Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Really good red velvet cupcakes are elusive to many. Some are dry, some are TOO fake-red red. And what’s the story behind red velvet cake (and cupcakes) anyway? After doing a little research, I found that while foods were rationed during war time, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes and to retain moisture. Red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel during the 1920s, and was also well-known in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton’s department store chain in Canada during the 1940s and 1950s. Many attribute the cake’s recent popularity to the film Steel Magnolias, in which the groom’s cake was a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo. All red velvet cakes have specific ingredients in common: white vinegar, buttermilk and baking soda; the reaction of the vinegar to the buttermilk is said to better reveal the red in the cocoa powder. I wasn’t always sold on red velvet, but I was eventually converted…

So now, on to my history with red velvet. I first tried it almost a year ago (January, to be specific) at a local Pittsburgh bakery. And to say that I was underwhelmed would be a gross understatement. After all of the buzz that red velvet had been receiving, I was expecting to be blown away. What I ate was pretty dry and tasteless (although the cream cheese frosting was good!). I wasn’t impressed (obviously) and it was about six months before I would try one again. During our little Georgetown cupcake tour, I had a red velvet cupcake from Baked and Wired. It was seriously amazing. It changed my mind about red velvet – it was fluffy, moist, with a hint of chocolate, and was all kinds of delicious. I had been converted.

The next step, of course, was to make a great one at home. I was admittedly stalling a bit but thanks to some of you who emailed me asking why in the world there wasn’t a recipe for red velvet cupcakes on my site (which is an absolutely legit question), I got my butt in gear. I did some reading, I looked at a lot of recipes, and in the end I decided to try this one. And I’m so glad I did, because I don’t think a better one could exist. They are everything I was hoping for – moist, fluffy, a tiny bit chocolatey, and a perfect vehicle for a heaping pile of cream cheese frosting!

Good any time of year, especially around Valentine’s Day. Dress ‘em up with some pink and red sprinkles and share them with your sweetie!

One year ago: Soft Cheese and Pepperoni Bread

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes


For the Cupcakes:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons red food coloring
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 ounces butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with liners.

2. On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.

3. In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.

5. Again, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the salt, baking soda and vinegar. Turn to high and beat for another couple of minutes until completely combined and smooth.

6. Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife or skewer inserted into the center of the largest cupcake comes out clean.

7. Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the pan and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

8. To make the frosting: Using the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese on high speed for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium high and whip for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.

*Note: This recipe can be doubled to make an 8 or 9-inch layer cake.

(Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker, originally from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)

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558 Responses to “Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting”

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  1. Angelina on January 11, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Hi ! Just wanna say THANK YOU for posting this recipe up! Made this cupcake this afternoon and everyone was praising the result! It was yummy and moist! But mine kinda taste a lil’ bit too salty, i think i mixed up my tsp and tbsp measurement spoon.. LOL! But it still taste so great i think i’m gonna bake it again tomorrow!! xx, Angel.


  2. Britt on January 23, 2014 at 12:20 am

    I tried this recipe yesterday & though the taste was great, the texture was quite dense. Also the icing did NOT look as thick as yours, I had to double the cream chz to 8ozs & its not pretty like yours haha.
    I followed the instructions above so I’m not sure where I went wrong. I even took 1 for my mom to try & she agreed they weren’t fluffy. I’m not sure if using cultured buttermilk was a problem….or toll house cocoa powder? Trying to find a fabulous recipe for my best friends birthday. Hopefully I can get 1 right ;)


  3. Vidhi on January 25, 2014 at 4:16 am

    Hey Michelle!! my birthday is coming up and instead of buying a cake i thought of making your peanut butter torte and also these gorgeous red velvet cakes :)
    just one question,can i use just normal white vinegar instead of the distilled kind?


    • Michelle on January 25th, 2014 at 7:04 pm

      Hi Vidhi, Happy early birthday! I’m not sure if you’re referring to white wine vinegar? I’m only aware of those two types – white distilled vinegar, and white wine. If you don’t have access to white distilled vinegar, I would recommend substituting cider vinegar.


  4. Belle on January 30, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Hi michelle!
    thanks for sharing your recipe, can’t wait to try it. Question (maybe a dumb question..), if I fan bake would it be a few C degrees below or is this temp already for fanbake? :)
    please and thank you in advance for your reply


    • Michelle on January 30th, 2014 at 11:48 am

      Hi Belle, I assume by fan you mean convection? These cupcakes are made using a conventional oven. If you want to use convection, you will need to modify the time and temperature. Usually you’ll want to drop the temperature a bit and bake for a shorter amount of time. Having not made these cupcakes with a convection oven, I don’t have any specific temperature or time recommendations.


