Beautiful Beet Cupcakes

At a recent farmers market, I decided to finally buy an item that had magnetized me week after week: beets.  Of course, I’d had beets before – mostly cooked and on salads. But something about seeing them so often at the market  made me feel the same way I did about nasturtium flowers: they were beautiful in the temperate outdoor setting, and their potential to become a baked sweet treat was increasingly enticing.

Like black licorice and coconut, beets seem to be one of those foods that many people passionately abhor. But following the philosophy of zucchini bread and carrot cake, I decided to try transforming them into a more likeable format. Their vibrant color made the process as beautiful as it was delicious.

Beet Cupcakes (makes 12 standard sized cupcakes)

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (omit if using salted butter)
  • ½ teaspoon each: ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
  • finely grated zest of one orange
  • 1 ¼ cup raw fresh beets – peeled, grated, and tightly packed

Frosting:

  • ½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons beet root powder (optional, but so pretty! Available at spice & herb shops such as Lhasa Kharnak)

Line a muffin pan with 12 paper cups.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Beat eggs, butter, sugar until smooth.  Sift remaining dry ingredients into egg mixture, mixing until combined. Fold in the beets and orange peel until evenly incorporated.  Enjoy the spectacle of that luminous magenta batter!  Fill cups 2/3 full. Bake 15-20 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.

After a few minutes, or as soon as cupcakes are cool enough to handle, promptly remove them from the pan and transfer them to a wire rack or towel on your countertop. (This will prevent condensation on the bottom of the cupcakes and will speed the cooling process.)  Sadly, the batter turns brown once baked, but not to worry – frosting will bring back the color, and the baking process has created a delectable flavor.  Let cakes cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: Whip together the softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla for 2 minutes.  Sift powdered sugar, cinnamon, and beet powder over it, beating in between additions. Once combined, chill frosting for at least 30 minutes, then transfer to a pastry bag (if using).  Pipe or spread the frosting over the tops of the cooled cupcakes.  If desired, decorate with sprinkles.

Beautiful beet cupcakes are a feast for the eyes and mouth alike. With their sweet spiciness and moist texture, they impart a trace of earthy beet flavor, but not enough to deter beet-haters – at least not in my experience.  For me, each glimpse serves as a reminder of the remarkable colors nature brings us in its purity, and each bite takes me back to the farmers markets I so enjoy visiting.

Maybe next time… Nuts or dried fruit are a welcome addition to these cupcakes.  Since the recipe is rather small, I suggest just a half cup of either one.  I can imagine chopped, toasted almonds or pecans, black or gold raisins, dried cranberries, or a little of each.

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