Red Velvet Cupcakes should be bright red, super chocolatey and topped with decadent cream cheese frosting – and today’s best ever Red Velvet Cupcake recipe definitely delivers on all counts! We’re also sharing tips on how to get the deepest red color with the least amount of food coloring thanks to some baking chemistry.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Red velvet has always seemed like such an odd cake concept to me – a cake that seems to rely on a large amount of red food coloring for it’s namesake, yet it’s supposed to taste super chocolatey.
For the most part, people tend to go big on the red food coloring and then skimp on the chocolate flavor, which is a culinary crime. Flavor should never be sacrificed for looks, even for red velvet cupcakes.
So, while developing this recipe, I wanted to figure out where so many red velvet cupcakes get it wrong, by looking at the history of red velvet cupcakes and how they came to be. Surely, these cupcakes didn’t rise to fame based on lacklustre flavor and looks alone!
Originally, the red color of red velvet cupcakes occurred due to a natural chemical reaction between natural (unprocessed) cocoa powder and buttermilk. The acidic content of the buttermilk would make the cocoa take on a red color.
However, today most people use “Dutch process” cocoa powder in their baking today, which prevents that natural chemical reaction from occuring. This cocoa powder is alkanized, reducing the acidity of the cocoa (in both flavor and composition) and the flavor is more akin to our modern interpretation of “chocolate.”
After experimenting a couple ways, I found that I preferred a mixture of both non-alkanized cocoa and Dutch processed; however, you can just stick to all non-alkanized if that’s easier for you. Two options for non-alkanized cocoa powder are this natural brand and Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder.
I still use a bit of red food dye, but not as much as if I was using Dutch processed cocoa. You can choose to leave out the red food dye completely, just note that your cupcakes won’t be quite as vibrant as the ones in my pictures (but they will still have a slight red hue as you can see from the batter pictures below).
As for the “velvet” part of the red velvet cupcake? That’s thanks to careful sifting of the dry ingredients and judicious mixing to create a fluffy, luxurious texture. Do not over mix red velvet cake batter if you want it to stay fluffy and light.
Ingredients for Red Velvet Cupcakes
For the Cupcake Recipe:
- Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- Brown Sugar
- Eggs, room temperature
- All-purpose flour
- Cake Flour
- Natural Cocoa Powder <– NOT “dutch process” or “special dark”
- Dutch Process Cocoa
- Baking Soda
- Buttermilk <– I always have this powdered buttermilk in my fridge to make instant buttermilk whenever I need it.
- Vanilla extract
- Red food dye, as needed <– this set of food coloring has lasted me forever and I love that it creates highly saturated colors with just a drop
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Cream Cheese, softened
- Butter, room temperature
- Powdered icing sugar
- Vanilla Extract
- Sprinkles, optional
Tip: using cake flour helps make these cupcakes even lighter and fluffier, but feel free to use 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and skip the cake flour.
Tip #2: if the cocoa does not seem to be getting red enough, add a teaspoon of vinegar before adding red food dye.
Kitchen Tools You May Need:
- Flour sifter or fine mesh sieve
- Wilton #1M large star tip on piping bag <– a basic piping set will have all you need
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Electric mixer<– this is a great hand mixer if you don’t want to make the investment into a stand mixer
- 2 Large Mixing Bowls
- Cupcake pan
- Cupcake scoop
- Cooling racks <– I have and love these tiered cooling racks, they save so much counter space and are also oven-safe
How to Make Red Velvet Cupcakes
Preheat oven to 375ºF
Line a cupcake pan with your choice of liners and set aside.
Place the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with the electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
While beating, add in the eggs, one at a time. Set aside.
Into your second mixing bowl, sift all of the dry ingredients (flours, cocoa powders, baking soda and salt). Stir to combine.
Add the vanilla to the liquid measuring cup holding the buttermilk.
Slowly beat half of the dry ingredients into the sugar-butter mixture, then add half of the buttermilk, then repeat until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Avoid overmixing.
To adjust the red cake color, add a teaspoon of vinegar to the batter, and then slowly add red food dye, as desired. Keep in mind that the final cupcakes will appear less red than the batter so you need to make it twice as bright as you want the final products to be.
Portion out the batter into the liners, a generous 1/4 cup of batter into each liner.
Bake the cupcakes for 18-22 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Start checking them at the 15 minute mark.)
Cool the cupcakes completely on a cooling rack before frosting.
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting:
Place the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to combine completely until smooth, and then add in the powdered icing sugar 1 cup at a time, until you reach your desired thickness and taste.
Scoop the frosting into a piping bag fit with a large star tip, and then swirl the frosting onto the cupcakes. Start in the middle of the cupcakes, working outwards in a spiral, and then swirl back towards the centre to create that pyramid of frosting.
I also used an “extra” cupcake to create red velvet crumbs to garnish the cupcakes, but you can use sprinkles or whatever you desire.
Grab your free printable for our red velvet cupcake recipe here:
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases. Sugar, Spice and Glitter uses an auto-generate nutrition calculator. Nutrition information isn’t always accurate unless analyzed in a scientific lab, so these should be considered more of a guideline than medical information.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting:
Serving Size: 1 cupcake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 589Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 78mgSodium: 362mgCarbohydrates: 104gFiber: 1gSugar: 93gProtein: 4g
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Sugar, Spice and Glitter uses an auto-generate nutrition calculator. Nutrition information isn’t always accurate unless analyzed in a scientific lab, so these should be considered more of a guideline than medical information.
This red velvet cupcake recipe is an authentic throw-back to the original red velvet cake, with a subtle red color, strong chocolatey taste and smooth, luxurious crumb. The sweet tang of the cream cheese frosting works wonderfully with the rich chocolate cupcake.