  5. Luanne on January 31, 2014 at 11:00 am

    this looks delicious and I am tempted to try one.
    I don’t have distilled/white vinegar on hand but I have the usual coconut vinegar and I think it might be too strong. So, can I substitute the vinegar with lemon?


    • Michelle on January 31st, 2014 at 10:02 pm

      Hi Luanne, While I have not tried that, it may work. Unfortunately, since I haven’t tested it, I can’t say for sure.


      • Luanne on February 1st, 2014 at 6:17 am

        I just made this earlier and substituted vinegar with lemon and used cake flour. yummmy! so soft and moist. Thank you for this recipe!


  6. Ruth on February 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    Hi! Thanks for sharing your recipe. I’m planning on making them soon so I just went to get all the ingredients. I am not very familiar with all the different kinds of vinegar and the only white distilled vinegar I could find is malt vinegar. Is that what you used? If not, you think it would work in the same way? Thanks


  7. Sarah on February 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Do you use full fat buttermilk in this cupcake recipe?


    • Michelle on February 4th, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Sarah, I believe the buttermilk at my grocery store is low-fat.


  8. vj on February 6, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Baking powder is not mentioned in the ingredients. Isn’t this required?


    • Michelle on February 6th, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      No, baking powder is not required in this recipe; baking soda is used as the leavening agent, which works in conjunction with the cocoa powder and vinegar.


  9. Nicci on February 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I tried this recipe over the weekend and they looked amazing the best red velvet colour yet – but there seemed to be a slightly odd, maybe even bitter after taste and I can’t figure out where I went wrong – any ideas?


  10. dariele on February 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    i like the recipe but i think less cocoa powder should e used as the mixture turned brown, and i had to add a lot of red food colouring just to get a small amount of pink colour to the mixture.


  11. Elle on February 12, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Just made these cupcakes.
    I did not have enough red food coloring so I used a bottle of pink neon liquid food dye from McCormick with some boiling water and the color turned out fantastic!

    The cupcakes to me were overwhelmed by the delicious cream cheese frosting. I couldn’t really taste the cupcake at all. The cake did have a very nice crumb and was moist. Also, even with 2.5 cups of flour my frosting was almost runny. It was definitley not firm enough to pipe!

    Will try these again, maybe with some cinnamon or more cocoa. The frosting is fantastic as is and may become my new go-to cream cheese frosting.


  12. Shushma Samaroo on February 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I couldn’t stop eating these cupcakes!!! Perfect for a valentines day surprise! The colour was perfectly deep and rich. I should have baked them a minute less than I did to be perfect. (18 mins) but that wasn’t anything cream cheese icing couldn’t fix :) will definitely make again!! Thank you :)


  13. Gretchen on February 14, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I just made them and they are perfect. I only used 1 tablespoon of red coloring though and they are plenty red. Are you sure you meant 3 Tbsp?


  14. Kim b on February 17, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    Can you make this recipe as a mini cupcake? If so, how long would you suggest baking them?


    • Michelle on February 17th, 2014 at 11:21 pm

      Hi Kim, Yes, definitely! I would start checking them around 8 minutes, just to make sure they don’t get over done.


  15. Nicole Carmel Nash on February 19, 2014 at 5:30 am

    BEST RECIPE EVER. I’ve tried many red velvet recipes but nothing comes close to this. The cupcakes were absolutely light and so delish! My family loved them so much, I had to make another batch. Thanks a ton for sharing this!


  16. Lauren Ann on February 19, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    These cupcakes were amazing! The texture was perfection – soft and light – and the subtle chocolate flavour was delicious. I frosted mine with cooked vanilla frosting because I don’t care for cream cheese and the combination was fabulous!


  17. OfficiallyJaclyn on February 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I followed this recipe to the t twice and the cupcakes still didn’t taste right. There was something missing and they weren’t fluffy or had cake texture. I see that there isn’t vegetable oil in the list of ingredient,. Could that be the reason why? Please advise.


    • Michelle on February 25th, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      I’ve never had an issue with these cupcakes, they do turn out fluffy for me. I don’t believe that vegetable oil is necessary.


  18. marisol on February 27, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    hi i was wondering what brand of cocoa powder you use and what brand of baking soda you used for this recipe. super excited to try red velvet homemade!!


