Beet-Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Beet-Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yes, you read that right. Beets.

This recipe drew inspiration from a number of sources. A few weeks ago, an episode of Good Eats aired where Alton (obviously thematically inspired by Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) talked about beet juice being used to provide the red color to red velvet cake. I thought that beets might make a good stand-in for carrots in carrot cake, and maybe I’d end up with red or pink cakes that would thrill my pink-obsessed daughter. A little searching turned up a number of similar takes (like this one at YumSugar), but they all had one thing in common: baking caused the color to fade, which would have defeated the purpose.

So, I grabbed my copy of McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and found that the pigments in beets (betalains) are affected not only by temperature but by pH. Acid pH was associated with the red color I was going for, so I started with my absolute favorite carrot cake recipe (originally from the folks at Cooks Illustrated), swapped out the carrots for beets, adjusted the spices a little, added some lemon juice for acidity, and, to try to keep the acid in the lemon juice from being neutralized by the baking soda, used only baking powder in the recipe, since it provides its own acid and base so the stoichiometry should work out. The resulting cupcakes were very moist, brilliant red, and tasted great (and yes, they thrilled the daughter in question.)

Since these were part of the Easter dessert table this year, this is just a quick snapshot, since I was too busy and too space-constrained to set up a tripod or lights and natural light wasn’t much of an option.

Beet-Lemon Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting


For the cupcakes

12.5 oz. all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tbl. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 pound (3-4) beets, greens trimmed
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the frosting

8 oz. cream cheese (soft but still cool)
2 oz. butter (soft but still cool)
1 tbl. lemon juice
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
4 oz. confectioners sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Line muffin/cupcake pan with paper liners (recipe makes 2 dozen).

Cook the beets in simmering water until a knife inserted comes out cleanly and the skins rub off easily. Remove the skins, and grate the beets on a box grater (I covered my work surface with plastic wrap; this is messy and beets stain). Add the lemon juice and zest to the beets and set aside.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a bowl and whisk together.

In another bowl (or the workbowl of a food processor) whisk the eggs and sugars together until the oil is frothy and the sugars are well-combined. Continue whisking quickly while slowly pouring in the vegetable oil (you’re making an emulsion, and the result should be thick and creamy looking; this is easier in the food processor although it is quite doable by hand.) Fold in the beets and dry ingredients until completely combined (no streaks of flour should remain).

Portion equally in your 24 cupcake liners (about 3/4 full), then bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow to cook before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese together. Add the lemon juice, zest, and the confectioners sugar and beat until combined. Spread or pipe onto the cooled cupcakes and serve.

Posted by djwtwo on 2011-04-29 03:46:48

Tagged: , nikon , cooking , baking , dessert , recipe , cupcakes , easter , beets , red , experiment , AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED [II]