Red Velvet Cupcake Bride

Ever since I issued an all-points bulletin for bride and groom cupcake toppers that looked kitschy but not decrepit, brides from all across wedding land came out of the woodwork.

The "senior" toppers, second from right; the younger replacements, left foreground. (Kim O'Donnel)

Many of you encouraged me to get over my bridezilla self and make use of the geriatric toppers in question, arguing that they would be good for laughs and stories 10 years hence. You're probably right, but this persistent bride kept looking. Some of you scoured the Internet and sent me links to potential topper candidates. The collective spirit of kindness (and bridal empathy) has been touching, to say the least!

My dear friend Leslie embarked on a topper search in her home town of Seattle and the home to Archie McPhee, an emporium for everything that is goofy and irreverent. She declared her mission a success and sent a box of samples from which to choose. In the meantime, as I ambled out of my neighborhood Giant in the direction of home, I literally stumbled onto wedding cake topper nirvana.

One of the few remaining shops open in Adams Square Mall on Columbia Pike (which is set for some major change as part of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Project), Party Favors & Gift Shop is still kicking, chockfull of all those tchotchkes you never thought you'd need.

As I squeezed my parka and me into the shoebox-sized shop, I found what I had been looking for: a much younger bride and groom. Yes, I'll have four dozen, please, I said, almost in disbelief.

With this dilemma now resolved, I decided to celebrate with a batch of cupcakes -- you know, as a gesture of thanks to my helpful readers (and possibly a dress rehearsal that only an obsessive bride would consider). With Valentine's Day just a few days away, red velvet seemed like just the thing, anyway.

If you've never tried red velvet cake, give it a shot. It is possibly one of the weirdest things you'll ever bite into: a shocking red cake interior of the beef tartare variety juxtaposing snow-white cream cheesy frosting. It never fails; every time I make these, I inevitably think of white go-go boots.

Aside from the funk-in-your-trunk visuals, red velvet is sinfully delicious. This recipe is just right -- with plenty of buttermilk, cinnamon and cocoa notes to let you know you're not just eating red food coloring.

A few notes to keep in mind
* Grease both the cupcake pan cups as well as the liners. This helps tremendously when inverting.
* Pour the batter only ¾ full, or you'll end up with muffin-y cupcakes with raised tops and a decidedly undelicate finish.
* Allow cupcakes to completely cool before applying frosting. This is key to a smooth finish without "chunks" of cake mixed throughout.
* The amounts below also work for a two-layer cake. Cooking temperature is the same, but cooking time would be about 10 minutes less for the two-layers. For frosting, double amounts listed below.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Adapted from "James McNair's Cakes" by James McNair

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 bottles (1 ounce each) red liquid food coloring
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

With a nonstick spray, grease the insides of each cup of a 12-cup cupcake pan. Place a paper cupcake liner in each cup. Additional light coverage inside liners is a good idea as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir to mix well and set aside.

In a bowl with a hand mixer, beat butter at medium speed until creamy, about one minute. With mixer still running, slowly add sugar. Occasionally stop mixer to scrape sides of bowl. Beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about five minutes. Slowly drizzle in eggs and beat until mixed well, remembering to scrape sides of bowl. Add vanilla and food coloring.

Using mixer on low speed or a rubber spatula, begin to incorporate about one-third of the dry ingredients, alternating with half of the buttermilk. Continue to alternate dry with wet, ending with the remaining flour mixture, until ingredients are incorporated.

Carefully pour or spoon batter into each cup liner, about ¾ full. Place cupcake pan on a baking sheet and bake until a wooden skewer inserted in centers comes out clean, about 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes. Gently invert pan and allow cupcakes to completely cool before frosting.

Makes 12 cupcakes, with possibility for a few extra.

