Cocoa Kale & Beet Cupcakes with Vanilla Coconut Cream Frosting

Victory is mine (and now yours)!

I imagined it, made four attempts at developing the recipe, and with enough tweaking and adjusting, I have landed on a veggie-based, gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake that is downright cartwheel-worthy. You read the name correctly, there are beets and kale in these babies, but you would never know it aside from the pretty green flecks in the rich dark red cake. I worked diligently to keep ingredients as simple and “findable” as possible, and the taste rich and delicious for everyone. Make. These. ASAP.


Before we get started, I have to share this rave review from my pal Tara’s daughter, Maddie—the picky eater in the fam (below).
Tara and I had met for lunch and I brought her a cupcake to try. On the trip back from school, she gave a bite to Maddie and after Tara told her what it was made of “she still loved it! She was squeezing the bag like a zombie and asked ‘Mommy that was a good-for-me treat, right?’” That adorable little creature is practically eating the bag. Now that has to be one of the best reviews ever.

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15-16 cupcakes
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Gluten-Free, Yeast-Free and Dairy-Free Baking tips: It’s very important to keep the wet and dry ingredients separate until you are ready to bake. Once mixed, a chemical reaction begins between leavening ingredients and acids to “fluff” the batter. Which, if you are familiar with gluten-free and dairy-free baking recipes, you know is paramount in importance. No gluten, no eggs, no yeast to fluff, so, keep the dry stuff and the liquid stuff separate. When your muffin tins are lined, the oven is preheated, you have a spoon ready and a silicone spatula on-hand for folding, then you are ready to mix up wet and dry. “Fold” the batter—don’t beat it up—until mixed. Then carefully, and swiftly, spoon batter into liners and get the tin(s) into the oven (at the same time if you are using two tins). No peeking until the timer goes off. Again, this kind of baking is sensitive so it’s important to keep the temp consistent. It’s worth it!

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High powered blender
Sifter or metal/mesh strainer
Pot with lid that fits steamer*
Large glass bowl
Medium glass bowl
Unbleached parchment cupcake liners
2 cupcake tins**
Large cereal spoon

*No steamer? You can roast the diced beets in a casserole dish with a 1/8″ water in the bottom at 350°F for 40-50 minutes. Prepare them however you like (just no microwave), you just need them soft enough that a knife goes easily through them. And you can pre-cook them a day or two before and store in the fridge until ready to make the cupcakes.

**If you don’t have 2 cupcake tins, cut the recipe in half. It won’t work to make the batter, bake half and then bake the others later. Your second batch will be flat cupcakes (see baking tips above). 


Try to buy everything organic. Here’s why.
1 cup coconut fat from 2 cans of coconut milk (not reduced fat and place can in the fridge overnight first)*
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp light agave nectar (optional for the sweet-crazed: the frosting is delish without it, especially paired with the cake)

2-3 leaves purple kale, ribs removed and chopped into tiny, tiny pieces

Dry Ingredients
3/4 cup almond flour/meal (for fluffier cupcakes, order organic blanched almond flour online from Benefit Your Life, it’s the best)
1 cup sweet sorghum flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/4 tsp fine ground sea salt
1 cup sucanat

Blend/Wet Ingredients
1 tbsp chia
1/2 cup warm water
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract (be sure to use gluten- or alcohol-free if you have a sensitivity)
2 tbsp chocolate extract (be sure to use gluten- or alcohol-free if you have a sensitivity)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup diced beet

*Use the remaining liquid coconut milk for a smaller batch of Thai Coconut Curry Soup with Sweet Potato Dumplings, for Easy Chocolate Ice Cream or in the Banana Spinach “Training Wheels” Smoothie


Let’s get started.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake tins with unbleached parchment paper liners. No liners? You can cut unbleached parchment into squares and press them into the tins for DIY tulip liners. They will pop out until they have batter in them to hold them in place, so set them aside if you go this route.

Wash and dice your beet. You can keep skin on or peel it, your call. Steam it over a pot of boiling water with the lid covering for 30 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.

Wash kale and remove ribs. Chop into teeny tiny pieces and set aside.

Also while beets steam, place chia, water, vinegar, coconut oil, extracts and lemon juice in the blender and set aside. You want the chia to sit in the liquid to “plumpen,” and you might as well toss all the other goodies in there. Once beets are ready, add them to the blender and mix on low until well blended and beautifully beet red.

While blending, in a large bowl, sift together almond flour, sorghum flour, sucanat, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Work your fingers in a circular motion to press/grind dry ingredients through strainer/sifter. Anything too big to make it through? Just dump it in the mix.

Now, fold together the wet ingredients, kale and dry ingredients.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners so they are 85% full. Now place them in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

While they bake, open up your cans of coconut milk. Scrape out the fat on the top of the can and place in the medium glass bowl.

Add vanilla extract and whisk together with a few strokes. Place in the fridge.

Remove cupcakes and allow to cool completely.

Using a pastry bag, a plastic baggie with a small whole in the corner, or with a trusty spoon or knife, top your cupcakes. A little goes a long way with the frosting and the cupcakes are plenty amazing without frosting if you want to try them that way. Have fun.

Getting through this photoshoot was tough…

these babies didn’t last long…

Store your cupcakes in the fridge and remove about 5 minutes before serving.


