Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red velvet cupcakes on a wooden cake stand.

Traditional red velvet cupcakes made with buttermilk are one of the easiest cupcakes to make, and the cream cheese frosting on top has just the right amount of sweetness to tangy cream cheese! Yes, they require buttermilk (or a buttermilk substitute), but they have the perfect red velvet texture and flavor without having to use cake flour. The result is a slightly denser crumb that I think is a better vessel for a thick swirl of cream cheese frosting (see how it holds up on my YouTube channel).

With the right sprinkles, you can make these moist red velvet cupcakes for just about any event, from a late-night craving for real red velvet cake (not just chocolate cake dyed red!) to formal events. I developed this recipe specifically for my friend’s wedding, and they (and their guests) absolutely loved these cupcakes! These romantic, lightly chocolaty cupcakes are great for Valentine’s Day, weddings, and anniversaries, much like my chocolate raspberry macarons.

Closeup of a red velvet cupcake with a cream cheese frosting swirl on a wooden platter.
Moist red velvet cupcakes are the perfect romantic cupcake for Valentine’s Day, weddings, anniversaries, and more. The lightly chocolaty and almost imperceptible tanginess are trademarks of a classic red velvet cupcake recipe with buttermilk.

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Ingredients for Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttermilk

Red velvet cupcakes are made with buttermilk, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, and a little vinegar for some real baking magic. All of these ingredients are fairly standard in grocery stores, so you won’t have to shop at any specialty markets. I’ve included more information and substitutions for each ingredient below:

Ingredients and Common Substitutions for Red Velvet Cake

  • All-purpose flour. A lot of red velvet recipes use cake flour, but I prefer using regular all-purpose flour. I always have it on hand, and I prefer the slightly denser crumb. A 1:1 gluten-free flour, like the one from Bob’s Red Mill, should work nicely, though I have not personally tried it.
  • Cocoa powder. I used regular cocoa powder, but you may use Dutch-processed for a stronger chocolate flavor.
  • Granulated sugar. This contributes to the overall crumb and moisture in the cake, in addition to flavor.
  • Salt. Salt enhances flavors and balances these cupcakes nicely.
  • Baking soda. Just a little leavening goes a long way when combined with the buttermilk and vinegar here. Red velvet cupcakes are one of the best examples of baking being a science!
  • Neutral oil. Vegetable, canola, sunflower, or grapeseed oil will all help these cakes stay nice and moist.
  • Egg. Eggs contain protein in the white and emulsifiers in the yolk that help baked goods hold together perfectly once baked.
  • Buttermilk. The acidity in buttermilk contributes to the mildly tangy flavor that makes up red velvet, and it also helps the cupcakes rise into fluffy little cakes.
  • Distilled white vinegar. When combined with the buttermilk and the baking soda, the vinegar helps these cupcakes rise. You can’t taste it, I promise!
  • Red food coloring. Despite being half of the name, food coloring adds the color but almost no flavor to these red velvet cupcakes. I make macarons, so I have gel food coloring, but liquid food coloring will also work.

Ingredients and Common Substitutions for Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Butter. I use salted butter for the cake and unsalted for the frosting, but you are welcome to use unsalted for both.
  • Powdered sugar. In addition to sweetening the frosting, powdered sugar also thickens it.
  • Vanilla extract. I love using vanilla extract in the cupcakes and vanilla bean paste in the frosting, but you can use the two interchangeably as it suits you.
  • Full-fat cream cheese. Block-style cream cheese is the thickest and best kind of cream cheese to use for baking. Lower fat varieties may cause the frosting to be too runny and lack some oomph.
Ingredients for red velvet cupcakes and cream cheese frosting on a quartz counter.
The only special ingredients for red velvet cake are buttermilk and vinegar. Most everything else will already be in your pantry!

How to Make Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes made with buttermilk are one of the easiest cupcakes to make! They come together in one bowl, and the cakes don’t require any special equipment like an electric mixer. You can watch this video on the process or scroll through the process steps below:

To start, sift the cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl. You can use a fine mesh strainer, a dedicated sifter, or go at it with a whisk; you just need something to break up the clumps of cocoa powder! (If your flour looks clumpy, sift that, too.)

Add the sugar, baking soda, and salt to the mix and stir together with a spatula until combined. Set aside.

Next, whisk an egg in the base of a 2-cup or larger measuring cup. (It’s a lot easier to whisk an egg by itself first, before adding other ingredients.) Then, add the oil and butter and whisk until combined. Add the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and red food coloring and whisk together once more. The wet mixture will be a little thick and quite red.

Finally, add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold together with a spatula. Mix until no streaks of flour or cocoa powder remain. The batter will be a glossy, dark red that should not leave a residue on your spatula (almost as if the batter is well-greased).

