What kind of a recipe blog would this be without a recipe for red velvet cupcakes? Not a very good one, I would wager. Red velvet cupcakes happened to be one of the first posts on The Catalyst Cupcakes and I figured that now that I have a much better understanding of how to make a really good cake, it was time to resurrect that old post and revamp the recipe to one that works better. Also, my D&D group requested them for our next session. (Yup, I don’t just play video games!) Thus, I give you the best red velvet cupcake recipe that I could muster.
For gatherings, so many people make something like a Duncan Hines red velvet cupcake box mix. How dare you, I say! Make your red velvet cupcakes from scratch! Homemade red velvet cupcakes are superior for so many reasons, including the self-satisfaction of something made with your own hands and quality ingredients.
I have to admit that I generally don’t understand the obsession with red velvet cupcakes (or just red velvet cake). Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of it that was badly made or made from a box cake mix. The flavor of most that I’d had really wasn’t very special at all and the crumb was all wrong for what I consider a good cake. Also, it was just chocolate cake with a lot of red food coloring dumped in. That’s just wrong! I shouldn’t have to worry about staining my guts red when I eat one of these, should I? No for that’s essentially a pretty red delivery vehicle for cream cheese frosting, am I right? Well whatever the reasons for the obsession, there’s no denying that it tastes good and if you’re looking for something with a great texture, not overly sweet and pretty to look at in the form of a cupcake, you can’t go wrong with what I think is the best red velvet cupcake recipe I’ve ever had. They taste so good, I can see how a properly made red velvet can be obsessed over.
Like I said, I don’t like all of the red food coloring that gets added to a traditional red velvet cake recipe. I have seen as much as 2 fl ounces to as low as 1 tbsp. So I go with a red alkalized cocoa powder from my local kitchen store. It may be hard to find for a lot of people so you might have to go with a few more drops of red gel paste than I used. The red alkalized cocoa powder helps give the cake a more natural-looking color that doesn’t make you afraid to eat it. Another addition that I make is to add a small amount of all-purpose flour to the cake flour to give it a bit more stability than the typically quite soft texture that is common with many varieties of known Red Velvet cakes.
My cream cheese frosting is based off of my Swiss meringue frosting. I think it’s important to have a light frosting so that you can eat more than one cupcake. That just makes sense to me, because if people are going back for seconds and thirds, you win. I’ve had cream cheese frosting that was so sweet it made my teeth hurt and I didn’t want to eat more than half of it or just scrape the frosting off. And a cupcake filled with frosting? Forget it. I won’t eat it. The frosting for red velvet cupcakes should complement the light flavor of the cake, not overpower it! So I hope you make this version of the frosting too.
The Best Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe
Yield: about 24 cupcakes
- 2 cups cake flour (sifted)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons red alkalized cocoa powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs plus one egg yolk (room temp)
- 3 drops of red gel-paste food coloring
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp cider vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your cupcake tins with your favorite cupcake wrappers.
- Sift your flours, cocoa and salt together into bowl or onto some parchment paper and set aside.
- With your stand mixer or electric hand-mixer on medium-high, whist the oil and sugar on medium-high speed until they are well combined. Add your eggs one at a time to the mixer until each one is mixed in well. Stop and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to make sure it’s all consistent. When all of your eggs are in and thoroughly incorporated add your three drops of gel-paste food coloring and the vanilla extract. (I don’t really like to add a lot of coloring and the red alkalized powder does a great job of making these a nice natural looking red but you can add more color as you need to your taste, especially if you’re using plain dutch cocoa powder.)
- Turn your mixer down to low and carefully add a third of the flour/cocoa/salt mix. Add half of the buttermilk and whisk together until just combined. Add in another third of the flour and combine, then the rest of the buttermilk (whisking until just combined again) and then the rest of the flour. Whisk until the last of the flour is just incorporated.
- In a small bowl or cup whisk the vinegar and baking soda together (remember, it will foam up so make sure your container isn’t too small). Add this to the batter and mix on medium speed for about 10-12 seconds until it’s incorporated.
- Fill each muffin cup three-fourths full with batter. Bake for 20 minutes or so, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even baking. When a toothpick in the center comes out clean they’re done. Don’t over-bake! Let them cool completely before frosting (but it’s okay if you want to eat one warm. They’re really yummy!)
Swiss Meringue Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes about 6 cups of frosting
- 5 egg whites
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups granulated white sugar
- 2 cup (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature cut into 1 tbsp pieces
- 1 cup (8oz) of cream cheese cut into chunks like the butter
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste
- In a heat-proof bowl add the egg whites and a pinch of salt. Whisk vigorously until all the whites are broken up. Add in the sugar and place over a pot of simmering water.
- Whisk the mixture consistently while heating. The mixture will become thick and frothy and take on a creamy color. At this stage if it appears that the sugar has dissolved, touch the egg mixture and rub between your fingers. If it feels smooth it is done. If you feel even a slight gritty texture keep whisking and every 30 seconds feel the mixture until smooth when rubbed between your fingers.
- Transfer the egg mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the egg mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
- Reduce to medium heat and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. Continue adding the butter until it it begins to appear to split. Now add in the chunks of cream cheese. Half at a time until it has been incorporated. After the last piece has been added around 30 seconds later the mixture will look separated or curdled. Continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth, it will come back together, I promise.
- It takes around another 3 minutes for it to start to come back together. At this point add in the vanilla and mix just until incorporated. Just whisk until it comes back together. Add more of the flavoring or color until desired result is achieved. Continue mixing until desired thickness is achieved; it takes a total of 3-5 minutes.
Cover your red velvet cupcakes with your frosting however you like with a spatula or pipe it on in some fun fashion. I tossed cocoa nibs (yay!) on the edges of mine for a little bit of fun texture and some bitterness to balance the richness of all that frosting.