International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes

My girlfriend’s been hounding me for weeks. “Why is there no dessert on your blog?” The reason was: I am attempting to focus mainly on the foods I’ve spent a few years building up a knowledge of (Indian, Thai, etc) and “dessert” as we know it isn’t always a big deal in those cuisines, and the sweets that do exist, well – I’ve never made them (yet). While I am working on a version of a Sri Lankan jaggery cake, I’m not quite there yet. This recipe is something we made together last night, and I will post it to sate the sweet-tooth of my lovely partner.

This all began when we were standing in a StarBucks staring at a red cupcake. “Is that one of those famous ‘red velvet cupcakes’?” – we had both heard much about the reputation of the Starbucks red velvet cupcake (and red velvet cake in general). It was supposed to be a step above your “average” cupcake. So we tried it, and it wasn’t. It was good, but sort of dry (it was near the end of the day, so we were lenient) and lacking something (flavour? richness?) that we couldn’t put our fingers on. Not to be deterred, we found a recipe online which purported to be the final answer in red velvet cupcake recipes. Again, it was underwhelming. Not rich enough. Not moist enough. Something is missing.

So, I spent several hours researching baking/weight ratios, looking to see if I could correct the things we found lacking. I’ve assembled this recipe, pieced together from bits of info on the weight of flour, the effects of butter vs. oil, traditional cake ratios, etc. Aside: I would’ve assumed butter to be the preferred choice here, but apparently oil provides a moister cake, so I warily and reluctantly attempted this with oil. Anyway, this is the final result and it met our expectations. It’s a miracle of science and mathematics. Deeply rich cocoa and vanilla flavouring, and the increased richness and moisture providing a much more satisfying cake; it, finally, earns it’s name. Red velvet. Have a glass of milk handy.

Ingredients (makes 12 cupcakes):

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 bottle (28-30ml) of red food colouring
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

What you will need: large and medium-sized mixing bowls, whisk, spatula, 12-cake cupcake baking tray, and cooling rack, oven mitts, paper cupcake liners, measuring cups and spoons, a toothpick, white icing (I actually just used some white “cream cheese” icing by Betty Crocker, which has no actual cream cheese in it, hmm. But do use white icing – it’s very pretty on red cake.)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. By the time you’re done making the batter, the oven will be ready.
  2. In the medium-sized bowl, mix the first three ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt). We’ll call this the “dry”. Whisk the dry ingredients together for 5-10 seconds to get an even mix.
  3. In the large bowl combine the oil and sugar. Stir them together using the whisk until they’re mixed into an even cream. We’ll call this bowl the “wet”.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the wet ingredients. Whisk them together until the mixture is smooth and uniform.
  5. Add the cocoa powder, vanilla, and red colour to the wet bowl. Whisk until smooth again.
  6. To the wet bowl, add half of the buttermilk, and half of the dry bowl. Whisk until the batter is smooth.
  7. Add the rest of the buttermilk and dry ingredients. Whisk until smooth. We add these ingredients in 2 steps to make it easier to get a smooth, lump-free batter. If you added them all at once, you tend to make a bit of a mess.
  8. Your batter is finished. Get your cupcake tray, and put one paper cup in each spot. I don’t think I need to explain this one to you. Get the tray and cups ready.
  9. Scoop batter into each paper cup until they’re about 3/4 full. There should be a little bit of batter left over, but not much. Use the spatula as necessary.
  10. Slide the baking tray onto the top rack and bake for 20 minutes. Check one of the middle cupcakes with the toothpick by sticking it down into the middle of the cupcake. If it comes out clean, they’re done. If the batter is still wet inside, it’s not done, and should be left in the oven for a little while longer. Assuming your oven is the proper temperature, though, this shouldn’t be an issue, so don’t get paranoid.
  11. After they’re baked, remove the cupcake tray and let it sit for 3-5 minutes, then gently remove each cupcake from the tray and place them on a cooling rack. Once they’re cooled to room temperature, they’ll be ready to ice. I’ll leave that part up to you.

Once they’re iced, you are ready to indulge yourself. I think the icing is a pretty crucial component of this cupcake as well. The cake itself is not overly sweet. It’s dominant flavour is a mix of cocoa and vanilla richness, and the cake itself is a brilliant, deep crimson, not cartoon-red, or brown. A sweet icing balances the cake very nicely; a too-sweet cake with sweet icing would be unbearable (for me, anyway). So, there’s a dessert for you. Happy now? 😉


One response

  1. Anuja

    I had 2 of these for breakfast this morning. They are incredible – definitely something out of the ordinary as far as cupcakes go.

    These cupcakes make me happy.
    This blog and its writer make me happy.
    So, yes. I am happy now. 🙂

    February 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

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