Red velvet cupcakes are my go-to cupcake flavour for birthdays, parties, or other special occasions! With a bright red hue and a generous dollop of cream cheese frosting, these cupcakes taste as good as they look.
These gorgeous little cakes are extremely easy to make (I’m talking less than 15 minutes for the cake batter!) and you can get away with using no electric mixer. If you’re after the full-sized version, head to my easy red velvet cake recipe instead.
I like a rich and tangy cream cheese frosting, but you could also top these cupcakes with a vanilla buttercream or chocolate buttercream. Of course, you can also enjoy them plain and simple. It’s hard to go wrong!
These cupcakes stay moist and fresh for up to FOUR days (if you don’t eat them before then!). Keep them stored frosted or unfrosted in an airtight container at room temperature.
Ingredients in Red Velvet Cupcakes
- Plain / all-purpose flour
- Caster / superfine sugar: this finer form of sugar dissolves more easily into the batter and produces a moister, fluffier cupcake. Use regular granulated sugar if necessary, although you may notice the cupcake is less fluffy.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder: NOT hot cocoa powder. I use a brand designed for baking such as Hershey’s (US) or Nestle/Homebrand (UK/AUS). Avoid Dutch-processed ‘cacao’ powder as it is too bitter.
- Baking soda (bicarbonate of soda): NOT baking powder. Baking soda is more concentrated than baking powder and reacts with the vinegar and buttermilk in red velvet cake batter. Substitute 1 tsp of baking soda with 2 tsp of baking powder, if necessary.
- Canola oil: or any other flavourless vegetable or cooking oil. Avoid strong flavours (olive, coconut, avocado, etc.)
- Unsalted butter: combining both oil and butter gives you a cupcake which stays moist for longer without sacrificing flavour. If you can only use salted butter then omit the added salt.
- Eggs: room temperature if possible to help prevent the butter from separating.
- Vinegar: white, malt, brown, etc. Not balsamic or any flavoured vinegars.
- Buttermilk: real buttermilk (not homemade) is best for this recipe and very important for a true red velvet flavour. If you’re in a tight spot, use the following homemade substitute: stir together 1 tsp of vinegar with 1/2 cup of whole milk and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
- Vanilla essence OR vanilla extract
- Red food colouring: use a high-quality liquid or gel food colouring. I use Queen (AUS) or recommend Wilton (AUS/UK/US). Liquid is best for ease of colouring.
- Boiling water: this helps thin out the batter for very moist, fluffy cupcakes.
How to Make Cupcakes
Follow this step-by-step guide to make perfect red velvet cupcakes.
1. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt) in a large bowl and set aside.
2. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together your butter and oil (this is important to stop the butter from separating). Whisk in eggs, then vinegar, buttermilk, vanilla, and food colouring. DO NOT add the boiling water at this stage.
3. Once you’ve whisked together your wet ingredients (except the boiling water), you will have a very thin and red mixture.
4. Pour the wet ingredients into the centre of your dry ingredients.
5. Whisk the wet and dry ingredients together well. The batter will be thick and may still have a couple of lumps in it – that’s okay, they will break up once you add the boiling water.
6. Carefully add the boiling water and slowly whisk in. Don’t worry, it won’t cook the batter.
7 & 8. The batter will now be very thin.
9. Fill your cupcake liners 2/3 full with batter (don’t overfill!). There should be enough batter for 12 cupcakes, perhaps a little extra depending on the size of your muffin tray and liners.
10. Bake until well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
Once the cupcakes have cooled, you can top with your frosting of choice or eat them plain! My favourite cream cheese frosting is included in the recipe card below.
Why are my cupcakes dry/dense/sunken?
You are measuring your dry ingredients incorrectly: to measure dry ingredients such as flour, measure spoonfuls of flour into a measuring cup until it is heaped (do not pack down), then sweep off the excess with a flat-bladed butter knife.
You overcooked the cupcakes: make sure to follow the recommended temperature guidelines and cooking times. These cupcakes do not tend to brown across the surface so you must test your cakes with a skewer – it should be clean when inserted and removed from the centre of one of the cupcake, or just have a few moist clinging crumbs.