Note: If your egg or buttermilk were a little cold, the buttermilk may look grainy/lumpy when mixed. It’s nothing to be worried about: This happens sometimes with colder buttermilk and warm, melted butter, but it doesn’t affect the bake at all.

How to Bake Red Velvet Cupcakes

Divide the cake batter into 12 paper liners in a cupcake pan. I use the middle cookie scoop from this set to keep each cupcake similarly portioned—somewhere between halfway and two-thirds full results in a nicely domed cupcake top that doesn’t spill out over the sides.

Bake at 350°F/175°C for 18-22 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes are domed and the centers spring back when lightly poked. Dark-colored pans may take a minute or two less than light-colored pans.

Set the cupcakes aside to cool completely while you make the cream cheese frosting.

How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

To make the best cream cheese frosting, we’ll make the buttercream in a couple of steps rather than throwing everything in a bowl and mixing it all together. The short reason is because cream cheese has a high water content; the long reason is explained in more detail at the end of this section.

First, beat softened, room temperature butter in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with an electric beater. Beat until smooth, about a minute. The butter will likely be pushed to the sides of the bowl.

Next, add in the powdered sugar about about half a cup at a time and beat until combined. If you go slowly, you can add it all at once, but I find that it’s easier (and somewhat cleaner) if I add it in parts.

Finally, add the cream cheese and vanilla extract and beat until fluffy, anywhere from 3-5 minutes depending on the speed of your mixer. The longer you beat the frosting, the looser it will become. I recommend beating it until it looks mostly combined, scraping down the sides, and beating it together for just a minute more. That will result in a fluffy cream cheese frosting that’s easy to pipe without being too liquidy!

Then, transfer to a piping bag and pipe on top of the cooled cupcakes.

Why Is Cream Cheese Frosting Usually Looser then Buttercream?

Cream cheese frosting is generally a looser frosting than American buttercream, which can make it hard to pipe. Here’s why: Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water. American butter has a fat content of around 80% and only around 16% water. When powdered sugar is beaten together with butter, the low moisture content helps to smooth out the buttercream, but it doesn’t water it down. You can even add a small amount of liquid extract and milk or cream to American buttercream with no issues.

However, cream cheese has up to 55% water content and only 33% fat. And even with butter’s high fat percentage, it’s not enough to prevent the buttercream from essentially getting watered down. You can add more powdered sugar to thicken it, but at a certain point, the frosting will be too sweet. So you’re left with either a slightly more liquid buttercream with good flavor, or a thick, pipeable buttercream that’s way too sweet.

How Can I Make Cream Cheese Frosting Thicker?

Fortunately, there is a simple way to make cream cheese frosting a little thicker and easier to pipe!

If you beat butter and powdered sugar together until fluffy and then add the cream cheese, beating until just combined, the cream cheese frosting will turn out thicker. The hygroscopic sugar already found a nice home in the butter, and it will take a bit for that sugar to leave to find a new home in the higher moisture cream cheese.

I learned this technique from Adriana at Sugarologie, and you can read more about the science behind it here.

A red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting on a cupcake stand with red velvet crumbs.
Look at how thick this cream cheese frosting is! It pipes really similarly to traditional American buttercream but has all the flavor of cream cheese frosting!

How to Decorate Red Velvet Cupcakes

For a traditional swirl of cream cheese frosting on top of these red velvet cupcakes made with buttermilk, you’ll want to use a large closed star piping tip, like Wilton 2D, in a piping bag.

Place the piping bag directly over the center of a cupcake and pipe a straight line from the middle to the edge of the cupcake. Without breaking the flow of batter, pipe around the outside of the cupcake in a circle.

Once you finish the outer ring of buttercream, pipe a smaller ring of frosting to cover the center completely. When the cake is fully covered, bring the piping tip to the center of the cupcake (where you started) and simultaneously stop piping and pull up from the cupcake. You’ll be left with a perfect cupcake swirl!

It may take you a few tries to get it down, and this recipe makes a little extra frosting just in case you need to refrost a few cupcakes while you practice.

I like to top the cupcakes with red velvet crumbles. You can do this without sacrificing any full cupcakes: Simply bake any leftover batter in a paper liner, then crumble it up once cooled. If you didn’t have any leftover batter, you can also use seasonal sprinkles.

FAQs about Red Velvet Cupcakes and Cream Cheese Frosting

What makes these cupcakes red velvet?

The traditional “red velvet” flavor comes from a buttermilk cake lightly flavored with cocoa powder and leavened with vinegar and baking soda. These ingredients combine to create a distinct flavor that’s different from dyed chocolate cake.

How long do these red velvet cupcakes last?

These red velvet cupcakes are best eaten within four days when kept in an airtight container in the fridge. They should not be stored at room temperature due to the cream cheese in the frosting.

