Since last year, when I posted my all natural red velvet cake, which I made without red food dye, dozens of people have tried my recipe. For some, it worked well, and for some, it did not. Making a cake is hard enough without the addition of carefully balancing the pH levels, and it seemed everything affected the outcome of the color, whether it was the type of flour used, the type of cocoa, fineness of the ground beets, and on and on and on. People in Europe, for some reason, had the most difficult time with it, and I have yet to hear of a reader across the Atlantic who got a red cake at the end of it.
I must confess, in the midst of some of the frustrated comments, I tried making the cake again, only to come up with a slightly purple version. I started to wonder if maybe it was the fact that I used Philadelphia Cream Cheese (my normal standard) instead of the brand I can buy in bulk at Costco, which I had used for the cake back when I made my post.
I became almost as disgruntled as some of the readers who commented.
After awhile, though, I thought I should make an another attempt. People kept asking if there is a way to lighten up my cake, or if it’s possible to turn the cake into cupcakes, so I finally decided it was time to try it again. I bought the beets, which then sat in my fridge until the fridge started smelling funny. To my relief, it wasn’t the beets, but rather a rogue cucumber that no longer looked like a cucumber, but it was the nudge I needed to get to work on the cupcakes.
My first job was to be absolutely sure the beets were well roasted. I probably roasted them for at least ninety minutes—I wanted the puree to be very, very fine—like baby food. My next step was to try and make the recipe easier by using buttermilk. It is very acidic, no matter what brand you use, and it would be a lighter alternative to the cream cheese, which may or may not have been the culprit in turning my last cupcakes purple. Finally, to make the recipe a little easier, and to dirty fewer bowls, I blended the entire thing in the food processor, right where I had pureed my beets.
So to everyone who will attempt this recipe, good luck to you. My fingers are crossed that yours will be as red as mine.
all natural red velvet cupcakes
3/4 cup beet puree (directions follow)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter (8 tablespoons), at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (not bleached flour)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder (not Dutch Process, or dark cocoa powder)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a standard muffin tin with paper cupcake liners. Empty the food processor of the beet puree (see below). Measure out 3/4 cup of beets and add it back to the food processor fitted with the steel blade attachment. Save any extra beet puree for another use. Add in vinegar and lemon juice (if you didn’t already add it when you were pureeing the beets), followed by the rest of the ingredients. Pulse the mixture a few times until the batter is smooth. Scoop mixture evenly into cupcake liners.
2. Bake for 18 minutes, or until the cupcakes in the center spring back up when touched. Remove cupcakes from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Frost with cream cheese frosting (I used a large pastry bag and a large star tip—Wilton 1M).
2 medium beets, or 1 large beet, scrubbed and rinsed
1. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Fill a small roasting dish with 1/2 inch of water. Place beets in the water, and cover with a piece of parchment paper and a large piece of aluminum foil. Roast for 60-90 minutes, or until the beets are very tender to the point of a knife.
2. When beets are cooled completely, peel, and cut into large chunks. Place in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process for 2 minutes, or until extremely smooth. If the beets need a little moisture to help them along, you can add the lemon juice and the vinegar from the recipe above, and then just don’t add it later.
cream cheese frosting
1 8 ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
Beat all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.