Filed under: Cakes / Cupcakes / Winter
January 28, 2021

Small Batch Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet never tasted so good. These are less about the red, more about the chocolate, less about the artificial stuff and more about real dark dutch cocoa and freshly scraped vanilla beans. This cake has the most wonderful texture: super super soft! 

5 from 9 votes
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Red velvet never tasted so good. These are less about the red, more about the chocolate, less about the artificial stuff and more about real dark dutch cocoa and freshly scraped vanilla beans. This cake has the most wonderful texture: super super soft! 



A backstory

Of all the people in the world to post a recipe for red velvet cupcakes, it should not be me. I have this mildly annoyed  annoying response to those who say ‘red velvet’ is their favorite cake flavor: “But it’s NOT a flavor! It’s just a barely chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. If they take the ‘red’ out you’d be eating a sad chocolate cake….” Blah blah. Most people (rightly) tune me out :p 

So how is it I’m here today trying to make a case to you to make these red velvet cupcakes? 



Okay here’s the thing. For most of the year, I pretend to hate red velvet and then every February, I make cupcakes for my annual galentine’s brunch. I know my girls are going to want cake, especially cake that they can take home after I’ve stuffed them with waffles and scones and other goodies, and well, I gotta be on theme

I developed this recipe based on a cake from one of my mother’s old 90s magazines which she had gotten a hold of  a grocery store; I don’t have the original so I wrote up what I could remember from it and worked from there. For a Galentine’s party, I made this recipe and was very excited to finally have something that took on the costume of ‘red velvet’ but was really a freaking good chocolate cupcake. 

(Galentine’s 2020 now stands out to me now very fondly, it was the last time we were able to have a meaningful gathering with our friends at home before covid hit! The photos with the pink tinted buttercream are from last year.) 


Tell us about this small batch red velvet cupcake recipe

In the spirit of lockdown/covid/small gatherings and infrequent trips to the store, I’m presenting this recipe to you halved of what I normally bake it. It’ll give you eight perrfect cupcakes. 

And well, if these aren’t the best red velvet cupcakes ever, IDK what is. Two things I want you to know about the recipe:

  1. The recipe calls for a proper amount of cocoa. This isn’t a ‘tablespoon of cocoa’ kind of situation. This is a real chocolate cake. Imo, if you are going to make something ‘chocolatey’ then do it right. And I beg you not to use natural cocoa here. The dutch is dark and rich and makes a wonderful cake. 
  2. The TEXTURE. It’s SO incredibly soft. The cupcakes rise quite a bit in the oven and they crack on top (kind of like these chocolate molasses cookies) and it’s beautiful. But the INSIDE is just so tender. I took a ton of photos and I hope it’s clear how good this texture is. 

How to make small batch red velvet cupcakes 

This is a one bowl recipe! It is a pretty straightforward process: beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt together until it is light and fluffy. Since this is a small batch recipe you’ll likely use a hand-held mixer and if you are impatient like me, you’ll want to stop beating before you should. Push through the urge and keep beating, you want it really airy; beat at least 5-7 minutes. 

You’ll add the egg and beat for at least a minute or two, until it’s emulsified. Next you’ll add the dry ingredients and while they are mixing in, you’ll slowly pour in the buttermilk. 

Over my years making cakes I have learned to read a batter. Often the way a batter looks tells you a lot about how it will bake. In this case, the batter will be thick but airy, and look very smooth and this is what makes the tender texture.  

Small batch cream cheese buttercream recipe 

I have a whole post on buttercream which I recommend reading, but I’ll sum up the main points here: 

  1. Butter should be room temperature, soft but not melty.
  2. The cream cheese it needs to be room temp as well. Use a rubber spatula to flatten it and smooth it down to remove any lumps. 
  3. Use organic powdered sugar to avoid the aftertaste of cornstarch.
  4. Taste as you go: I give quantities here but taste it to determine how much salt and vanilla you’d like.
  5. Use something acidic to mute the sweetness (sour cream here!).



Ingredients for small batch red velvet cupcakes 

First I’ll tell you what cannot be substituted: eggs and butter. If you’d like an eggless or dairy free recipe, best to look elsewhere. I’ll also veto the use of a different cocoa and any reduction in sugar which will compromise the structure and texture of the cake.

As for the rest: 

Cake Flour: You could use all purpose flour here instead of cake but cake flour gives us that lovely tender texture. You can make your own by removing 1 tablespoon of flour (after you measure) and adding 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Buttermilk: Some will tell you that you can substitute buttermilk with a milk & lemon mixture or milk and vinegar. I don’t love this substitution because while it can mimic the acidity of buttermilk, you lose out on the creaminess that buttermilk brings to a baked good. In a pinch you can do it though. Alternatively, kefir is really the best substitute for buttermilk. 

Sour cream: I mentioned that I like to use something acidic in my buttercream to counter the sweetness. Sour cream works great here because it’s thick (and cream cheese makes the buttercream overly soft) so a good sub might be yogurt or labne. And in smaller amounts you could use buttermilk, kefir or even vinegar. Or you know, just milk! 

Vanilla bean: You can swap this with 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Taste the buttercream to see if you’d like to add more. 

Cream cheese: The most popular way to make red velvet is with a cream cheese buttercream. Alternatively, you could make it with a basic vanilla buttercream and simply leave out the cream cheese. Essentially you’ll have a chocolate cupcake with vanilla.


Can I double the recipe? How do I store the cupcakes? Can I make them ahead of time? 