Cream Cheese Frosting
From "James McNair's Cakes"

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 eight-ounce brick cream cheese, chilled
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Optional: light cream or milk, if needed


In a mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer until fluffy. Add cream cheese, vanilla and salt, beating at low speed, just until mixture is smooth and creamy. Don't overbeat, as cream cheese will get thin and runny. Using a rubber spatula, scrape sides of bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat on low.
Add remaining sugar and beat until just smooth and spreadable; taste for sweetness and consistency. If too thick, add a little light cream or milk.

Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate. When ready to use, allow to warm up to room temperature.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 12, 2007; 10:26 AM ET Valentine's Day , Wedding Fare
Previous: We Heart Chocolate | Next: Does Food Get You in the Mood?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

What about toppers that aren't tiny plastic brides and grooms? My husband and I had a pair of small, die-cast toy bicycles (one in red, his racing color, and one in blue, my color even though I don't race) on top of our cake.

For those who want brides and grooms, nothing else will do. But the cake topper seems like a nice way to express something personal yourself if you're interested in that option.

Posted by: Kate | February 12, 2007 11:56 AM

About how many cupcakes will this recipe make?

Posted by: Silver Spring | February 12, 2007 12:05 PM

If I leave out the food colouring, will the batter be grossly affected? How about substituting 2 ounces of beet juice instead for a red cake without artificial colouring?

Posted by: cakelover | February 12, 2007 12:06 PM

Cakelover: I have been told that beet juice will work, but without having done it myself, I cannot confirm its success. I think it's worth a shot.
Silver Spring: Recipe makes 12 cupcakes, with enough leftover batter for at least 2 or 3 more. If you decide to use leftover batter, may I suggest you add the weigh of rice or dried beans to keep pan level.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 12, 2007 12:10 PM

oh my goodness - you read my mind! i just wrote an email to a friend about needing to start testing out red velvet cupcake recipes for my wedding. thank you! on a store-bought note, does anybody know of a bakery that makes good red velvet cupcakes? cakelove doesn't do them, and i have heard (but not confirmed) that buzz's leave something to be desired.

Posted by: gk | February 12, 2007 12:17 PM

My dear departed grandma used to make me a red velvet cake for my birthday every year when I was a kid. Her recipe doesn't have cinnamon; I will try this one. Also - do you think the powdered buttermilk + water or milk will substitute well for liquid buttermilk, which I never have on hand? Thanks for the recipe!

Posted by: Meg in PA | February 12, 2007 12:22 PM

Red velvet cake is my personal specialty and favorite. In lieu of gifts for my buddies, I bake the cake of their choice on their respective birthdays, and red velvet wins hands down. I know that some people are put off by the idea of two whole bottles of red food coloring, but that's the way, along with the cocoa powder, to get that deep, rich color.

I can't agree more about letting the cupcakes cool thoroughly before frosting them. I've had some issues with baking red velvet as a sheet cake, only to have it 'peel' into the frosting no matter how careful I was. (Note that it stopped no one from eating a couple of pieces.)

It'll be interesting to hear how the beet juice works out. Please post and let us know.

Posted by: Heather | February 12, 2007 12:26 PM

Bless you for including a red velvet cake recipe. I just tried making a RVC from scratch last weekend and failed abyssmally. I'm going to give this one a try though, and hope for better results.

Also, a note to your readers, it's best to buy red (no taste) food coloring at Michael's or a specialty cake/baking shop. Wilton's is the standard brand and will give you the lustrous red color you're looking for in this cake. Avoid the stuff you can buy in the grocery store. No good!

Posted by: Janet Kincaid | February 12, 2007 1:13 PM

The Wikipedia entry for "red velvet cake" talks about the history of this cake. And it mentions that the reaction of acid vinegar or buttermilk with alkaline cocoa powder creates a reddish tint. And at some point along the way, people started adding red coloring to accentuate that. It does mention that some versions use grated beets or beet juice instead of dye. I'd rather use more alkaline cocoa powder (not the dutch process) for the natural reddish color.

Posted by: Karen | February 12, 2007 2:27 PM

My mother made a chocolate beet cake a few years ago that was excellent -- it was very dense and not much like her red velvet cake, but surprisingly good nevertheless. I think it had shredded beets.

