Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I didn't always know this, but red velvet cake is controversial. Some recipes come out tasting like chocolate cake (but not as good), some don't turn red enough (with pink or unappealingly brown color) and some don't have much flavor at all. Your friend might swear up and down that their recipe is fantastic, but if it doesn't satisfy your personal taste, it's useless.

I went over a lot of recipes before I made this one. I have to give a huge thanks to Anna at Cookie Madness, who not only has many red velvet recipes on her site, but goes to the trouble to compare them. I settled on a recipe from her blog that was originally published in Bon Appetit in 2003 and is popular on; then I halved it and tweaked it ever so slightly. It made fabulous cupcakes, and I'm thrilled that I don't have to try any other recipes.

This recipe uses butter as the fat, while most red velvets use oil. Oil keeps cakes moist, but since red velvet doesn't have a ton of other flavoring, I wanted the flavor and texture (a little more dense than light and airy) butter provides. These not only turned out as moist as I could want, but they stayed that way for about 3 days.

These also use a moderate amount of cocoa powder--not the bare minimum (like 1/2 tsp), but not full on max-out cocoa either. So you taste some cocoa, but it doesn't hide the vanilla and buttermilk flavors. The color comes from red food dye (no chemical reaction can make it truly red). The color of the batter indicates the cake's color, so you can add more dye if you're worried about it being red enough. Then of course you're going to top it with cream cheese frosting. So even after fretting over the little details, you just can't fail.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Cookie Madness, who adapted it from

It's all in the details when it comes to red velvet cake. For those of you who appreciate intricate comparisons like these, I'll run down some additional minutiae of my recipe: Swan's Down brand cake flour, Ghiradelli cocoa powder, lowfat buttermilk because I can't remember ever seeing full fat in a grocery store, Morton's kosher salt. Yes, sifting--and weighing the flour if possible--are important. I think everything else is covered below. I kept these at room temperature in a plastic container, and they were still moist and very good on the third day.

Makes 11 to 12

1 cup plus 2 Tbs sifted cake flour (sift, then measure; 113 grams)
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp sifted natural unsweetened cocoa powder (sift, then measure; do not use Dutch or dark)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 generous Tbs red food coloring OR 1 generous tsp red gel food coloring
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick), at cool room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Sift together the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; set a side.

In a large glass liquid measure or small bowl, mix the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer), beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and blend on medium speed. Add one-third of the flour mixture and blend on low/stirring speed (or stir by hand if not using stand mixer) until just combined. On same speed (or  by hand), blend in half the buttermilk, another third of the flour, remaining buttermilk, and remaining flour. No lumps, or very few lumps, should remain.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. It will fizz up. Immediately stir into batter until combined. Immediately divide among prepared muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full (I got 11 cupcakes this way). Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes (mine took exactly 18). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a rack and cool completely.

Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes with a bit leftover.

4 ounces Philadelphia reduced fat (neufchatel) cream cheese (regular is fine too), at room temp
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating on medium speed, until sugar is incorporated and frosting is lightly and fluffy. Immediately frost cupcakes, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature to make spreading easier.


Molly said...

These look delicious. I wonder if the red hue can be achieved through the addition of shredded beets...

Lisa said...

Those look like some tasty little cupcakes. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog and I'd like to invite you to stop by and link your cupcakes up.

cajunlicious said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cajunlicious said...

Yum! The cupcakes look amazing! Found your blog through a mutual blogger. New follower!

Check out my blog @

Anonymous said...

I baked these cupcakes for Valentine's Day for my friends at school using your recipe, of course, and they were such a hit! They were gone before the 3rd class.
It's so hard to find a recipe were the cupcakes aren't dry due to the oil so I'm glad I found this recipe!
They were fantastic and tasty!(:

andieclark said...

I tried your red velvet cupcake recipe at home and it was a hit. My kids ate too much. Then we had to visit the Omaha dentists the following day because of toothaches. I guess I shouldn't let them eat too much sweets then.