Yes! I mentioned above I normally make this doubled (so ½ cup butter, 1 cup sugar, etc.). When I double it I get 16-18 cupcakes, depending on how high I fill the muffin liners. In the photos I filled them quite high and divided the batter between eight liners. 

If you are making the cupcakes ahead of time store them in an airtight container in the freezer (they’ll last weeks). The buttercream can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for a week (let it come up to room temperature before piping).

Small Batch Red Velvet Cupcakes Recipe

Small Batch Red Velvet Cupcakes

red velvet cupcakes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
5 from 9 votes


  • ¼ cup butter unsalted and softened, 57g
  • ½ cup granulated sugar 100g
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour sifted if lumpy, 90g
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ¼ cup dutch process cocoa sifted if lumpy, 25g
  • 6 tablespoons buttermilk or kefir ¼ cup plus ⅛ cup, 100g
  • Red gel food coloring

For the buttercream:

  • ¾ cup butter unsalted and softened
  • ¼ cup cream cheese
  • 1-2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 cups organic powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean scraped


Make the cupcakes:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a cupcake tin with 8-9 muffin liners (8 will be high, 9 will be standard).
  • Beat together the butter vanilla, salt and sugar in a bowl with a hand mixer for at least 5 minutes. The mixture should be very light and creamy. Add the egg and beat for another minute or two, until it’s well combined.
  • Add the baking soda, flour and cocoa on top. Then, with the mixer on medium, slowly pour in the buttermilk and squeeze in the food coloring. Beat until you have an airy smooth batter but don’t overbeat (a minute at most).
  • Divide the batter between cupcake liners (⅔ of the way) and bake for 20 minutes, until the tops spring back when pressed. Cool in the tin for a minute or two then remove the cupcakes and let them cool fully at room temperature. If you are making them days ahead of time, put them in an airtight container in the freezer.

Make the buttercream:

  • In a bowl, beat together the cream cheese, vanilla bean seeds, salt and butter on low. Use the back of a rubber spatula to press down and smooth out the lumps of cream cheese then beat again. Repeat if necessary. Once there are no lumps, sift in the powdered sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the sour cream and stir until the buttercream is smooth. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes.

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Recipe Reviews

  1. Can I use Ghirardelli cocoa that’s not Dutch processed? I just realized that right before I need to start baking. Also, I only have a 12 count muffin pan, will the recipe still work?

  2. “‘If you’re going to make a chocolate cake, make it properly”
    Ridiculous. Yes, people who say they like red velvet like a tangy and mild chocolate cake. That is the whole point, and the flavour of red velvet that they are referring to.

  3. 5 stars
    I’m usually a purist, if Sam says kerrygold, I buy kerrygold, if she says TJ chocolate, off I head to TJs. She’s the expert. But sometimes, it’s 9:30 at night and you need to make cupcakes and you only have strawberry kefir. But hey, I like chocolate and strawberries, so we went with it. It was actually super delightful. Just a hint of strawberry in a wonderfully moist and bouncy chocolate cupcake. Added some dehydrated strawberry dust to the frosting to give it a speckled look and a little more strawberry taste. My kids liked them. I’ll definitely make them again (probably with plain kefir though).

    • Bonne, strawberry kefir! I would’ve been horrified except I recently use it in my strawberry cake (you gotta check it out, it’s new!) and OOOFF it made it so good I can see this in many future cakes.

  4. Do you think it would be better to use full fat kefir or low fat buttermilk (I can never find full fat buttermilk)?

  5. 5 stars
    I don’t usually get excited about red velvet, but these were amazing. Perfectly chocolatey with a delicious tangy frosting and beautiful!

  6. 5 stars
    This recipe was delicious! I replaced the vanilla and food color with red velvet flavoring. I was a bit nervous about that because what does red velvet actually taste like, right?! But it turned out delicious! I would like to make a 6 inch round cake, with 4 layers. Do you have any idea how much I should increase this recipe by? I was thinking of doubling but maybe I need more…..
    does this recipe bake well as a cake instead of cupcakes?

    Thanks for sharing your innovative recipes! So good!

  7. 5 stars
    This is by far the BEST red velvet recipe EVER!!!
    Then again all your recipes are amazing.
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. 5 stars
    I was a little bit nervous using a new (to me) website for recipes but these looked too good not try! So glad that I took the chance – this cake was super tender and flavourful. My only (minor) complaint was that the ingredients weren’t listed in grams but I did the conversions myself and it worked out fine. Thank you for the wonderful recipe – I look forward to trying your other recipes!

  9. 5 stars
    The red velvet cupcakes came out awesome! Sam’s recipes are right on ?all the time !!! Outstanding always

    • Honestly however much you want! I never measure, I just drop until I get to a shade I like. Beware it won’t be bright red like most red velvet cakes due to the high percentage of cocoa powder. You can get a nice maroon though!

  10. 5 stars
    Sam! This is such a wonderful recipe! I doubled it and baked it in a 9×9 square because I’m going to use it in an ice cream recipe. It baked up beautifully. So rich, moist, springy, tender. And the cracked top! It’s just everything I want in a cake!! Thanks for another winner!! xo – Anita

      • 5 stars
        I made these yesterday and they are “by far ” the best cupcake I have ever made. So moist and delicious! I have never made anything “red velvet” before, nor have I tasted it either. I wasn’t sure about the red food colouring either, and just put in an adequate amount and most definitely could see a “maroon-ish” tinge to it. I have already saved this recipe. Loved how it made exactly 6 cupcakes. Just what I was looking for! Thankyou!