I'm getting married in September, and just yesterday we were joking about the guest's reaction if we had a chocoalte beet cake for the wedding cake.

Posted by: Kathryn | February 12, 2007 2:49 PM

If I leave out the red dye altogether it wouldn't effect the taste, would it? Dye is flavorless. I don't like the idea of the cake staining everything with all that red dye--(teeth, plates, napkins). I also thought the red tint came from the mixture of cocoa and buttermilk without adding dye. Some older recipes don't use dye at all.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | February 12, 2007 3:03 PM

Edibles Incredible in Reston Town Centre makes delicious rich, moist, dense cakes with equally delicious frostings. I'm sure they also make Red Velvet cake.

Posted by: jms-Vienna | February 12, 2007 3:08 PM

I've not experimented making this cake without the food coloring. It's probably the only thing I make using dye (and the occasional batch of lollipops). Actually, there's some debate about the purported color transformation when cocoa is in the presence of an acid. Some say yes, others say nay.
Janet: I've used red food coloring from the supermarket -- i think it was McCormick's -- without any problems, fyi.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 12, 2007 3:11 PM

Have you tried aluminum foil liners? They cleanly pull off the cakes without having to grease them.

Posted by: Kay | February 12, 2007 4:41 PM

The best red velvet cupcakes I've had are at Baked & Wired on Thomas Jefferson St. over here in Georgetown. You may want to call ahead and ask about their daily cupcake selection - the variety changes daily.

Posted by: Georgetown | February 12, 2007 5:03 PM

My mom and I once made red velvet cake with beet juice. It was no good, not really red at all, basically just ordinary chocolate cake. We decided that it wouldn't kill us to eat 2 bottles of food coloring once a year; it is *food* coloring after all. So we just pour it on in, though with a bit of a cringe, and enjoy our nice red cake.

Posted by: DC | February 12, 2007 5:30 PM

I don't know if it's practical to get supplies from out of town for weddings, but everyone I know swears by the red velvet cupcakes at Magnolia and Buttercup.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 12, 2007 6:31 PM

I don't know if this baker does Red Velvet cupcakes, but she makes the most delicious cakes and pastries I have ever tasted. She is doing my daughter's wedding cake, plus a special cake for a bridemaid's event that will be a lake with a rowing shell and rowers. She is very creative and I think would try to accomodate requests.

Cakes by Design

Posted by: Pam | February 12, 2007 7:45 PM

Hi Kim!

Congratulations on your wedding! I am about to visit Vieques island, and looking for tips on your blog. I am getting married myself in September, and thought the little bicycle for two cake topper at was so cute. They have a lot of good ones from different decades.

I have never had red velvet cake, but this makes me want to try it! There is an incredible bakery in Seattle called Larsens - my dream is to do marzipan cupcakes from Larsen's! But my fiance wants chocolate.

Posted by: Kassie | February 13, 2007 7:17 PM

Hi Kim!
I made your cupcakes yesterday! They are amazing. My boyfriend and co workers love them. I am a beginner/intermediate-level cook, but not much of a baker. This was actually the first batch of cupcakes that I have ever made from scratch!

Thanks so much for the recipe. When I was younger my grandmother would make red velvet cake for every holiday (because it was my favorite!). It is slightly different than hers, but oh so wonderful.

Posted by: Kath | February 14, 2007 2:41 PM

To the poster who talked about cocoa varieties...cocoa processed with alkali IS "dutch process" - that's what Dutch process actually means. It's got a mellower, less-acidic flavor than regular cocoa - but is not as deeply "chocolatey."

Posted by: Nancy | February 14, 2007 9:57 PM

To Meg in PA: I made these yesterday using powdered buttermilk. I mixed the powdered buttermilk in with the dry ingredients, and mixed in the water when the buttermilk was to be added. Turned out fine!

Posted by: Hannah | February 15, 2007 1:37 PM

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