Perfect Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe

While it may seem like hubris to use the word "perfect" in a recipe title, developer Patterson Watkins assures us that the secret to having red velvet cupcakes come out just right every time is using room temperature ingredients. "It is science," she says, "and it is pretty cool." As she explains, when the (formerly) refrigerated ingredients like butter and eggs are the same temperature as the pantry ingredients, they come together more easily, so no more too-dense cakes or non-fluffy frosting. She advises taking everything out of the refrigerator at least 1 to 2 hours before you start baking. If you forget to take the butter out in time, though, here's an easy microwave hack you can use.

Watkins says this cake is "a real deal, homemade, from-scratch red velvet cake/cupcake," but she does say that if you need to take a shortcut, you can use store-bought cream cheese frosting. Another time-saving idea is to make the frosting a day or so in advance, then refrigerate it. That being said, before you use it, you will to need to let it come to — wait for it — room temperature.

Assemble the ingredients for red velvet cupcakes

To make the cake batter, you will need flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, salt, softened butter, sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla extract, and vinegar. Watkins uses apple cider vinegar, but says distilled white vinegar is fine. The batter also requires some buttermilk, and of course, you'll need to add red food coloring so you don't have a brown velvet cake. Watkins insists on the gel kind, explaining that it "provides a more robust and vibrant coloring option without the addition of more liquid."

To frost the cupcakes, you will need to add softened cream cheese and powdered sugar to your shopping list, as well.

Make the cupcake batter

First, preheat the oven to 350 F. Next, sift the flour together with the baking soda and cocoa powder, then add ½ teaspoon salt. With a stand or hand mixer, beat ½ cup of the butter with the granulated sugar until fluffy, then stir in the oil, eggs, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and vinegar. Mix the food coloring with the buttermilk in a separate bowl — Watkins notes that you may need to add more than is called for here. "Start with 1 tablespoon," she advises, "and work up from there until you get a vibrant, bright red color."

Add the dry sifted ingredients and the buttermilk to the wet ingredients in small amounts, scraping the mixing bowl in between additions. Continue beating until the cake batter appears smooth and homogeneous.

Bake the cupcakes

Line a 24-cup muffin pan (or 2 12-cup pans) with paper cupcake liners, then spritz the paper with cooking spray. Pour the batter into each liner until it's ¾ of the way full, then bake the cupcakes for 25 to 30 minutes. When the cupcakes are done, you should be able to stick a toothpick or skewer in the cupcake's center (pick one in the middle of the pan), and have it come out clean.

Leave the cupcakes in the pan while they cool on a wire rack.

Make the cream cheese frosting

While the cupcakes are cooling, you'll have plenty of time to make the frosting. Beat the remaining butter together with the cream cheese until the mixture appears smooth and fluffy, then stir in the powdered sugar a little at a time. Once that's all mixed in, add the remaining vanilla and salt. Beat the frosting until it looks nice and fluffy, then cover it while you wait for the cupcakes to finish cooling to room temperature.

Frost the red velvet cupcakes

Once the cupcakes are completely cool, they can be frosted. If you want them to look pretty, Watkins suggests using a piping bag, but if you don't care so much about appearances, you can use a butter knife, spatula, or other cupcake-frosting implement of your choice. 

One fun thing Watkins likes to do before she frosts her cupcakes is to crumble one of the cakes up to use as a topping. As she says, "I usually pick one of the off-looking cupcakes to be my garnish crumbs." These crumbs can then be sprinkled over the frosted cupcakes so you get some of that pretty red velvet color on the outside as well as on the inside. Watkins does say that uneaten cupcakes can be frozen, frosting and all, but adds the caveat that you'll still need to eat them within 2 months. "These decorated elements," she explains, "tend to degrade quickly under frozen conditions."

Perfect Red Velvet Cupcake Recipe
5 from 37 ratings
The key to this perfect red velvet cupcake recipe doesn't even involve any extra ingredients.
Prep Time
Cook Time
red velvet cupcakes on stand
Total time: 55 minutes
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 cup softened butter, divided
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon red food coloring gel
  • ‌16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sift the flour with the baking soda and cocoa powder, then stir in ½ teaspoon salt.
  2. With a hand or stand mixer, beat ½ cup of the butter with the granulated sugar, until slightly fluffy.
  3. Stir the oil, eggs, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and vinegar into the butter and sugar mixture until well-combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk with the food coloring, adding more food coloring as needed to get a bright red color.
  5. Alternate adding small amounts of the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the butter mixture, scraping the bowl in between additions and beating until smooth.
  6. Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners, then spray the liners with cooking spray. Fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with the batter.
  7. Bake the cupcakes for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the pan on a wire rack.
  8. While the cupcakes cool to room temperature, beat the cream cheese with the remaining butter until smooth and fluffy.
  9. Stir in the powdered sugar a bit at a time, then add the remaining vanilla and salt. Beat the frosting until fluffy, then cover the bowl until the cupcakes are ready to be frosted.
  10. Optionally, crumble one of the cooled cupcakes to use as a garnish. Frost the cupcakes, then sprinkle the cake crumbs (if using) over the frosting.
Calories per Serving 342
Total Fat 20.8 g
Saturated Fat 8.1 g
Trans Fat 0.3 g
Cholesterol 52.7 mg
Total Carbohydrates 36.6 g
Dietary Fiber 0.5 g
Total Sugars 25.8 g
Sodium 191.2 mg
Protein 3.4 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Rate this recipe