Valentine’s Day Gluten-free Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe with no food coloring

Growing up gluten-free in the Pacific Northwest, I’d never had a red velvet cake or cupcake in my life. This chocolate cake, often appearing in cupcake form, is often made with buttermilk and beets or red food coloring. It is most popular in the Southern United States, which may explain why I didn’t encountered it much. I’d seen recipes around online and was intrigued, but finally seeing Pinch my Salt’s beautiful red velvet cupcake decided it. I had to make a recipe for this Valentine’s Day. First I wanted to find out more about the history of the red velvet cake, and my friend Wikipedia helped me with this.

James Beard’s 1972 reference American Cookery describes three kinds of red velvet cake varying in the amounts of shortening and butter used. All of them use red food coloring for the color, but it is mentioned that the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn the cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, before more alkaline “Dutch Processed” cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name “Red Velvet” as well as “Devil’s Food” and a long list of similar names for chocolate cakes.

Dye And Other Color Sources
The use of red dye to make “Red Velvet” cake was probably started after the introduction of the darker cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during World War II, some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are still found in some red velvet cake recipes. Red velvet cakes seemed to find a home in the U.S. South and reached peak popularity in the 1950s – just before a controversy arose about health effects of common food colorings.
(Source: Wikipedia)

To make my version of red velvet cupcakes, I was determined to avoid using expensive red food coloring when I could use natural ingredients. The traditional dye besides red food coloring was beets, but I’d heard a lot of criticism that beets imparted a heavy, earthy flavor to the dessert. So, I went to Whole Foods with an open mind, looking for other bright red ingredients that could be used instead of beets. I had recently received a sample of Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, which inspired me to think of red juices like pomegranate. (I probably would have used this juice, but there was a mix-up and it ended up sitting in our apartment complex office for two weeks when it needed refrigeration- oops.) Whole Foods didn’t have that specific brand of pomegranate, so I ended up bringing home an acai juice instead. However, I was also inspired by a can of cranberry jelly that seemed ideal for decreasing the oil in the recipe as well as bringing color and additional flavor. Maybe it was unconventional, but I had read complaints that Red Velvet Cupcakes often didn’t have much flavor and since I didn’t want a strong chocolate flavor, fruit-infused vanilla sounded really good to me.

I couldn’t have been happier with the results. The cupcakes might have turned out more of a light brown than a red, but the flavor was wonderful, with crystallized sugar sparkling on the top and a light, fluffy texture. I had feared the batter might be too thin, but it rose to a perfect height and texture in the oven. To be honest, it didn’t even need frosting, but to make it more festive we whipped up a batch of the DH’s special cream cheese frosting. DH’s response? He asked me why I don’t bake more often… and ate about four of them in a row, before I could even get them frosted.

Looking for other gluten-free takes on the red velvet cupcake? Try these recipes!
Going Gluten-Free Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe with Chocolate Pudding
Ginger lemon Girl’s Lowfat Whole-Grain Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe
Naomi of Better Batter’s Starbucks-Style Ganache-filled Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe

I hope you have a delicious and gluten-free Valentine’s Day! What are you enjoying for Valentine’s Day dinner and Dessert? Please share in the comments!
Enjoy more of my Valentine’s Day Recipes!
Lemon Vanilla Heart Tuiles with Vanilla Custard
Homemade Easy GF Macademia or Pistachio nut Fudge
No refined sugar Babycake Brownie Recipe

Gluten-Free No food coloring Red Velvet Cupcakes
2 1/2 cups your favorite gluten-free flour blend (I used Bette Hagman’s gourmet blend*)
1 1/2 cups vanilla sugar **
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cocoa powder
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup cranberry jelly (not the whole berry kind)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk [dairy-free: try soy milk with 1 tbsp. lemon juice]
2 large eggs, at room temperature [egg-free: try 2 Ener-g Foods Egg Replacer "eggs"]
2 or 3 tbsp. acai juice, cranberry juice, or pomegranate juice (i used acai)
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 package lowfat cream cheese (equiv. tofutti for dairy-free)
2 tbsp. butter, room temperature (earth balance margarine for dairy-free)
1 tsp. vanilla
powdered sugar to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Prepare two muffin tin either by greasing or using muffin tin liners.

Sift together your flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

Whisk together or use your mixer to combine the cranberry jelly, canola oil, eggs, juice, vinegar and vanilla. You may want to start with just the cranberry jelly and oil or eggs. Mix until all wet ingredients are combined and smooth. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients.

