PERFECT red velvet cupcakes have a soft crumb, moist texture, hint of chocolate, and a gorgeous bright red color. Then they’re topped with tangy cream cheese frosting for the best red velvet cupcake recipe.
Finding the perfect red velvet cupcake recipe can be a challenge. Now – I love red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, but they need to be just right. They need to be moist and fluffy with a soft cupcake crumb. And they have to have a mild chocolate flavor, slight tanginess and a beautiful bright red color. I can honestly say that this is hands down, that these are my favorite red velvet cupcakes.
A few months ago I received an email asking if I had a recipe for red velvet cupcakes. And sadly, I had to say no.
Yes, I’ve taste tested my fair share of red velvet cupcakes and played around with different recipes- but I didn’t feel like my own recipe experiments were any better than red velvet cupcakes from the bakery. So clearly, I had to do some kitchen research.
The Best Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe
I originally posted this red velvet cupcake recipe a few years ago, but I wanted to make them even better. I wanted the perfect red velvet cupcake recipe to be:
- Perfectly moist without being greasy
- Have a soft cupcake crumb
- A delicious red velvet flavor that has a hint of chocolate and slight tanginess
- Beautiful red color
Tips for Making Red Velvet Cupcakes
- Use cake flour for a lighter, more delicate texture. If you don’t have any cake flour, I’ve included a substitution in the recipe notes.
- Sift the cake flour and cocoa powder together first to remove any lumps.
- Room temperature ingredients ensure that everything mixes together evenly without over mixing. Over mixing cupcake batter causes dry, tough cupcakes
- Use real butter – not margarine. I found that butter instead of oil produced red velvet cupcakes with the best texture and flavor.
- Mix the red food coloring into the buttermilk before adding it to the batter. This ensures even distribution of the food coloring so that your cupcakes don’t look splotchy
- Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. If it still looks like little pebbles – you aren’t done yet.
- Mix the sifted flour & cocoa powder into the butter mixture about 1/3 at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. This produces cupcakes with the best cupcake crumb.
- Last but not least – we dissolve the baking soda into white vinegar, then beat the mixture into the cupcake batter. The reaction between these ingredients makes the cupcakes rise and brings out the red color
What Makes Red Velvet Red???
The key ingredients in red velvet cake are the cocoa, baking soda, vinegar, buttermilk and of course the red food coloring. (Ok – obviously there are other important ones, but these ingredients give the cake its name). Turns out, red velvet cake wasn’t originally bright red and dyed with food coloring like it is today. When the acid in the buttermilk and vinegar react with the cocoa – they give the cocoa a reddish tinge. Then over the years, red food coloring was added to the recipe to exaggerate the red color.
Can you Make Red Velvet Cupcakes without Buttermilk?
Yes! Buttermilk creates a super soft, ridiculously moist texture. It also gives a slightly tangy taste to the cupcakes that’s key for red velvet. If you don’t have buttermilk though, you can make your own by souring milk with a little white vinegar or lemon juice.
- Add 1 teaspoon white vinegar (or lemon juice) to 1/2 cup of milk (I recommend 1%, 2% or whole milk).
- Stir gently.
- Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes before using.
Cream Cheese Frosting for Red Velvet Cupcakes
I think cream cheese frosting is the best reason for making red velvet cupcakes. It’s like a fluffy, pillowy soft mountain of cream cheese goodness. (Or when I asked Jay to describe it, “super tasty”….. Clearly, the engineers have all the best words). It’s made with just 5 simple ingredients: butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, salt & vanilla extract.
If you want cream cheese frosting that’s extra thick for piping, I recommend adding in 1/4 cup of cornstarch. I’ve included my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe into the recipe card below.
Ps…. If you like these red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, make sure to try these favorites too:
- Red Velvet Sandwich Cookies
- Red Velvet Cookie Cake
- Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Fudge Brownies with Chocolate Frosting (there’s cream cheese in the frosting!!!)
- 1 1/3 cups cake flour*
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon red food coloring liquid or gel
- 1/2 cup buttermilk**
- 1 1/2 teaspoons distilled vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 8 oz cream cheese room temperature, 8 oz
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch optional
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a muffin pan with muffin papers.
In a large bowl sift together the cake flour, cocoa and salt. Whisk gently.
In a separate large bowl beat the butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Then beat in the sugar until creamy (about 1-2 more minutes).
Beat in the egg and vanilla extract.
In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the buttermilk and red food coloring.
Beat the dry ingredients (flour mixture) into the butter mixture about 1/3 at a time, alternating with about 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
In a small bowl or cup dissolve the baking soda into the vinegar. Quickly beat it into the cupcake batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin papers, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, before removing from the pan and continuing to cool on a wire rack.
In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until fluffy.
Mix in the cream cheese until evenly combined. Then add in the vanilla and salt.
In a separate bowl sift together the powdered sugar and cornstarch (if using).
Beat the powdered sugar into the butter and cream cheese mixture about 1 cup at a time, starting with the mixer on low and turning it up to medium speed as the sugar incorporates.
Frost the cooled cupcakes using a piping bag and tip (I used a 1M) or a knife.
*If you don't have cake flour, measure 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour. Remove 3 tablespoons, and add in 3 tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift the mixture together 3 times.
**If you don't have buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to 1/2 cup milk (I recommend 1%, 2% or whole milk). Let it sit for 5 minutes to sour before using.
***Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 8 hours, or in the fridge for up to 3 days. Remove the cupcakes from the fridge 1 hour before enjoying.