red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

red velvet cupcakes

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably begin saying that this recipe and post were born out of my snobbery and stubbornness. I’m loathe to make food that comes from boxes for the most part. Sure, I use canned tomatoes, beans and pumpkin, but I always have a preference for my own. Sometimes, I don’t have the foresight to make chili by soaking my own beans – the mood just sort of strikes me, and out come the canned beans. But certain things are just as easy to make from scratch as their boxed cousins – like cupcakes. It takes mere minutes to make cake batter and the frosting, and before you know it, you have lovely, decadent cupcakes waiting for you and your friends. And who doesn’t love homemade frosting?

ready for the batter buttermilk

Since my friend Sharon was craving red-velvet cupcakes, I decided to give this Magnolia Bakery recipe a go, but, opted for a cream cheese frosting, rather than the suggested vanilla icing. I’m used to red-velvet cake to have a cream cheese frosting, and also, find Magnolia Bakery frosting impossibly sweet and a little grainy. Oh yes, and there’s too much of it and I’m very particular about my cupcake-to-frosting proportion.

gotta love the food coloring is it red enough?

People, let me tell you – this took up probably slightly more time than a cake-from-a-box project would have and it was worth each and every additional minute. The whole thing was a cinch – and a delicious cinch at that.


While Paul and Sharon liked the cupcakes, they preferred the cake part to be slightly more moist, though my Sharon indicated that this is how Magnolia cake part tastes on location. So if you like their cake consistency, then stick with this batter recipe. I liked the cake part as it was, it was little lighter than usual cupcakes, slightly spongier. The recipe called for 6 tablespoons of food coloring, which I think is a typo. We used one bottle – could probably have used a little more to give the cake a deeper shade of red, but 6 tablespoons implies six of those little bottles – which seems a bit much, no?

I would have to say this frosting was quite a winner – an agreement we all shared. It must have been the half a stick of butter blended in that just made the texture light and creamy. I think it’s important to beat the frosting for the time the recipe indicates – it makes a huge difference, make sure you don’t under-beat it. The result will make you swear off pre-made frosting forever – and you’ll be glad you did.

red velvet cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Batter adapted from Magnolia Bakery
Frosting adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2006

Batter Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons red food coloring
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Frosting Ingredients:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick of butter (4 tbsp)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Cake Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour three 9- by 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

To make the cake: In a small bowl, sift the cake flour and set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

While the batter bakes, prepare the frosting.

Frosting Preparation:

Beat cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar. Spread frosting on cupcakes, leaving 1/2-inch plain border.

When the cake has cooled, spread the frosting between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake with the cream cheese frosting.

Epicurious Test-Kitchen Tip: This recipe also makes 2 dozen cupcakes. Use 2 muffin pans, each with 12 (1/2-cup) muffin cups, and line each cup with a paper liner. (There’s no need to grease the cups.) Arrange the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and bake the cupcakes, switching positions of the pans halfway through baking, until a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes in the pan 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a rack before icing. To ice, mound about 1/4 cup of frosting on top of each cupcake and use an icing spatula to make a swirl on top. If desired, decorate with colored sprinkles.


  • Steamy Kitchen

    honey, i don’t think i’ve had a proper red velvet cake before…a friend made one from a mix, but i know it can be so much better from scratch! maybe i’ll come visit you and can get a bite!

  • Carly

    I’m relieved to hear you made these with 1/6th of the recommended food coloring. I always look at this recipe, and then think that is a ridiculous amount of food coloring, and skip it. Now I’m looking forward to trying it with only one little bottle.

  • robin @ caviar and codfish

    Is there a food blogger memo going out for Red Velvet cakes? It’s so funny how sometimes a trend just pops up – I’ve seen red velvet cakes on like 5 of my favorite food blog lately!
    I really like the idea of red velvet cupcakes. Very adorable. And 6 tablespoons!?! That’s insane. Yours are certainly red using just one.

  • radish

    Sarah and Jessica – thank you!!
    Robin, who else made them? I wonder if it’s something in the air. I decided to make them solely bc my friend wanted to make them from a box in my kitchen and i nearly had an aneurysm. And yes, 6 tbs — not sure what they were thinking.

  • valerie

    I made these two weeks ago after finding the recipe on another site – one little bottle of food coloring is 4 tbs – if you made the whole recipe, you would need 1 1/2 bottles. I cut the recipe to two dozen cupcakes and used one bottle and the color was darker than yours – but still looked good. Maybe I’ll cut back the coloring for the next batch!

  • Meg

    I just made these-followed the directions closely and only used 1 small bottle of food coloring and let me tell you…these were awful! it’s either the vinegar or not enough sugar but they were bland and I couldn’t serve them to guests.

  • Radish

    Meg – so sorry to hear your experience with these was awful. Mine were fine and my guests loved them. Not sure what might have transpired, but I feel badly you had a bad recipe experience – those always bum me out!

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