The best quote about the allure of red velvet cake comes from Southern food writer Angie Mosier, who said, “It’s the Dolly Parton of cakes — a little bit tacky, but you love her.” It’s true: the cake is sometimes appallingly red, but I don’t know anyone who can resist it. This version, modestly adapted from DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas and Rachel Pelzel, is my all-time favorite. The cupcakes have a subtle chocolate flavor, deep mahogany color and lavish swirl of tangy cream cheese frosting on top. Kitschy? Yes, but they sure do look pretty in their simple pink liners!
You should know right off the bat that these cupcakes are made with a lot of food coloring. Not ideal, I know, but the color is the main idea. (There are many theories as to why the cake is red, but no one knows for sure; to read about it, check out this wonderful New York Times article.) If you can’t bear the thought of it, you can try to find an all natural substitute (though I know of none that give the same intensity) or just replace the cake portion of the recipe with a chocolate cupcake. I like to use a concentrated gel paste icing color, like the “No-taste Red” by Wilton shown below. It’s better than ordinary liquid food coloring, which can taste bitter when used in large quantities. You can find it in the cake decorating section at craft stores, like Michael’s or A.C. Moore, or order it online.
Begin by combining the flour, cocoa power, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk until well combined, then set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, light brown sugar, vanilla and food coloring (for the gel paste, dissolve it with 3 tablespoons of water).
Mix on low speed until combined (go easy — you don’t want to splatter red food coloring all over your kitchen!) and then increase the speed and beat until light and aerated, about 2 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Then mix in one third of the flour mixture.
Follow that with half of the buttermilk, and then another third of the flour. Repeat with the remaining buttermilk and flour.
When the batter is well-mixed, spoon it into the cupcake pans, filling the liners almost to the top.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the tops are set and a cake tester comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes cool.
Meanwhile, make the frosting by combining the butter, cream cheese, vanilla and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes.
Stop the mixer and add 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar; mix on low to combine.
Mix in the remaining sugar in two additions, keeping the speed on low. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
When the cupcakes are completely cool, use a butter knife or small offset spatula to swirl the frosting over top. The cupcakes are best enjoyed fresh on the same day.
This recipe is adapted from DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas and Rachel Pelzel. My changes were to reduce the cocoa powder slightly (so that the cupcakes looked more red), increase the flour, reduce the baking soda and replace the standard red food coloring with red (no-taste) concentrated icing color. I also reduced the quantity of frosting, as the original recipe made a ton. Depending on how much frosting you like, you may actually still have some leftover. Note: If you want to make these cupcakes as one big cake, the recipe makes enough to fill two 9-inch cake pans, but you will need to increase the icing by about 20%. You can see the original recipe and read the rave reviews here.
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Red Velvet Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled-off with a knife
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa powder (see note)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
- 1 (1-lb.) box light brown sugar (about 2-1/4 cups)
- 2 teaspoons Wilton Concentrated Red (No-taste) Gel Icing Color dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water, or 3 tablespoons normal liquid red food coloring (see note)
- 2-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
For the Frosting
- 1 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1-3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- 6 cups confectioners' sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Lightly grease the tops of the pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray (it's okay if the nonstick spray gets inside of the paper liners).
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk until well combined and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl if using a hand mixer), mix the butter, brown sugar, food coloring and vanilla on low speed until combined (take care to mix slowly -- you don't want the red food coloring to splatter all over your kitchen). Once blended, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and pale, about 2 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk. Add another third of the flour followed by the remaining buttermilk. Finish with the final third of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cupcake pans, filling almost to the top of the liners. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until the cupcakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans and set on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 2 cups of the confectioners' sugar; mix on low to combine. Mix in the remaining sugar in two additions, keeping the speed on low. Once all of the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
- When the cupcakes are cool, use a butter knife or small offset spatula to spread the frosting lavishly over top. The cupcakes are best enjoyed fresh on the day that they are baked.
- Note: Most large grocery stores carry Dutch processed cocoa powder. In baked goods, it has a richer, more "chocolate-y" flavor and darker color than natural unsweetened cocoa powder. It's worth getting for this recipe, but natural unsweetened cocoa powder may be substituted if necessary; just increase the cocoa powder to 1/2 cup and decrease the flour to 3 cups. Keep in mind that the chocolate taste won't be quite as pronounced and your cupcakes will be a brighter red.
- Note: Red (no-taste) concentrated gel icing color is made by Wilton and sold at craft stores (such as Michael's or AC Moore) in the cake decorating section. It is superior to ordinary liquid red food coloring, which can taste bitter when used in large quantities.
- Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cupcakes can be frozen without the frosting for up to 3 months. Let them cool completely, wrap them individually in plastic wrap, and then in foil. Thaw overnight on the countertop before serving. (Wait until the cupcakes are defrosted to ice them.)
- Serving size: 1 cupcake
- Calories: 474
- Fat: 23g
- Saturated fat: 14g
- Carbohydrates: 65g
- Sugar: 51g
- Fiber: 1g
- Protein: 5g
- Sodium: 227mg
- Cholesterol: 85mg
This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.