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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23 Responses to "red velvet beetroot cupcakes {gluten free}"
  1. Kate says:

    Hooray for red velvet cake without any food colouring in it! These little cupcakes look perfect and a celebration of such a good cause x

  2. Oh, I bet the beetroot and cocoa are magic together. I think you did awesomely with those little fondant ribbons! My fondant game is pretty much at 0. ;) Thanks for sharing for this important cause! xo.

  3. cynthia says:

    These are so beautiful, Kathryn. Thank you so much for this, and for calling awareness back to such an important issue. Especially with cupcakes as luscious as these!!

  4. Kari says:

    My supervisor is diabetic and I’m always looking for alternatives so that he can join in the treats time!

  5. Thank you for this post! There’s so much misinformation out there, and we need more posts like these to bring awareness back to an important issue. Also, beetroot to make red velvet cupcakes? Love it.

  6. What a beautiful collaboration Kathryn — bringing awareness to the forefront definitely needs to happen more often. Also, these cupcakes! My man is mad keen on red velvet every year for his birthday, but I don’t love the idea of using food colouring – bookmarking this recipe for August 2016 for sure!

  7. What a lovely batch of cupcakes for a lovely cause! They really look so uniform and professional. I love baking with beetroot and chocolate. All natural flavors are the best!

  8. Thanks for sharing this Kathryn. It is hard to imagine that so many myths and prejudices are accepted by so many. Overcoming the ignorance and misinformation is so daunting. Thank you for the reminder that we need to keep spreading awareness.
    P.S. These cupcakes sound great!

  9. Sophia says:

    Love this Kathryn – first of all for raising awareness of such an important topic but also for putting beetroot in cupcakes! I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with beetroots in cakes – it can be delicious but can also just be earthy and weird. The idea of making red velvet cupcakes with beetroots is pure genius and I am sure these are as delicious as they look!

  10. Sherrie says:

    I can’t think of a better way to spread such a powerful message than with cake! Those little ribbons are perfect, and I’d say your fondant skills are pretty great Kathryn. All my love, xx!

  11. Thank you for spreading awareness about this! When the whole Charlie Sheen thing happened, I was shocked by how misinformed people were about the disease. When I was growing up it was definitely seen as a death sentence and I am amazed at how far treatment for HIV has come. I also never saw the point in red velvet but you might just convert me with beetroot- these are beautiful cupcakes! xo

  12. Amanda Paa says:

    such lovely cupcakes for a wonderful cause. it’s still shocking how much misconception around AIDS that exists, and we definitely need people like you to help spread the real word, and awareness.

    i do love beetroot desserts, the cake recipe on my blog is one of my favorites. the earthiness + sweetness is an unexpected match made in heaven. xo

  13. I love this, “spread icing not ignorance” – and you definitely are with your helpful words on a worthy cause, AND gorgeous little cakes. I love the idea of beetroot in cake but have always been to lazy to handle the mess! Officially inspired. xo

  14. Such gorgeus cupcakes (beetroot!) for such an important cause; a topic that we all should be more aware of. Thanks for this post, Kathryn! xx

  15. I absolutely looove beetroot and putting it in cupcakes to make red velvet is genius. What a great way to bring awareness to a cause. Thank you so much for the post Kathryn!

  16. I love this post. I remember when AIDS/HIV was a death sentence and it’s amazing how far we’ve come (though I think we still have a ways to go judging by some of the gross responses to Charlie Sheen recently). The cupcakes sound wonderful.

  17. Hi ! This looks Delicious ,yummy and scrumptious. This is new recipe for me and quite complex to prepare, but I will definitely try this at-least once. I’m so glad I stumbled across your blog. I’m sure to be back for more. Thanks for sharing this yummy recipe with us.

  18. Summer says:

    These cupcakes look awesome! Love your presentation too- so cute ?

  19. Renee says:

    Late comment, but these are amazing!! So gorgeous, and it’s so good that you raise awareness for things like this. I hope you are doing okay all the way over there. Still hoping next time I’m coming to London, we can meet!

  20. Hello! It looks very tasty and delicious. This is my favorite recipe. When I felt hungry, I used to make this dish. I am so happy that I stumbled across your recipe blog. Thanks for sharing great recipe blog.

  21. Janet says:

    It looks very nice :) I like it. I love red of this dessert!

  22. You do not know how much I wanted to see your recipes again, I’m glad we have them back.
    Thank you so much!

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