baking soda? Sometimes if it’s older than a year or so, it’s not quite as active and doesn’t allow for your cupcakes to rise as much. Let me know how the apple cider vinegar affects your cupcakes.

  18. Wonderful recipe. Followed everything to a T and came out perfect. I used regular vegetable oil and not coconut. I really like the look of them and they are really moist. Topped these with a whipped cream frosting.

  19. Great recipe I made a cake let it cook 45mins it was soooo moist and full of flavour, my grandson has energies to egg n nuts, so this was perfect thankyou

  20. Do the beets not make the cake bitter or nasty tasting?

    • As I’ve mentioned in other comments, there is an underlying beet flavour but it’s not overpowering at all. It’s just like if you added applesauce to a cake batter. Beets aren’t really bitter at all, they’re actually sweet.

  21. Sincerefit says:

    I definitely needed these to be red for pushpops but though the batter is red, the end product was not & I tried 2 different times to make the batter. :(

  22. Hi Lisa, I am searching for the all-natural ingredients for RVC recipe and just found yours. Thank goodness! If beetroot is hardly to be found, is there any recommendation for its substitutes? Since beetroot is quite rare is my country. Perhaps other red pigmented fruits/veggies can be used for? How about red dragonfruit puree or pomegranate juice instead?

    • Hi Rizal, unfortunately if you want the red pigment from the beets, pomegranate juice or red dragonfruit purée will probably not have the same colour. Pomegranate juice is like a blue-purple when cooked, and I’ve never used red dragonfruit purée. You could try it, and I’m sure it would taste delicious, but I think you’d have to resort to food dye to get it that red.

  23. marita nizam says:

    My daughter turned vegan about a week before her birthday. So I surprised her with these cupcakes. They were absolutely delicious! I used organic beets and the colour came out perfect. I did use a little less milk than the recipe called for. I will definetely make these cupcakes again and again!

  24. Roux based icing is so unique. I grew up south of New Orleans and our neighbor made and sold red velvet cakes with a roux based icing. The only place I’ve had anything like it has been at Ingrid’s, a German deli and bakery in Oklahoma City. It’s not a sweet dessert, but it’s GOOD.

  25. Thanks for the recipe! These came out very pretty colored — more like raspberry than red velvet, but lovely to look at. They tasted moist and fluffy, but two small children I know who love “traditional” red velvet cupcakes and other “traditional” chocolate cupcakes were not in love with these. There was a beet-ish (or other unfamiliar) taste to them, but everyone else enjoyed.

    • Aw that’s too bad the kids didn’t like it! But I’m glad everyone else liked them. Thank you for telling me how they turned out!

      • Of course! They were also good after a chill in the fridge for breakfast on the go — and surprisingly very filling (kept me till lunch!).

  26. What is earth balance?

  27. Hi, I was so excited about this recipe but the cupcakes came out really gross – sickly sweet, dense and not fluffy.

    I figured it was since I used (slightly old) baked beets, rice milk (which was a bit sweet already) and maybe my measurements were different (I use metric standards)

    I will try it again and try follow the recipe properly!!

    • That’s really odd because I actually found the cupcakes at a perfect amount of sweet when I made them, and I don’t like cupcakes to be very sweet in the first place. They should be fluffy—I’m not quite sure why they were dense. Did you use fresh baking powder? I find that older baking powder that’s been sitting in the pantry for at least 6 months isn’t as effective.

      The fresher the beets, the brighter the colour should be, but I don’t see why it would make it any sweeter or more dense. Just make sure you purée it very finely. If there are chunks, it will definitely make for a heavier batter (resulting in dense cupcakes).

  28. does beets change flavor never had a beet. and i never ate red velvet cupcake because of the food coloring
    thank you

    • Hi Lori,

      Maybe I’m biased because I like beets, but there’s an earthy sweetness that beets have in the cupcakes. Red velvet to me is a combination of softness, sweetness, and a hint of chocolate and these cupcakes fit that description for me. I’ve been told you can taste the beets, but it’s not overwhelming.

  29. Alex Noonan says:

    Hi Lisa, just want to say i loved your recipe, it was really hard to find a “traditional” red velvet cake/cupcake recipe online, all i could find were the food colouring chocolate recipes so just wanted to say thank you very much for this great recipe, the cupcakes were greatly enjoyed by my classmates and myself.

    • I’m so glad you liked it! Yes I think at the time the reason I was so excited about this recipe was because I had such a hard time finding a natural red velvet cupcake recipe =) thank you for taking the time to leave this comment, Alex!

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