A Red Velvet for me? Made the way I can have them? Vegan? Plant-Based? Made with coconut sugar? Oh yes. Vivid red inside? Yes, indeed. That the Teenager asked if he could have more, and not…”What is in them” first. It is a satisfaction when he is gobbling them up and when we can snark a bit on how he is eating vegetables, life is good.
Every time I am in Costco around Valentines Day they have those awful (and massive) red velvet cakes for sale. Besides being so bad nutritionally, the sheer amount of artificial red dye is simply scary. Long-time readers know the story behind my not consuming them, they were one of the triggers for vertigo migraines. At 7+ years out from having consumed artificial red dyes, I can tell you I don’t miss them. I am even getting to the point where I haven’t bought natural red dyes in quite a while. Mostly because natural dyes are not heat stable, and don’t bake well.
Truth is, to get flame red cupcakes like you see in the stores, you must use fake dye or use “natural” red dye made from Carmine (what Starbucks used until people got all icked out by it). That is if you want to make a red velvet with cocoa powder…which I have done before Version 1, Version 2 and Version 3. But…overall, the cocoa flavor isn’t pronounced in most of the red velvet cakes, so why even bother? Nerd note: it is the acid and the cocoa powder that originally produced a reddish tint in RV cakes, which often contained buttermilk as well. How they took a left turn to Red #40 Land is beyond me (I love how people got all mad over carmine, but never think of where the artificial red dyes come from – coal-tar and petroleum). So that brings us to the way to get red with no dyes, natural or not. Beets. But not boiled or raw beets, rather, rich deep-roasted beets, caramelized for color and sweetness.
So when people say “beets are gross”, you have to say…well, at least you know what is in beets. Do you know what is in that grocery store cake? No, you don’t really. Have fun ingesting dinosaur-rich dyes…..yummers.
My recipes come with a gentle warning of course. The typical SAD (Standard American Diet) eater will most likely not be swayed by my cupcakes. Truly, 3 years ago I wouldn’t have been excited I suppose. As we go farther into eating mostly unprocessed and plant-based, I find my taste has changed. When I go into the store and there are samples, most of them don’t taste that great anymore. They taste flat. Or greasy. Or salty. Or all 3 at once. Cakes and cookies especially.
The beets are not over powering, the taste is there, mildly in the background. I won’t fib and claim “You won’t taste it at all!!!!!”, because that is very untrue. And yet, I find I like the flavor – it is sweet, rustic and savory, all at once. You don’t get that jittery feeling after eating one that you do from a slab of Costco cake. More than likely due to the fiber from the beets and flaxseed and that the sugar isn’t the cheapest/whitest. But, to get this shade you need to leave the cocoa out, Bonus is you don’t have to tax your mind with trying to get a chemical reaction between cocoa and acid though. Simpler baking is always nice…..and sweet frosting makes the world go around anyhow!
Red Velvet Cupcakes
- 1 pound beets (weighed without beet tops)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp fine sea salt
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp coconut sugar
- 3 Tbsp ground flaxseed + 9 Tbsp cool water
- 2/3 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
- ¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°. Scrub beets throughly, trimming leaves off and the bottom root. Wrap each beet in foil, placing on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 1½ hours, until fork tender. Remove from oven and let sit wrapped to cool down.
Put on food grade gloves (to avoid hand staining) and remove each beet from the foil. Drain any red beet juice into a small glass bowl from the foil. It is thick, so be patient as it drains – you will use this to tint the frosting. Rub the peels off, then add the beets to a high-speed blender or food processor. Process until smooth, in a Vitamix I used around setting 5 and constantly tamped. Scrape out, measure 1¼ cups and set aside.
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together in a small mixing bowl.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the beets, sugar, flaxseed mix and vanilla until smooth. Add in melted oil and stir quickly to combine. Divide between the liners, filled nearly to the top. A disher or cookie scoop helps, this batter is very thick.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs and the tops are done looking. Let cool, then transfer to a cooling rack. Once cooled, frost as desired.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
It is important to use roasted and not boiled or packaged cooked beets. The color is deeper, brighter and the sweetness of the beets are brought out. Boiling leeches a lot of the color out – and the flavor is nowhere as nice. As well, for tinting the frosting, you need the thick syrup produced during roasting.
And even if you spend $2 for your fresh beets, you are still quite ahead. A bottle of artificial coloring is more than that, natural dyes run $6 to 15 a bottle – which is used up in one batch!
Vanilla Pink Cream Frosting
- 1 cup Organic Shortening
- 2 cups powdered sugar, preferably organic
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pinch fine sea salt
- Unsweetened almond or coconut milk
- Coloring, if desired (see above in cupcakes)
Beat the shortening until smooth with a hand mixer, add in sugar, vanilla and salt. Add milk as needed, one Tablespoon at a time, beating in thoroughly, until just spreadable. Dye as desired.
Frosting will be softer at room temperature, but becomes solid when stored chilled. If making in advance, let warm up and beat again before spreading.
To get the spiky look, frost roughly, then spike the frosting with an offset spatula. Clear decorating crystals are pretty sprinkled on as well.
1 batch, will frost heavily 12 or lightly up to 24.
Freeze-dried beet powder works well as a tint for those times when you don’t want to work hard.
PS: Have a happy Valentines Day! I spent mine in the gym and then had lucnh with Kirk and the two youngest 🙂