How is this cream cheese frosting thick enough to pipe?

By making the frosting in a few steps rather than mixing everything together at once, it’s easier to control the outcome of cream cheese frosting. You can read more about why that works in the section above labeled “How Can I Make Cream Cheese Frosting Thicker?”

Do I need to use the red food coloring?

No, the food coloring only adds color, not flavor, to these red velvet cupcakes. If you don’t want to use artificial colors, simply leave it out.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

I made these red velvet cupcakes and my strawberry champagne cupcakes for a friend’s wedding this year, and they were a huge hit! You can find more of my cupcake recipes here.

If you’re looking for more Valentine’s Day-inspired recipes, I recommend my mini turtle cheesecakes, strawberry champagne jam, and heart-shaped chocolate raspberry macarons.

A red velvet cupcake is topped with red, pink, and white heart sprinkles near a red ranunculus flower.
With a few heart sprinkles on top, these red velvet cupcakes make the perfect treat for Valentine’s Day!

Dish Cleanup: Gonna Take a While

I rate my recipe cleanups on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is only a handful of dishes, and 5 is everything including the kitchen sink.

These red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting have a cleanup rating of a 4. The cupcakes and frosting come together in one bowl each, but the recipe isn’t exactly easy on the cleanup. The bright side: You likely won’t have quite as many small bowls as I do here for photographing. You can sift the cocoa powder directly into your mixing bowl and then weigh all your other dry ingredients into it. That will reduce the dishes by four bowls alone!

A collection of dishes used to make red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.
I could have sworn this recipe took fewer dishes during testing. If you use a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients like I do during testing, you shouldn’t have a huge pile at the end like this!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Buttermilk Recipe

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

A bite is missing from a red velvet cupcake with a cream cheese frosting swirl.

Moist red velvet cupcakes are made with buttermilk, all-purpose flour, and a little bit of cocoa powder for that distinct "red velvet" flavor and texture, then topped with an easy cream cheese frosting!

Prep Time 35 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Additional Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes


For the Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled (200 g)
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (12 g)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (150 g)
  • ½ teaspoon salt (3 g)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda (3 g)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter, melted (56 g)
  • ¼ cup neutral oil (60 ml)
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature (120 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar (5 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (5 ml)
  • Red food coloring (about 10-12 drops of gel food coloring)

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (170 g)
  • about 3 cups powdered sugar (350 g)
  • 6 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened (170 g)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (10 ml)


To Make the Red Velvet Cupcakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Line a cupcake/muffin pan with 12 paper liners.
  2. In a large bowl, sift or whisk the flour and cocoa powder together to break up any clumps. Add the sugar, salt, and baking soda, and stir together until combined. Set aside.
  3. In a 2-cup or larger measuring cup or medium bowl with a spout, add the butter, oil, and egg. Use the same whisk to stir everything together, then add the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla extract, and food coloring. Whisk together until combined. The mixture will be a little thick and quite red.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and fold together with a spatula until just combined. The batter will be thick and glossy. (If the buttermilk or egg were too cold, you may see white granules in the batter—that's okay! They'll go away in the oven.)
  5. Divide the cake batter evenly into the paper liners, somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way full.*
  6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until the tops are domed and the centers spring back when poked, rather than sinking.
  7. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then finish cooling on a cooling rack, about 30 minutes.

To Make the Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. To make a thick and pipeable cream cheese frosting, beat the butter by itself in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy, about one minute.
  2. Add in the powdered sugar about a cup at a time, mixing on low until incorporated.
  3. Then, add the cream cheese and vanilla extract and beat on medium low until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  4. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with your preferred tip, then pipe the frosting onto completely cooled cupcakes in a swirl. Refrigerate any leftover frosting.** Enjoy!


*If you have a small amount of batter leftover (around half a cupcake or so), I like to bake it in a paper liner, then crumble it up once cooled and use it as a topping!

**This frosting recipe makes an extra cup or so, as a smaller batch cuts it pretty close. If you plan to spread rather than pipe the frosting on the cupcakes, I'd recommend scaling the recipe down by a third (8 Tablespoons butter [113 g], 2 cups powdered sugar [230 g], and 4 oz cream cheese [113 g]). You may add the same amount of vanilla.

Store these cupcakes in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

Don't have buttermilk? Make your own by adding a two teaspoons (10 ml) of white vinegar or lemon juice to a measuring cup, then add whole milk to the ½ cup (120 ml) mark. Stir, then let sit for five minutes until thickened, then use in the recipe as written!

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

1 cupcake

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 449Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 243mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 1gSugar: 41gProtein: 3g

The nutrition facts are estimated and may vary based on specific ingredients used.

Thanks for trying out my red velvet cupcakes with buttermilk recipe!
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