Next, pour smooth batter into your muffin tin or liner until each cup is 2/3 full. (Batter may seem liquid, but it will rise beautifully. If you’re worried you can add a little more flour blend, especially if you used 3 tbsp. of the juice.)

Bake for 25 minutes or so, turning the pans around at around the 12 minute mark.

Combine cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in your mixer and beat until you have a creamy sauce. Add powdered sugar to taste- we probably add about 1/2 cup, but the key is to mix and taste as you go.

Let cupcakes cook and then frost.

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles if desired. Whole Foods has a natural fruit colored sprinkle.

*Bette Hagman’s Gourmet Blend, available through Ener-g Foods or mixed in bulk: 3 cups white rice flour 1 cup potato starch 1/2 cup tapioca starch flour.

**To make vanilla sugar, simply store a vanilla bean with your sugar overnight.

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11 Responses to “Valentine’s Day Gluten-free Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe with no food coloring”

  1. These look good enough to pluck right off my computer screen. Now I’m craving cupcakes. You tease me. I’m not very good at baking and not supposed to eat casein or very much sugar. I may have to save my sugar day just to eat them. Maybe I could just come by and have one of yours?

  2. I did see these, you’re genius! much healthier looking than mine, I really don’t love using food coloring for anything. And I can’t imagine using AN ENTIRE BOTTLE for one batch of cookie cakes!!!!

  3. You are so creative Sea! Will you cater my wedding? Ha Ha.
    I was thinking I could make them with agave instead of sugar, and do a nut-based ‘cream cheese’ if I wanted to make them dairy- and soy-free. Your web site is such an inspiration.

    I love that you used acai juice!

  4. Hi Diane, Thanks! I’m sorry to tempt you with this toothsome recipe (Tee hee). They can be easily converted to be dairy-free. I may have to start experimenting with my sugar subs (all natural, none of that yucky fake stuff!) and see what I can come up with for you and Daniela.

    Hi Jill, Thanks! Not sure these are all that healthy, heheh but they sure taste delicious. I do yearn secretly for the red in red velvet, though. Someday I’ll get the chemistry going- but the flavor was sooo yummy on these!

    Hi Daniela, Nice to see you! Thank you! I have some thoughts about sugar subs… may have to try something out. Also, beware sweetened cranberry jelly. It does add more sugar to the recipe. But you know- the frosting is almost superfluous. I like nut-based cream cheese, but in this case I think I would just leave it off! DH and I gobbled down quite a few before we frosted them and they were wonderful. I’ve got a post coming up with no refined sugar I think you’ll like… (not the cupcakes just yet, sorry!) Anyway, stay tuned! ;)

  5. [...] Red Velvet Cupcakes without food coloring (book of Yum) [...]

  6. Love this recipe – it looks so good! I included it in our “Valentine’s Day WITHOUT Food Coloring” story on Jolly Tomato:

  7. As a lifetime vegetarian, I was used to being limited, but my daughter’s diagnosis of a gluten allergy 6 months ago left me feeling deprived until I found your site – love it! These cupcakes are scrumptious – you described perfectly with “fruit infused vanilla cake.” The not at all red coloring was a bit of a let down, I’m going to tinker tinker with beets … Soak beets in milk over night?!?

  8. Have you considered a pinch of beetroot powder to give a truly red velvet look?

  9. Hi Alexandra,
    I’m very happy that my blog has helped you make the transition to a gluten-free vegetarian lifestyle. I’m glad you enjoyed the flavor of these cupcakes! The color isn’t what it would be with food coloring, of course. Let me know if you come up with a great natural fix for the color! :)

    Hi Elaine,
    Where would I find beetroot powder? I’ve never seen it..


  10. I was nasty at a church fundraiser “bayou Bluegrass” dinner & auction. – our GIG meets there & the teenage bandleader is GF! So ALL the gumbo options were GF, and we could have GF (or not) cornbread and RED velvet cake – yummy, but SO red!
    So I was tickled to find your blog post! I can picture using pumpkin and beets w / the cranberry, pureeing all 3 in the blender ….( thinking 1/2 C of pumpkin & 1/2 C cranberry, 1/4 C beets ….I use palm shortening and coconut milk ….
    Some of the grain based coffee substitutes use beet powder – one could dehydrate beets & then whiz in a coffee mill ….
    Do you remember when they grated carrots to add to “winter cream” so it would be yellow in one of the “Little House” books?? Carotene! Grating beets & then soaking them in the milk overnight would probably work well – could strain out, rinse & use them some other way (I love grated. beets in salads!

  11. Dear – silly spell check – I was ATa fundraiser (where did it come up with “nasty????” – I think I meant to type “just!)

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