red velvet beetroot cupcakes {gluten free}

beetroot cupcakes | london bakes

Next Tuesday, 1 December, is World AIDS Day. It’s estimated that across the world, 34 million people are currently living with HIV and more than that have died from AIDS and associated conditions since the first cases were reported in the early 1980’s.

Research has shown that public awareness of HIV has declined over the past decade. The myths that I remember being debunked when I was growing up in the 1990’s – that you can catch HIV from kissing, that most people catch HIV through drug use – are now widely believed. If recent events have shown us nothing else, there’s a world of misinformation and scaremongering and prejudice out there.

This year, the National AIDS Trust is trying to challenge some of the commonly held preconceptions about HIV/AIDS through the medium of cake with their #SpreadingIcingNotIgnorance campaign as part of their broader #RethinkHIV campaign to mark World AIDS Day.

beetroot cupcakes | london bakesbeetroot cupcakes | london bakes

When I was growing up, HIV was a death sentence (and still is for many people, particularly in the developing world) but advances in treatment mean that, with the right medication, many people with HIV will have a normal life expectancy. A study in France even found that people with HIV tended to live longer than average as they tended to take better care of their health. Effective treatment has also meant that 85% people in the UK with HIV are not infectious as medication has suppressed the virus in their system (as is, apparently, the case with Charlie Sheen).

beetroot cupcakes | london bakes beetroot cupcakes | london bakes

The red ribbon has become an iconic symbol of the battle against HIV. I’m the first to admit that skills with fondant are pretty lacking but I managed to knock out a few for such a good cause. My red ribbons are sitting on top of a surprisingly delicious red velvet beetroot cupcake (and a mound of cream cheese frosting).

I say surprisingly delicious because I’ve never really seen the point of either red velvet cake or adding beetroot to cakes. This recipe has, however, converted me. The earthiness of the beetroot and the bitterness of the cocoa work together perfectly without either one overwhelming. I often find that beetroot cakes can be dense affairs but these little cakes are as light and fluffy as you could want whilst still being sturdy enough to take a good dollop of cream cheese frosting (which is always a quality I admire in a cake).

More information about this year’s World AIDS Day campaign is available from the National AIDS Trust. Look out for the #RethinkHIV hashtag on social media over the next few weeks.
beetroot cupcakes | london bakes

Oh yeah, and just in case you were wondering, you really, really, really can’t catch HIV from kissing.

beetroot cupcakes | london bakes

red velvet beetroot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Yield: 10 – 12 cupcakes

I’ve never really seen the point of red velvet cake or adding beetroot to cakes until I tried this recipe from the New York Times. The texture is spot on and the cocoa/beetroot combo is subtle without being overpowering. Note that I only get 10 cakes out of this but I used very large cases so you might well get a few more.


    For the cupcakes:
  • 2 medium beetroot
  • 120ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 120g (1 cup) rice flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons corn flour / corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 115g (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g (1 cup less 2 tablespoons) unrefined caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • For the frosting:
  • 55g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300g (2 1/2 cups) icing sugar / powdered sugar
  • 125g (1/2 cup) cream cheese, cold
  • Red fondant icing, for decoration (totally optional)


  1. The first step is to prep your beetroot by wrapping it in foil and roasting it in the oven for a 1 1/2 – 2 hours until soft. I tend to do this the night before so it’s totally cold by the time I’m ready to bake. When you are ready to go, preheat the oven to 180C/350F and line a baking tray with paper cases.
  2. When the beetroot has cooled, peel it and roughly chop the flesh. Add it to a food processor and pulse a few times to check that you only have about 2/3 cup of beetroot; if your beetroot was a bit bigger, remove some of the excess. Add the buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar and vanilla and blitz again until you have a smooth (and very pink!) puree.
  3. In a large bowl, lightly whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and set aside.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating after each addition until the mixture is smooth. Fold in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then half of the beetroot mixture, then another 1/3 of dry ingredients, then the rest of the beetroot and finally the rest of the dry ingredients.
  5. Divide the mixture between the paper cases and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the cakes are risen and cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  6. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and icing sugar until smooth and light. Add the cold cream cheese and beat until it’s totally incorporated and the mixture is fluffy. Dollop this on top of the cupcakes and top with whatever you fancy. I made the iconic red ribbon out of red fondant icing for these.


Cucpakes adapted from the New York Times. I’m 99% sure that the frosting is originally from the Hummingbird Bakery.


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