Valentine’s is those days on the calendar when it’s socially acceptable to be a loopy, romantic nutbar; the one day of the year when you can crank up the cheeseball dial and no one will fault you for it. You can send love notes, litter your desk with bowls of cinnamon-candy hearts and promise your office mates bright red, fluffy cupcakes with hand-whipped frosting…

…or so you thought.

I was so excited to make these cupcakes. Excited about trying the old technique of using beets make the batter electric pink. Excited about using a pastry bag to add an artful slick of cream cheese frosting on top. Excited about the beautiful Swedish paper cups that I’d found months prior and that I’d purposely saved for this day (yes, yes I did). But most of all, I was excited about finally redeeming myself since the last Valentine’s cupcake failure.

Expectations were high, people. Valentine-in-a-bow-tie high.

Despite my well-laid plan (I was rested! I had plenty of time! I had prepped all the ingredients!), lady fortune had a different one in store – one involving me forgetting to add the butter, then having to scrape the batter out of the pretty paper cups and back into the bowl…only to remove from the oven, 18 minutes later, twelve flat, dense cylinders in greasy-bottomed paper cups. The icing flipped me the bird too, as it initially resisted its extrusion from the pastry bag, then shifted in consistency to seep out in a nondescript, gooey mass.

While the icing improved after a bit of chilling in the fridge, there was no saving the cake. Dense, chewy, beety (undercooked?), they hovered somewhere between expired vegan health cake and a 4th grade science experiment. These were not lovely, fluffy, cherubs-singing-from-the-heavens cupcakes. These were fists-shaking-at-the-heavens cupcakes. These were “I hate you” cupcakes.

As it so happens, this was also the day my friend Matthew was showing me how to use a DSLR. And thank GOD for that, because without him, I’m not sure I could’ve made these things look half as edible. With his keen eye, he managed to help me make these cupcakes look delicious and elegant and lovely – everything they most definitely were not.

Here’s to faking it! Happy Valentine’s xx

4 cupcakes

cupcake with bite

cupcake with bite - detail


All Natural Red Velvet Cupcakes (makes approx 12) – adapted from this recipe

3/4 cup beet purée (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)
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon natural cocoa powder (not Dutch Process, or dark cocoa powder)

Beet purée: 2 medium beets, or 1 large beet, scrubbed and rinsed

Fill a saucepan with water, add the beets and bring to a boil. Allow the beets to cook until very tender (approx. 30 mins).

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. Empty the food processor of the beet purée. Measure out 3/4 cup and set aside (save any extra purée for another use).

Preheat oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs, vanilla, buttermilk, vinegar and lemon juice. Beat or whisk until combined. Add the beet purée. Mix some more until the mixture is uniform.

Line a standard muffin tin with paper cupcake liners. Scoop mixture evenly into cupcake liners.

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.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8oz 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

Beat all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Frost cooled cupcakes.