Red Velvet Cupcakes


Today at Little Jars we'll be posting one of my favourite cupcake recipes for red velvet, vegan cupcakes with maple cream frosting. These cupcakes are "in vogue" again these days, and we see why - they just look so tasty!

We love cupcakes and all their fluffy, sweet goodness. I love baking, as I've already declared. And I love decorating cupcakes. Yesterday, I whipped some of these up with my good friend Bernadette, a Rwandese-Canadian! It was so nice being in her home and chatting about the motherland. And, she gave me a gift of maple syrup - perfect for making a healthier version of buttercream icing - fluffy maple frosting.

So what's the secret to making cupcakes healthier? Well, you can't ever make them "healthy". Come on, they are mini cakes with frosting! But, you can make them "cleaner" on your system, by making a few substitutions.


Food Colourings

Firstly -what makes red velvet cupcakes red? Well, red food colouring! However, buyer beware - artificial food colouring is extremely toxic to your body, and contain carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. There is also evidence linking even small amounts of food colouring to organ damage, birth defects, and allergic reactions, with some suggesting a cause of hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children. If you want to read more, see this article, and this one.

How to Make your own Natural Food Colourings

So what are natural food colouring substitutions? Make your own juices! Just blend the ingredient, and either put the mix through a sieve/cheesecloth/pantyhose (yes!), or take your hand with the pulp and squeeze out the juice - but it may dye your hand!

Here's what to use:

  • Red Colour - beets
  • Pink Colour - raspberries or pomegranates
  • Orange - carrots (makes a nice peachy colour)
  • Green - yes, prepare yourself - spinach! You can't taste it, promise! You can also use spirulina powder (very healthy!)
  • Yellow - I use a pinch of tumeric, but not too much! Saffron works too.
  • Purple - purple corn flour is a healthy additive, or you can use blueberries, blackberries. Lastly, if you have purple cabbage (reddish in some places), you can boil this to get the colour you need, then add in baking soda and it will change. From there, you can add it into your baking.

Just remember that if you are using some of these natural food colourings, they may change the taste of your food. However, beet juice is tasteless and will give these cupcakes a lovely red hue.


We've talked before about how white flour is basically food poison. So, some good alternatives for cupcakes are healthier flours that are still light - to give us fluffy muffins. I would recommend whole wheat pastry flour, a light spelt flour, or rice flour. If you don't have access to these (ie: Kigali!), use a mix of whole wheat and white. Or, buy brown rice and ask to have it milled into powder, or use a high-powered blended. This will give you a better, healthier flour. You can also use ground (powdered) nuts - almonds, pecans, walnuts etc.


Decorating wise - try for natural ingredients. I love dark chocolate curls (using raw chocolate in this case - dairy free!)Healthy "Buttercream Icing/Frosting"So, we all love cupcakes for the icing. Especially cupcakes which lots of icing - as they look just so pretty don't they? I don't know about you, but then I eat them and feel instantly like crap. All that butter and sugar - one cupcake can have as many as 300-400 calories! That's the same as a McDonald's Cheeseburger, FYI.

So, how do we get the same delicious taste of icing, without all the sugar rush/crash, and the calories? Well, this is a difficult one. Most vegan icing recipes still use icing sugar (as my recipe below). So they are packed full of sugar, and are certainly not blood sugar friendly! But don't despair, there are some great ideas out there. A favourite blogger Chocolate Covered Katie has a good link for healthy frostings.

If you don't mind dairy, then you might want to try a maple cream cheese frosting instead. This cream cheese frosting recipe calls for using tofu! But there are many others from the blog above.

Today, for this recipe, I've gone for using icing sugar. Why? Well, I was with a friend baking and that's what we had. Also, I wanted to showcase my favourite vegan cupcake shop in London - owned by a Canadian! But of course that's not why I love it, promise! Ms. Cupcake is so creative with her many, many cupcake options.

So, for these cupcakes, I made half the recipe below, and put just a tiny amount on the cupcakes. You decide what works for you.

The Best Red Velvet Cupcakes


  • 1 cup nut milk (or soy/rice)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar (the secret ingredient!)
  • 1 1/4 cups rice flour, or whole-wheat pastry flour, or other.
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (try to use the real kind, raw cocoa powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (beet juice, not fake stuff!)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (try to use the real thing!)


  1. Put muffin liners in the muffin tin.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)
  3. Pour the soy milk into a bowl, add the apple cider vinegar, and stir. Put aside to curdle.
  4. In a large bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt).
  5. Add the oil, beet juice (food colouring) and the curdled soy milk and stir, folding the wet and dry together.
  6. Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake for about 15-20minutes.
  7. They will rise a lot - so keep an eye on them as you don't want dry cupcakes! If you want to test, insert a toothpick until it comes out clean.
  8. Take out of oven, and remove the cupcakes - put them on a cooling rack.
  9. Once cooled - ice, decorate, eat and enjoy!
  10. Tip - I often only ice the ones I want to eat. Then I keep the icing in a separate container.
  11. Chocolate Curls - take a dark chocolate block, and run a smooth knife lightly across the top. Then drop them on the cupcakes.

Vegan 'Buttercream' Frosting


  • 75 grams (5 tablespoons) of dairy-free margarine
  • 75 grams (5 tablespoons) of vegetable fat (shortening)
  • 6 cups icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons rice/nut/soya milk


  1. Cream the margarine and vegetable shortening with 3 cups of icing sugar. You can do this with an electric mixer, or, if you want to burn some calories, use a hand mixer or a whisk.
  2. Once it's mixed, add in the maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of the milk.
  3. The icing should be quite runny at this stage. Slowly add in more and more icing sugar until the frosting is whipped and lovely.
  4. Put on cupcakes, however you like!