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)


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

Comment Pages 1 2 3 8
  1. the blissful baker on November 8, 2010 at 12:47 am

    yum, i love red velvet cupcakes! cream cheese frosting pairs SO well with them, too. yours are the perfect red color, just lovely!


    • rosie Ortega on August 4th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      What is youre website for your blog??


  2. SusieBee on November 8, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Living in the South for many years gave me an appreciation for good red velvet cake! The cupcakes look beautiful.


  3. Katie on November 8, 2010 at 2:46 am

    These look gorgeous and I love the earthy red colour rather than the overally fake red you somtimes see. Look so tempting


  4. veena on November 8, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Hi Michelle!!!.. thank you so much for this.. i have been eagerly waiting for your version of the red velvet cupcake.. well i cant wait to try this.. i had trouble the last times i tried red velvet cupcakes, they always sunk afte taken it out of the oven. But urs look perfect.. im hoping to get lucky the third time..


    • Nicole on February 7th, 2011 at 9:00 pm

      For cake Make sure you don’t open the oven in the First 20 minutes of baking. They will be less likely to sink. or cupcakes I leave them for 12 before opening


    • Allie on July 14th, 2011 at 10:13 am

      Third time’s the charm


  5. Trellyn on November 8, 2010 at 2:49 am

    Looks super yummy! I appreciated the mini history lesson, I was always curious about all the “red velvet hype” and where it came from. I tried a red velvet cupcake about a month ago. Tasted okay, but I wasn’t completely sold. I’ll have to try out this recipe one day! Thanks for sharing!


    • Sophia on June 2nd, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      Did you guys try this the first time


  6. LimeCake on November 8, 2010 at 3:10 am

    i love red velvet because they’re usually not too sweet and have the slightest hint of cocoa. i’ve tried this recipe too and it was really good!


  7. LoveCupcakes on November 8, 2010 at 5:25 am

    I personally admire red velvet cupcakes. I like the color of this cupcake its perfectly baked and the toppings is perfect. More presentable once with cherry on the top.


  8. Tabitha (From Single to Married) on November 8, 2010 at 6:43 am

    oh my – red velvet is my favorite cake ever! (It’s right up there with carrot cake…) Mmmmmmmmm


  9. Katrina on November 8, 2010 at 7:13 am

    I totally had the same experience with red velvet. I kept hearing about them, and was always disappointed. I made Joy the Baker’s recipe a while back and was totally converted. Glad you’re on the red velvet train now as well!


  10. jenna laughs on November 8, 2010 at 8:25 am

    YUM! They look so moist. I also love how there’s not like, an entire bottle of food coloring in the cupcakes. I will have to try these!


  11. Jenny Flake on November 8, 2010 at 8:29 am

    These are so gorgeous! I wanna make em’ today!


  12. Caroline on November 8, 2010 at 8:32 am

    Yours have such a pretty dome on top! I made RV cupcakes this weekend and, while delicious, they were very flat on top. I have to try this recipe to see if I get the perfect cuppie dome I desire! Wonderful post!


  13. Jihane (Sinful Sundays) on November 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Those look gorgeous! I bet they taste even better. :)


  14. Maria on November 8, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Gorgeous cupcakes. Your frosting always looks perfect!


  15. Farah on November 8, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Hi Michelle, I’m so excited to try this recipe! Did you use liquid food colour or gel-paste food colour?


    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

      Hi Farah, Liquid food coloring.


      • Christeena Dinehart on November 30th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

        If I was to use gel coloring, what amount do you soppose I need and will the recipe miss the “liquid”?


        • Michelle on December 2nd, 2012 at 11:04 am

          Hi Christeena, I have attempted to use gel coloring when I was out of the liquid food coloring, and I haven’t had much success. I would stick with the liquid for this recipe.


        • Steph in Lex on December 26th, 2012 at 2:30 pm

          Unfortunately, I did not read clear through the recipe carefully before I began to make these and didn’t have liquid food coloring! I was totally bummed when I read Michelle’s above comment, as it was later in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and I was right in the middle of making them and SO not in the mood to venture to the stores. I improvised by using water so that the lack of liquid wouldn’t be a problem and then added a bunch of the gel paste color. The taste of the cake (made cake instead of cupcakes) is fantastic, but the color is not as pretty red as in the pictures. I think I should have added much more of the food coloring. Next time I make it I’ll try to find the liquid food coloring to use, but in a pinch, maybe that would work…it worked for me!


          • Nancy on January 8th, 2013 at 1:30 pm

            what brand of liquid food coloring do you use? I only have the gels


            • Michelle on January 9th, 2013 at 11:05 am

              I use the McCormick liquid food coloring.

          • Sheri on February 3rd, 2013 at 1:03 am

            I used gel paste color for this recipe tonight, and it worked out fine. I used maybe 1/2 tsp of gel color and about 2 tbsp of boiling water to make the paste. I let it cool before adding it to the batter. The cupcakes came out absolutely perfectly, and just red enough.