Your baking soda is expired: check the expiry date of your baking soda. Expired baking soda is a VERY common cause of sunken or dense cakes and cupcakes.
Why has my cream cheese frosting separated/split/broken?
Your butter OR cream cheese is too hot. Melted butter or cream cheese will cause your cream cheese to split because it won’t be able to incorporate any air once beaten. Make sure your butter and cream cheese are at moderate “room temperature” (ideally around 25°C / 77°F).
Your butter OR cream cheese is too cold. Just like having the ingredients too hot, having the ingredients too cold will prevent to sugar from incorporating into the frosting and you won’t be able to whip air into the frosting.
How do I fix separated/split/broken cream cheese frosting?
Refrigerate the mixture. Cover the mixing bowl in clingwrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Begin beating on low speed for about 5 minutes then switch to high speed and continue to beat for another 3-5 minutes. This may help to bring your buttercream back together.
For the Cupcakes
- 1 ¼ cups plain / all-purpose flour
- 1 cup caster / superfine sugar
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ cup canola oil (or any other flavourless vegetable or cooking oil)
- 80 g (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- ½ cup buttermilk (see notes for substitutes)
- 2 tsp vanilla essence OR 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp red liquid food colouring OR 2 tsp high-quality gel food colouring
- ¼ cup boiling water
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- 60 g (2 oz / ¼ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 125 g (4.5 oz / ½ cup) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 cups icing sugar / powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
- 1 tsp vanilla essence OR ½ tsp vanilla extract
For the Cupcakes
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F (fan-forced/convection) or 180°C/355°F (standard). Line a 12 hole (⅓ cup capacity) muffin tray with cupcake liners.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk until well combined.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil and the cooled butter until well combined. Add Whisk in eggs, one at a time. Add vinegar, buttermilk, vanilla and food colouring and whisk until well combined.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Carefully add boiling water. Whisk until batter is smooth and well combined. The batter will be thin.
- Fill each cupcake liner approximately ⅔ full with batter (don't overfill). Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre of one cakes comes out clean. The cupcakes make look domed just after baking but will settle after cooling.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat together the butter and cream cheese until thick, pale and creamy (about 3-4 mins).
- Add the icing sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until very pale and thick (about 5 minutes). Add more icing sugar or lemon juice to adjust consistency as needed.
- Spread or pipe icing on cooled cupcakes. Frosting will set firm if refrigerated.
- The frosted cupcakes will keep fresh in an air-tight container for up to 3 days at room temperature (refrigerate if your house is very warm).
- Buttermilk. To make ½ cup of buttermilk substitute: stir together 1 tsp of vinegar and ½ cup of whole milk. Allow to stand for 10 minutes or until milk is thickened and slightly curdled. Use as normal in recipe instead of buttermilk.
- Caster/superfine sugar: replace with an equal amount regular granulated sugar if necessary. The cupcakes may be more 'cakey' with a heavier crumb, but still delicious and moist.
- Baking powder vs baking soda: baking soda is a more concentrated raising agent and imparts a unique flavour in red velvet cupcakes. You can replace 1 tsp of baking soda with 2 tsp of baking powder.
- Unsalted butter: you can also use salted butter and omit the added salt.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder: this is NOT hot cocoa powder. Use a brand designed for baking and avoid Dutch-processed 'cacao powder' as it is very bitter. I use Hershey's (US) or Nestle/Cadbury (AUS) brand unsweetened cocoa powder for baking.
- Lemon juice: omit lemon juice in cream cheese frosting and replace with equal amounts of milk, if desired. Lemon juice gives cream cheese a tang, but milk will work if necessary.
- This recipe works best if eggs are at room temperature, otherwise you risk curdling the butter.
Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 1 Cupcake with Frosting
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 384Total Fat: 19.4gSaturated Fat: 9.2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2.9gCholesterol: 68.8mgSodium: 167.3mgCarbohydrates: 49.3gFiber: 0.4gSugar: 38.6gProtein: 3.7g