No one will guess what is in these red velvet cupcakes.
Beet Red Velvet Cupcakes
Credit: Photo: Victor Protasio; Prop Styling: Missie Neville Crawford; Food Styling Torie Cox

These red velvet cupcakes might look ordinary, but they are made with a surprising ingredient: fresh red beets. While we're certainly not opposed to using food coloring to give red velvet its signature hue, beets work just as well as a natural dye. And no one will even guess root vegetables are hiding in their dessert, trust us! They'll be too distracted by the chocolate cake and buttery frosting.

We tested this recipe with roasted and boiled beets and found that microwaving the beets is actually the best way to preserve their bright red color. Cooked beets may look red when they are pureed, but when they are baked in the cake, they will turn brown. Our test kitchen also recommends adding a little fresh lemon juice; the acidity helps retain the beets' color, making the cupcakes even more red. Traditionally, red velvet cakes were made with an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk or vinegar, which interacted with the cocoa powder and baking soda, giving the cake a reddish brown hue. As time went on, we upped the ante with red food coloring, or in this case, beets.

Watch: How to Make Red Velvet Crepes

Make sure the beets are trimmed and scrubbed clean. Then wrap them in parchment paper and microwave on high until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Let the beets cool wrapped in the parchment paper until they are warm to the touch. Their skins should peel off easily. Chop the beets, then puree them with the lemon juice in a food processor until they are finely chopped.

Beyond the beet puree, this is a very classic red velvet cake recipe. The batter is flavored with buttermilk and a touch of cocoa powder, and made moist with eggs and canola oil. And because red velvet cake is never complete without a fluffy mound of cream cheese frosting on top, we've included that too. The tangy richness of the frosting is the perfect partner for the chocolate cake. Certain things should not be messed with.