Red Velvet Cake and Cupcakes

Heart-shaped red velvet cake, iced in cream cheese roses, chopped & ready to rock!

Heart-shaped red velvet cake, iced in cream cheese roses, chopped & ready to rock!

Valentine’s Day is coming up soon! Around here, that usually means Godiva chocolates. (We do all we can to appease Hearth Cat!) It also means red velvet cake with delectable cream cheese icing. Doubtless red velvet cake for Valentine’s Day is cliché, but red velvet cake is also one of the tastiest things in the dessert world! If you’ve never tried red velvet cake, it’s a bit difficult to describe. I know, I know – you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true! There is a hint of chocolate in the flavour, due to the bit of cocoa powder added to the batter, but there’s also a mellow tanginess that comes from the buttermilk. The cream cheese icing takes that tanginess and elevates it to the sublime.

Red velvet in sultry cupcake form.

Red velvet in sultry cupcake form.

Some bakers ice their red velvet cakes with vanilla buttercream, boiled icing, and even chocolate buttercream, but I eschew that nonsense. To me, red velvet cake doesn’t taste right unless it is iced with cream cheese icing. I have tried this cake with a chocolate cream cheese icing, and it was very good, but my heart belongs to the classic cream cheese icing. As for which recipe I prefer: hands down, it’s the one listed below. I’ve tried other recipes with a higher powdered sugar to cream cheese ratio, and vice-versa, and they were either too sweetly one-dimensional (the former) or too tart (the latter). This one is the winner, forever and for always.

I decorated some of the cupcakes to look like little blueberry pies.

I decorated some of the red velvet cupcakes to look like little blueberry pies. Tiny pies delight the eyes!

This red velvet cake recipe yields a fabulously vivid, bright ruby red colour. Visually, it pairs perfectly with the off-white colour of the icing, and is a delight to behold. For Valentine’s Day, tinting half the icing pink and using the pink icing to fill the inside of the cake, while icing the outside in white, would look quite striking. If you’re doing cupcakes, filling the icing bag half-full with pink icing and half-full of white icing would make for a very pretty cupcake. Do as your heart desires! For Halloween one year, I made this cake with green food colouring instead of red, and tinted the icing a hideous pink. The cake was a gorgeous, bright emerald green, and was a spectacular feast for the eyes! Sadly, I have no photographs of that cake; it disappeared too quickly. I have also thrown in the remnants of several bottles of food colouring to make an interesting black velvet cake. You can use whatever colour or colours you like; just ensure that you use 2 tablespoons of colouring to get that bright hue!

I’ve made this cake literally dozens of times now, and it always turns out well. I finally decided it was high time I made this into cupcakes! Photographs of the recipe in both cake form and cupcake form are included.


I heart icing roses.

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Red Velvet Cake

Makes 1 two- or three-layer 9″ cake, or about 3 dozen cupcakes


For preparing the pans:
vegetable oil and flour, OR nonstick baking spray, such as Baker’s Joy
parchment paper
cupcake liners, if making cupcakes

For the cake / cupcakes:
2 1/2 cups BLEACHED all-purpose flour (unbleached flour may dull the red colour)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil (I typically use olive oil)
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 TBS (1 oz) red food coloring
1 tsp white distilled vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the icing:
1 pound (2 pkgs, 8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
2 sticks salted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1 – 3 TBS milk or cream, as needed, to thin consistency


For the cake / cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Lightly oil and flour, or spray, two or three 9″ cake pans.* Line pans with circles of parchment paper and oil and flour, or spray, the circles. Note: The finished cake is incredibly tender. Lining the pans with parchment paper will ensure that the cakes transfer intact from the pans to a cooling rack.

If making cupcakes, line muffin tins with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla. Gently mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined, and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared pans. If making cupcakes, fill liners 2/3 full. Bake until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans (disregard this visual cue if making cupcakes), and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 25 – 30 minutes for cake pans or 18 – 20 minutes for cupcakes.

Immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes from the sides of the pans. (This step is not necessary if making cupcakes.)

One at a time, invert the cakes onto a cooling rack. If making cupcakes, carefully remove each cupcake from muffin tin and place on cooling rack. Let cool completely.

For the icing:
Beat cream cheese and butter until well blended; scrape sides of bowl with spatula. Beat in vanilla. Slowly beat in sugar to avoid spatter, then increase speed and beat until well blended and completely smooth and fluffy, scraping bowl as needed. Add milk or cream, 1 TBS at a time, to thin consistency if desired.

Recipe yields enough to generously ice a two- or three-layer 9″ cake, or 3 dozen cupcakes. Ice as desired.

*You may use three 9″ pans, but I’ve always used 2 and found that the slightly higher layers were satisfying. The cakes bake evenly and turn out to be very moist when using either 2 or 3 pans.

Source: Cakeman Raven Confectionary, New York City, via the Food Network


5 thoughts on “Red Velvet Cake and Cupcakes

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