Harvard Beet “Velvet” Cupcakes












The Heirloom Goodies Series:  Find your sifter!

Part 2 of The Three Harvard’s of Cake

Harvard Beet Cupcakes

I held the jar of Harvard beets in my hand like a chef contestant on the food show Chopped who has just pulled a big bag of chicken feet out of their ingredients basket. Tender beet greens, fresh beets, pickled beets; I love them but these beets were in a cornstarch thickened sweet and sour sauce and, well, tasted like canned beets. I turned the jar to see the list of ingredients and right on the back label was a recipe for Harvard Beet Cake. It is a standard technique to puree a fruit or vegetable (think pumpkin) and use it as the liquid in a recipe and this is when I discovered the beauty of this product that initially disgusted me. I put half the jar, with liquid, into the food processor and, because of the natural color of the beets and the tendency for jarred food to be soft, the Harvard beets made this beautiful vibrant and smooth puree. I don’t make Red Velvet Cupcakes for one simple reason, the recipe calls for red food coloring. The only time I make a concession to food coloring is when making frosting and sugar for holiday cookies or when enjoying a Jell-O shot. I would use the beet puree, the traditional spices of the Harvard beet cake and add a little cocoa powder to make a spicy, red dye free Harvard beet “velvet” cupcake. They are tangy and sweet when topped with a brown sugar cream cheese frosting – delicious! If you follow the recipe on the jar, add orange zest, but I think you will enjoy my version of this heirloom classic.

Harvard Beet “Velvet” Cupcake

375 degrees, about 10 cupcakes

Cupcake Ingredients:

5 Tbs. unsalted butter, cool room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 egg

½ jar, with half of the liquid, Harvard beets (will make 1 cup puree)

1 cup flour

2 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. clove

1 Tbs. cocoa powder


Cupcake Directions:

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa powder and set aside

Puree the Harvard beets in a food processor until smooth. ½ jar will make about 1 cup puree.

Cream the butter and gradually add the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy

Beat in the egg until smooth

Alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients and the beet puree to the creamed butter and sugar. Begin and end with the dry mixture and mix until combined but do not over beat.

Place paper liners in muffin tin cups and fill a scant ¾ full with the cupcake batter.

Bake for approximately 14 – 16 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in a cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before frosting

Optional: finely chopped walnuts for the tops of the frosted cupcakes


Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

1/2 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

4 ounces cream cheese

2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

milk/cream, if necessary to thin


In a saucepan, melt the butter

Add the brown sugar to the butter, stirring to melt and bring to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute.

Add the cream cheese and continue to cook and stir until it is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Cool the mixture

Add the sifted confectioners sugar a little at a time, beating until thick enough to spread.


Part one of the series:  Harvard’s Sugar Cake