            • Ivona on July 8th, 2013 at 11:56 am

              I am making this for my daughter’s birthday, as she is a big fan of red velvet cake. I’ve only tasted it a couple of times, and, to be honest, it doesn’t taste that much different than any other chocolate cake to me. I read somewhere a while back, that the original red velvet cake got its color through a reaction between the cocoa powder and the acid in the buttermilk & vinegar, and, as I don’t like to use food coloring when unnecessary, I mixed up the batter without it to see whether any change in color was apparent. But there was no change at all from the brown, so I was forced to resort to the food coloring. I had the liquid kind, but for any other recipe I’ve seen, it only calls for a few drops, and the little containers it comes in probably only hold a teaspoon or so, max. I used most of the container, but still only got it to a reddish-brown, and really didn’t want to use more than that. So hopefully it will taste OK, at any rate, but it’s not going to be red. Why the fuss over the red if it’s only achieved through ungodly amounts of food coloring? Or am I missing something?

  16. Emily @ Darby O'Shea on November 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Hurrah! This is a beautiful recipe! I don’t know if I’ll ever switch away from my ancestral recipe (which is over at my blog, with a few unorthodox changes), but this one looks genuine and delicious. And not too chocolatey!


  17. Left-Brained Creativity on November 8, 2010 at 9:54 am

    It’s so funny–I’ve never been a big fan of red velvet (and, truthfully, I’m still not), but I’m a Pittsburgher currently living in DC and Baked and Wired is the only place I’ll buy cupcakes. (I’d much rather make them!) Their red velvet is tasty, but then again, all of their flavors are.


    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

      Hello fellow Pittsburgher! Glad to hear that Baked & Wired got your ‘Burgh approval too!


  18. Dinetonite on November 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I love ice creams, but it looks delicious.


  19. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking on November 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Michelle, I’ve never met a red velvet cake or cupcake that I didn’t like, and I’m sure I would fall head over heels for these beauties! They look incredible, and so moist and delicious. Thank you for sharing!


  20. Skeeter on November 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I assume you used a liquid food color for this recipe. Do you think I could use a paste food color? And how much? BTW, your cupcakes are beautiful!!


    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      Hi Skeeter, Yes, liquid food coloring. Hmm don’t know that I would use paste since the recipes uses 3 tablespoons of the liquid coloring – it could impact the texture. You could of course give it a try and see what you think; if you do, let me know how it goes!


  21. Brianne on November 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I make a vegan red velvet that always comes out moist and fluffy. I add a teaspoon of chocolate extract too. So good!


    • Kate on March 9th, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      Breanne, what recipe do you use? Somehow my vegan desserts (made for friends) never turn out as well as the regular ones.


  22. Tina from PA on November 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I too have never got what all the hype was over Red Velvet cake , but now you got my attention . I really have to try your recipe! Thanks for sharing ,I’m sure it’s gonna be great!


  23. Winelady Cooks on November 8, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I’ve too have been curious as to all the hype around red velvet though I haven’t had the opportunity to do some taste testing. Thanks for your efforts (someone has to do it! :))
    I was wondering why you had to add the food coloring if the chem. reaction from the vinegar is supposed to make the batter red (technically). Is is because the red color is not as pronounced as we expect it, so using the food coloring adds more umph!?



    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

      Hi Joanne, exactly – the chemical reaction brings out the reddish hues in the cocoa, but it certainly isn’t as pronounced as you see in the cupcakes. The food coloring gives it an extra boost :)


  24. Tracy on November 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I love the color of these!!


  25. courtney on November 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    this is one of my favorite treats! i recently made red velvet cake balls dipped in bittersweet chocolate. talk about yum.


  26. Deborah on November 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I am a huge red velvet fan, but I think it’s hard to find good red velvet at bakeries. But I have had quite a few good homemade ones, and these look perfect!!


  27. Rachel on November 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I’ve never had red velvet and recently went on a search for a good recipe – I’ll definitely be trying these sometime.


  28. Abby on November 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    The only red velvet cake I have had was similar to your first experience. I was completely unimpressed and let down. So much so that I have never tried it again. But after reading this post I will try making it on my own. Hope I get the great results!!


  29. Made With Pink on November 8, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    My experience with Red Velvet cake sounds very much like your own. I was all excited by the hype I heard about it, and then I tried one. It was so dry and unmemorable, nothing like what I expected. I tried about 3-4 different recipes until I found one I really liked and was happy with. Yours look moist and delicious, so will have to do a taste comparison with mine to see if yours will become my new go to recipe. Thanks for posting!


  30. food librarian on November 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Pretty! These look wonderful and delicious! -mary


  31. Sandra on November 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Great color! Sometimes the red is too brilliant which results in a really bitter cupcake. Yours looks spot on.