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Do you like this recipe?
Be a doll and Tweet about it, Pin it and/or share it on Facebook
(I bet some folks out there in the world will be thankful you did).
Sharing rules and I sure do appreciate it.

And because I love YU…

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Read the comments or add yours.

Comment Rules

  1. I literally cannot wait to try these!

  2. Kate

    Thank you SO much for my cupcake! That was incredibly sweet and generous of you! I have to tell you that this cupcake is FABULOUS. In fact, it was SO GOOD, that I honestly prefer this verson to a traditional red velvet cake! I plan to make a batch myself this weekend. 🙂 Thanks again!

  3. Wow, sounds delicious! Going to have a blast this afternoon! Kale and beets are among my 2 favorite foods.

  4. Um, so I just made the cupcakes. And I ate three of them before they’d even cooled. DELICIOUS!!! I think I like them better without the frosting. I didn’t add vanilla extract to the frosting or the cake (as I’m out and also pregnant), and they are still so, so delicious. This will definitely be a staple in our household! LOVE!!!

  5. Christa

    AMAZING! These were absolutely delish! My kids requested we make these again pronto. Thanks for all the yummy recipes!

  6. Kelly E.

    Wow. I can’t even…. these are incredible. My son’s pre-school class loved them. We love them. THANK YOU!!

  7. Jen

    Could these be made without the chocolate extract? I can’t find it a store near me.

    • Yes, they definitely can. Just double the vanilla extract. I have made them without chocolate extract before and they are still delicious, just less chocolate-y. Enjoy!

  8. Eldris

    These sound amazing!

  9. I am literally brand new at veganism. I watched a movie that changed my life, as far as what I eat, only last week. A lot of these ingredients are unknown to me such as chia and sucanat and I had no idea there was such a thing as chocolate extract! It’s overwhelming me a bit to think of the cost to convert my kitchen supplies to support my new vegan life but it’s worth it. I really look forward to trying this recipe as soon as I go buy all these new ingredients 🙂

    • Heather Crosby

      Trish~ Thanks for sharing. Be sure to take it one day, and one step, at a time—transitioning takes a bit (not overnight) if you want it to last. Be sure to shop in the bulk section for ingredients and spices (you’ll find that you save a lot of money this way) and remember it’s about adding more good stuff in versus taking a bunch away. 🙂 Have fun with it.

  10. Anna Allen

    I made these today with my 3 yr old daughter and she was so excited to be making “pink” cupcakes. She was even more excited to take her first bite.These cupcakes are delish though I only needed to use 1 muffin pan and only 1 can of coconut milk for the frosting. If I had cut the recipe in half the cupcakes would have been teeny or only fill half the pan. I’m not sure how yours made it through 2 pans but thanks for sharing this yummy and healthy treat!

  11. Robin

    Please tell me how you got your coconut milk frosting to look so deleesh? I have been trying to make full fat coconut whipped cream and/or frosting for 5+ years, and I am pretty good in the kitchen, but it evades me 🙁 I use full fat, BPA-free cans of Native Forest brand coconut milk. I have tried putting them in the fridge right side up, upside down; freezer right side up, upside down. At one point, I even ordered a bulk order of cans from Amazon to make sure I could get two “good” cans of Native Forest. Argh! I just can’t get good results. I would love to hear how you get such great results, please. Your frosting looks fab!

    • Heather Crosby

      Robin! I hear you… I have been finding that the past 6 months or so, getting a good can of coconut milk has been more and more difficult—not sure if coconut milk processing has changed or what. This is why, for the YumUniverse book, I’m working on a new frosting recipe that doesn’t rely on the gamble of getting a “good can” to work with. So, stay tuned, I’m on a good track for a solution. x

      • Robin

        Looking forward to hearing how your new frosting turns out 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  12. Could I use coconut sugar in place of sucanant?

    • Heather Crosby

      YU can! 🙂

  13. Wendy Ross

    Hi Heather– I can’t wait to try these! One question though, can the sorghum flour be substituted? I’ve never seen it and would love to try this today while we are frozen-home-bound. Cheers!

    • Heather Crosby

      Hi Wendy, yes, yes. You can sub out the sorghum with gluten-free oat flour or gluten-free all purpose with success. 🙂 Enjoy!

  14. Love these! Made them for the second time last night. My husband doesn’t like chocolate but he loves these (I doubled up on the vanilla and didn’t use chocolate extract.) I use Coconut Creme from Trader Joe’s. It consistently works. There’s just a tiny bit of liquid at the bottom of the can that I avoid using. When chilled overnight, it almost has the thickness of cream cheese.

  15. Diana

    Hi Heather, Can’t wait to try these, they look fabulous! Just wondering… I should be able to substitute carob powder for the same amount of cocoa, correct?

    • Heather Crosby

      Hi Diana,
      Yes, you should be able to sub equal amounts of carob powder for chocolate. Note that it may be a smidge sweeter that way 😉 Enjoy! x H

  16. Kat

    Hi Heather,
    This recipe looks so yummy! Is there any way I could leave out the Kale? Or substitute it for anything? Kavolo Nero? Thank you for great website, waiting for your book to arrive!

    • Heather Crosby

      Hi Kat,
      You can definitely leave out the kale—enjoy! x

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