Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet with frosting

I have a major sweet-tooth! I do two thing to keep my sweet-tooth from taking over and driving me toward sweet foods all day long

  1. I sugar detox every season
  2. I eat a little sweet treat every day

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When it comes to sweet treats, I look for recipes that meet a few criteria:

  • Sweetened with fruit or vegetable
  • No empty-calories; some nutrition with my sweet treat is a must
  • Satisfying: low-fat, low-calorie, low-sugar treats are no good if they don’t actually satisfy
  • Moderate portion

So here’s the story of how Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes came to be.

I was taking a walk on the Underhill trail with my friend the other day, she mentioned that she had seen a recipe on television for a Red Velvet Cake sweetened and colored with beets. My ears perked up, a sweet treat made with beets could meet my criteria, beets are sweet and a good source of Vitamin C, folate, potassium and manganese.

If you have ever made Traditional Red Velvet Cake before, you know that the red color comes from oodles of red food coloring, which is one of the reasons I have never made it before. Using beets for the coloring eliminates the need for red dye #40.

I was further intrigued by the idea of using beets as a sugar substitute. My friend had remembered the show referring to a ‘lean’ time in United States history when it was common to substitute beets for the sugar, I was unable to substantiate this through a Google search but if anyone has information, I would love to learn if this is true. Most blog posts about the history of this now traditional cake is that Red Velvet cake came about as a marketing ploy during the Great Depression. A food coloring company hyped the cake to get people to buy more red food coloring, therefore boosting sales.

Anyway, now that I am intrigued by the idea, I have to make Red Velvet Cake using beets instead of red food coloring. And as you know I live on Monhegan Island so running out to the grocery store is just not an option. If  I don’t have it in my refrigerator or pantry and the small market doesn’t have it, I have to make do with what I have on hand.

Luckily for me, every year at the close of the tourist season, the three large inns put out extra produce and dry goods that would otherwise go bad. I wouldn’t normally buy already cooked beets wrapped in plastic, but since they were going to be thrown in a landfill otherwise, I picked them up. Therefore when I went to my refrigerator to see what I had on hand and whether or not I was going to be able to make this recipe, there I found the beets I had picked up at one of the inns. Yay, I can make cake!

love beets

I don’t recommend using these beets unless you come across them in the same way I did. Beets cooked and packaged in this way are highly inefficient and they go against my philosophy of buying local, whole foods. The packaging is kind of ridiculous from an environmental stand-point too.

To prepare whole beets from your local farmer or grocer for puree:

2 medium beets, peeled

Place in sauce pan in 1 inch water, cover, bring to a boil and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool. Puree in a blender or food processor. Should make about 3/4 cup beet puree.

beet puree

Now, for the recipe:

Makes 6 large or 12 small cupcakes

Ingredients (all-local when possible)

Wet Ingredients (Batter):creamed batter

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sweetener, like mashed very ripe banana, date puree, honey or granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup beet puree

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:dry ingredients

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbsp. raw cocoa powder

Liquid Ingredients:liquid ingredients

1/2 cup cultured buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp. rice vinegar

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice


  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Prepare muffin tins. My mom taught me a trick, use the butter wrapper to grease the inside of the muffin tins.

grease pans

  • Cream together the butter and sweetener (banana or date puree preferred).
  • Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  • Add beet puree and vanilla extract.
  • Set aside the batter.
  • Sift together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
  • Combine liquid ingredients in a separate bowl.
  • Alternate adding dry and liquid ingredients to the batter starting and ending with dry ingredients. Incorporate well but don’t over mix.
Look at that beautiful red hue the beets gave the batter.
  • Pour batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins.

in tins


  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, checking after 25 minutes. A toothpick inserted should come out with a few crumbs.
  • Allow to cool. Eat just as they are or try my Goat Cheese Cream Cheese Frosting.


Goat cheese cream cheese frosting:


2 oz. cream cheese, softened

2 oz. goat cheese at room temperature

1/4 cup powdered sugar (I have not discovered a good substitute for sugar in frosting)

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon

Blend the cheeses with electric mixer until creamy and soft and then slowly add the sugar and cinnamon until well incorporated.