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! 

4.92 from 12 votes
Yield: 8 cupcakes
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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 best gals 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 one of my Galentine’s parties, I made this recipe and was 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.) 


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 perfect 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. 

Recipe Ingredients

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. 

Cocoa: dutch process cocoa (here’s a major way I differ from most red velvet cupcakes which use natural cocoa – I think you get better flavor from dutch cocoa) and for a red velvet cake I like to use Guittard’s cocoa rogue which is already a bit red naturally.

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. Kefir is really the best substitute for buttermilk. 

Butter: unsalted, the butter should be quite soft, like a warm room temperature. This will make it easier to beat it into the sugar.

Salt: fine sea salt, halve it if using table salt.

Egg: Just one for a small batch, make sure it’s large!

Food coloring: gel food coloring will add color without water and give a stronger hue.

Vanilla: pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.

Cream cheese: Full fat. Have it at room temperature or even warm room temperature so it’s easy to get rid of any of the lumps.

Powdered sugar: preferably made with tapioca starch not cornstarch.

How to make small batch red velvet cupcakes 

Start with very soft butter and add the sugar, vanilla and salt. Then start beating it with a hand mixer or a stand mixer.

Beat until very well creamed; it should look light and fluffy.

Then add the egg and beat very well, for at least 2-3 minutes. Much of the sugar should be dissolve as you do. Scrape down the bowl as needed to ensure even beating.

Sift over this the cake flour and cocoa, add the baking soda too.

Then start beating and with the mixer on, pour in the buttermilk and hot water. Beat until smooth.

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.  

Divide between 8 muffin liners (I know this shows 7, I made big ones!).

Bake until the tops spring back, about 20 minutes.

Let the cupcakes cool completely before making the buttercream and piping it on.

Tips on making a small batch of cream cheese buttercream 

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!).

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

super soft 'red velvet' chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting: a small batch of 8
red velvet cupcakes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yields: 8 cupcakes
4.92 from 12 votes


  • 57g or ¼ cup butter unsalted and softened
  • 100g or ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 85g or ½ cup plus 1 tablespoons cake flour sifted if lumpy
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 25g or ¼ cup dutch process cocoa sifted if lumpy
  • Red gel food coloring
  • 100g or 6 tablespoons buttermilk or kefir ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons boiling hot water

For the buttercream:

  • 113g or ½ cup butter unsalted and softened
  • 113g or ½ brick cream cheese
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons sour cream this helps balance the sweetness of the buttercream
  • 2 cups organic powdered sugar


Make the cupcakes:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a cupcake tin with 7-8 muffin liners.
  • 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 2-3 minutes, 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 hot water, 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, use the back of a rubber spatula to press down and smooth out the lumps of cream cheese. Add the vanilla, salt and butter and start beating on low. 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.


2024 update: the recipe, now has 2 tablespoons of hot boiling water, this helps moisten the batter and keep the cakes tender. 

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    This was my first time making red velvet cake and this recipe did not disappoint! I love that it was a small batch recipe too. I ended up making 3 jumbo cupcakes and one regular size that I used for the crumbs to sprinkle on top. Absolutely delicious!

  2. should the buttermilk be room temperature? most recipes say keep all wet ingredients the same temperature, but yours doesn’t say.

  3. 5 stars
    I would not really classify these as red velvet, closer to a light chocolate cake I think. For me they miss that tangy, hard to describe flavor. However, what we call them doesn’t matter. This recipe makes the lightest, yummiest cake. Instead of cupcakes, I made a small cake without frosting. It was gone in about 10 minutes. Next time I will double the recipe!! Highly recommend.

  4. 4 stars
    This is, as far as I can tell, one of the best red velvet cupcakes I’ve ever had. I absolutely love the super bouncy texture and the stronger chocolate flavor! The cream cheese frosting was also quite delightful, as it usually is. However, I ran into quite a few issues with making these cupcakes. I followed the recipe exactly, weighed my ingredients as usual, divided into 9 normal-sized cupcake liners, and popped into my oven which was properly heated to 375 according to my oven thermometer. I thought baking them for 20 minutes seemed like a lot, so I checked at 15 minutes, and they were already quite done! They had also developed a big muffin-type dome to them, which isn’t typical for a cupcake, but could still be covered with buttercream. I rolled with the punches and kept following the recipe, frosted them, and tasted, only to find that they were indeed quite dry. Looking past the dryness, though, it really was a delightful cupcake, and I can see myself making them again and baking for 12 minutes or something. Also, the recipe did make too much cream cheese frosting for the amount of cupcakes, but I realize that really just depends on how much frosting you prefer. Overall, a delcious cupcake if you’re willing to adapt.

  5. 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?

  6. “‘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.

  7. 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.

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

  9. 5 stars
    I don’t usually get excited about red velvet, but these were amazing. Perfectly chocolatey with a delicious tangy frosting and beautiful!

  10. 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!

  11. 5 stars
    This is by far the BEST red velvet recipe EVER!!!
    Then again all your recipes are amazing.
    Thank you for sharing.

  12. 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!

  13. 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!

  14. 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!