Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes

Let's talk frankly about beets, shall we?  I'm not a big fan.  I want to be, but there's just something about beets that I can't get on board with.  Last spring my Baker Creek seed order came with a free packet of Bull's Blood Beet seed, and so I made room for a row of beets in hopes that I might find a better appreciation for them before the season was over.  Sadly, about mid-way through the garden season, I was wishing I had thinned all of them, because the only way I truly enjoyed them was when I used the tender greens in spring salads.
My only remaining hope was to somehow dial down the distinctive beet flavor by baking with them, but there was no time for baking this past summer.  Life was too busy and the summer was too hot to turn on the oven, so what was left of the beet harvest was hastily cooked, pureed, frozen, and largely forgotten until I took note of them in the freezer about a month ago.

And that's when I started to slightly obsess over making red velvet cake without a drop of food coloring (the main reason I really don't get the appeal of red velvet cake in the first place).  In my search for baking recipes that used beets, I found a lot of chocolate cakes, but as decadent as they looked, they didn't quite fit the bill.  It just seemed too easy to completely mask the beets with lots of dark chocolate.  I was far more intrigued with the idea of letting the color of the beets shine in a red velvet cake.
The most successful recipes seemed to point back to one source (there is some pretty neat science behind this recipe, and I highly recommend you click over and read both the original post and the follow up post to fully appreciate the work that went into developing this recipe), which stressed the key to maintaining the beets' bright red color is to keep the acidity of the batter high.  In reading her posts and the accompanying comments, it was clear that there truly is a science to this, so I followed her cupcake recipe pretty much to a T (the only change being the use of bottled lemon juice I had left over from last season's canning instead of fresh lemon juice). 

The cupcakes were incredibly moist, but a bit more dense than regular cupcakes (in the same way that a zucchini cake is slightly more dense than a regular cake).  The sweetness of these cupcakes is really subtle, and the lemon juice adds just a hint of tartness, which I actually really liked with the sweet cream cheese frosting.  I would say the color turned out more of a dark magenta than a dark red for me (but the same is true for the beet puree I started with, so I'm guessing that's the reason), and while I achieved a decent color to my cupcakes, I think next time I'd definitely sacrifice the color for a slightly more pronounced chocolate flavor and increase the cocoa by another tablespoon.

All in all, the cupcakes were pretty good!  I don't think this means I'm fully on board with beets just quite yet, but there may still be hope!

To prepare beet puree: boil or roast beets until tender and puree with an immersion blender or food processor until completely smooth.  Use fresh or freeze pre-measured quantities in a ziplock bag or freezer safe container.

All Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes by Sophistimom
3/4 cup beet puree 
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder (not Dutch Process, or dark cocoa powder)

In a mixing bowl or food processor, mix beet puree, vinegar, and lemon juice, followed by the rest of the ingredients [I added all the wet ingredients first, followed by the dry ingredients]. Mix until batter is smooth. Bake for 18 minutes at 350, or until the cupcakes in the center spring back up when touched. Cool and frost with cream cheese frosting. 

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