These are the absolute BEST red velvet cupcakes! A gorgeous red color, moist and fluffy, and topped with a luscious cream cheese frosting. The perfect Valentine’s treat!
Really, really good red velvet cupcakes can be totally elusive, right? Some are dry, some are TOO 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.
I wasn’t always sold on red velvet, but I am now a full-fledged convert!
Testing Red Velvet Cupcakes
When I first tried a red velvet cupcake, 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 a little Georgetown cupcake tour while in DC for a weekend, 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 was an official convert.
The next step, of course, was to make a great one at home. I did some reading, I looked at a lot of recipes, and in the end I decided to try this one, which originated at the Hummingbird Bakery. And I’m so glad I did, because I don’t think a better one could exist.
If you are looking for a super moist red velvet cupcake recipe, this is IT! 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!
All red velvet cakes have specific ingredients in common: cocoa powder, white vinegar, buttermilk and baking soda; the reaction of the vinegar with the buttermilk helps to pull out the red color in the cocoa powder.
CAN YOU MAKE RED VELVET Cupcakes WITHOUT BUTTERMILK?
So, you want to make red velvet cupcakes, but you don’t have buttermilk. No problem – you can make your own!
Using soured milk is a key component to red velvet cake batter, as the acidic liquid is needed to combine with the baking soda and cocoa powder to get the rise and texture right, so if you don’t have buttermilk on hand, use the following substitution:
Pour 1 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar to a measuring cup. Add enough milk (I recommend 2% or whole) to measure 1 cup total. Stir together and let sit for 5 minutes, then use as directed in the recipe below.
Red velvet cupcakes are amazing any time of year, but (obviously) especially around Valentine’s Day.
Dress them up with some pink and red sprinkles and share them with someone special!
Looking for More Red Velvet Inspiration? Try These Recipes!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with liners.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the pan and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
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.
This recipe can be doubled to make an 8 or 9-inch layer cake.