    • Michelle on February 28th, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Hi Marisol, I used Hershey’s natural unsweetened cocoa powder and Arm & Hammer baking soda. Enjoy! :)


  19. Queen elizabeth 2 on March 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Very good I will send my eldest son to inspect


  20. angie on March 7, 2014 at 6:56 am

    sorry 1 cup = to how many ml?


    • Michelle on March 8th, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Hi Angie, You can only use this for liquid conversions (solid ingredients have different volumes, so 1 cup of one things may not weigh the same amount as 1 cup of something else)… 1 cup of liquid (water, milk, etc.) = 237 ml.


  21. Mitch on March 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    Hi! Just want to ask, any substitute to buttermilk?
    Can be a fresh milk? Plss reply me thank you :))$


    • Michelle on March 8th, 2014 at 11:56 am

      Hi Mitch, Buttermilk is important because of the interaction with the baking soda and vinegar. To substitute, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a measuring cup, then add enough regular milk to make 1 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes, then use as needed.


      • Mitch on March 8th, 2014 at 9:08 pm

        Hi michelle thank you so much :))) il try this later.. Thank you :)))


  22. angie on March 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    hi.. can i use a microwave oven to bake this cupcakes? is the timing same ? cos i onli had a microwave oven n it stated there a cake icon too.. but not sure about the timing


    • Michelle on March 9th, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      Hi Angie, Unfortunately, you can use a microwave to bake these cupcakes. I’m sorry!


  23. Gabi on March 9, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Just made these – they are great! Good consistency (not oily like many other red velvet recipes), and they rose nicely! The frosting was a bit too sugary for my taste, though.


  24. Anaher on March 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm


    I wanted to make mini cupcakes instead of reg sized cupcakes would you be able to tell me if I need to change anything. It would be a great help.

    Thank you!


    • Michelle on March 12th, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      Hi Anaher, Just reduce the baking time, I would start checking around 8 minutes to make sure they don’t over bake. Enjoy!


  25. Mitch on March 16, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Hi ms michelle just want to ask.. I want to bake this redvelvet again
    But dont have anymore stock of my white vinegar.. Just
    Have my apple cider vinegar.. Is that okay
    If i replace it? Plss reply thank u :)))


    • Michelle on March 17th, 2014 at 10:25 am

      Hi Mitch, Using apple cider vinegar should be okay.


  26. Mitch on March 16, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    And also if not would be hassle to you can u give me
    A measurement of this for 6? Actualy all ur cupcake
    I love them so much.. But sometimes i want to bake
    Just 6 pcs of this and that.. Diff flavor .. Pls plsss thank
    You sooo much :))))))


    • Michelle on March 17th, 2014 at 10:26 am

      Hi Mitch, You would need to cut the recipe in half to make 6 cupcakes. To deal with the egg, you should crack it, lightly beat it, then weight it, and only use half.


  27. sue griffore on March 16, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Hi Michelle…..I just made your Irish Car Bomb cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting from the cake recipe. I am comparing the cream cheese frosting with your Red Velvet cupcakes and am very confused. Why does cream cheese frosting to pipe have different quantities in the ingredients? This one is 4 oz butter and cream cheese with 2 1/2 c powder sugar —- the car bomb is 16 oz cream cheese to only 1 stick of butter (4oz) to 6 cups of powdered sugar. I would like a good piping consistency. I always trust your recipes and am hoping to find a reliable, consistent basic cream cheese icing to pipe and wanted to see your thoughts as to the difference in proportions. thanks


    • Michelle on March 17th, 2014 at 10:32 am

      Hi Sue, The icing from the cake is much softer than this one. I would definitely recommend going with this one for piping purposes; it is nice and stiff. Just be sure to use full-fat cream cheese; the low-fat varieties have a higher water content, which can cause watery or too-soft frostings.


  28. Ann Claire on March 20, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Personally I’ve never liked red velvet. The smell of grocery store RV cake is icky. But I made your RV cupcakes for my husbands birthday because they are his favorite. WOW! They were fantastic!!!! You are extremely talented. Now please post a recipe for a coconut cupcake. Again, not my personal favorite but it’s my dad’s. Would love to make them for his birthday.


  29. Bev on March 21, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Oh my!!!! I just made these today and they are awesome!!!!
    Thank you for the recipe :)


  30. Nikki on March 27, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Can I substitur cake flour for even more tenderness ?


    • Michelle on March 29th, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Hi Nikki, I do not recommend substituting another flour.


  31. LeleChica on March 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I made these for my sister’s baby shower & everyone loved them. I only had a tablespoon and a half (if that) of liquid food color but they came out very well and looked great. They were moist and the top did not cave in. Thank you so much!


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