  32. Mglòria on November 8, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    They look great!!!
    Mglòria from Gourmenderies


  33. Jen @ How To: Simplify on November 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Wow, these cupcakes are absolutely gorgeous!


  34. Mackenzie @ The Caramel Cookie on November 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    The heart shaped sprinkles are too cute! I love the color of these; I’m not a fan of the fakey vibrant red color.


  35. Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having on November 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I’ve never had a good red velvet cupcake. I’ve always found them to be dry and flavourless. But if you say this one is good I have to give them another shot!


  36. Kita on November 8, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Not sure why, but I love Red Velvet. Normally, I am not a dessert person, but if red velvet cake is on the menu I am saving room.


  37. Sharlene on November 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    I’m so happy you posted this because I’ve been looking for a really great red velvet recipe since the last one I tried was not very good. These look and sound like my ideal red velvet cupcake. Can’t wait to try them!


  38. communitycook on November 8, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    I made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my sister’s wedding a few years back. They had fondant gerber daisies on them. I hate fondant but the bride was going for a certain look. I used a recipe from an old cookbook I found at my local library, and the cupcakes and frosting were very good – I just peeled the fondant off to eat them. These look fantastic. I’m glad you decided that red velvet was worthy of your touch!


  39. Petes on November 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Beautiful as always. Love red velvet!


  40. nuha on November 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    these look delish! I remember hearing that the color will only change with cocoa thats not Dutch processed, I think… Do you know anything about that? xoxo


    • Michelle on November 8th, 2010 at 11:11 pm

      Hi Nuha, Yes! I read the same thing – the reddish hue doesn’t come out with Dutch-processed cocoa.


  41. Nuts about Food on November 9, 2010 at 7:15 am

    I always wondered about the red velvet hype and where it originated, this was a very interesting post. It doesn’t really exist over here in Italy, but will be sure to have some on my Xmas trip back home.


  42. Robyn on November 9, 2010 at 9:35 am

    i’m always skeptical of the bright red velvet cupcakes, that are basically just white cake dyed red. love that this recipe has cocoa in in. there’s also a red velvet whoopie pie recipe in the new baked explorations book that looks great!


  43. Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes on November 9, 2010 at 9:53 am

    So funny, I actually just made these over the weekend for a girlfriend’s birthday. Yours look beautiful, love the deep red color, but I must admit I actually like that fake-red color, especially when using multicolored sprinkles. I used Annie’s recipe and it was so beyond moist. I love the cream cheese frosting but my real favorite way to make is with the cooked icing which is actually the original red velvet pairing.


  44. Michele (also a brown eyed baker) on November 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I fell in LOVE with Red Velvet on my 40th birthday when my husband took me to Captiva Island. The Bubble Room has the BEST Red Velvet cake w/cream cheese frosting, and a slice easily feeds 4 or more! It’s huge! YUMmmmm…. It’s a don’t miss if you are ever in that area.

    I’ve never had a “great” local ‘burgh red velvet cupcake. I’ve also made VERY dry attempts myself. I can’t wait to try your new recipe. Should be great for the holidays. Thanks


    • Tom on November 9th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      That’s funny Michele growing up in Orlando I ate frequently at the Bubble room in Fern Park, (North of Orlando) Fl. I guess it was their beta site before they moved to Captiva? When I was down in Captiva staying at South Seas Plantation last year I drove right by the Bubble Room and almost got rear ended as I slowed down because I knew I was going get me some of that, “Million dollar cake” red velvet cake. When I was young I always had to share mine someone which you know how that went :o(. I was told it gets even better if you can somehow manage to let it sit a day or so in the refrigerator untouched. Yea right in your dreams!


  45. Ram on November 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I like my cupcakes and cakes moist and delicious and your Red Velvet looks exactly what I’m looking for. And also, I’m always impressed by the way you pipe the frostings on your cupcakes.


  46. Patty on November 9, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    They sound awesome – and look pretty sexy too! :)


  47. Sues on November 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    I like red velvet cupcakes OK, but I’ve never really gotten the crazy appeal about them. But yours look amazingly beautiful!! Now I get the appeal of these :)


  48. Sherry on November 9, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Woo hoo! I’m glad you like red velvet now=) I’d be interested to know where you had that nasty red cupcake at; I’m from Pittsburgh myself. I hope it wasn’t from Vanilla (Pastry Studio)! They’re my favvvvvvv. Not a fan of Dozen’s, however=P


    • Michelle on November 10th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Sherry (and fellow ‘Burgher)! Nope it wasn’t Vanilla Pastry Studio; it was Dozen.


      • Sherry on November 14th, 2010 at 12:22 am

        Yuck. Figures as much!


  49. Dawn on November 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I made these last night!!! They are all gone. . . so good.


    • Michelle on November 10th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Woo! So happy you loved ’em!


  50. Kelsey on November 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    You’re making my cupcake strike difficult.


    • Michelle on November 10th, 2010 at 2:56 pm

      Cupcake strike?! Whaa??


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