How to ‘accidentally’ make the velvetiest red velvet cupcakes

Published: April 12, 2015

This recipe turns out to be a knockout every time I make it and happens to be a great way to make up to someone! PHOTO: ZAINAB KHAN

I was introduced to a red velvet cake on my 25th birthday when my friends decided to throw me a surprise birthday dinner at a beautiful restaurant called Okra in Karachi.

Just as I picked up the menu to order dessert, after having a bowl of delicious shrimp risotto, my friends brought out the cake with two lit candles on it. I was secretly very happy they decided not to put in all 25 candles as I wasn’t very happy about turning 25. As I cut through the cake, and everyone seated close to our table sang to me, I could not help but notice the vibrant red of the crumbs that stuck out of the smooth white icing.

I had heard how the red velvet craze was taking over local bakeries in Karachi but had never tried any. This was my first time and, boy oh boy, that was one moist, perfectly crumbly and scrumptious cake. I have had red velvet cupcakes and cakes at several places since then – the infamous Hummingbird Bakery in London and Sprinkles in Los Angeles – and all I can say is that the red velvet experience for me has just gotten better and better with experience.

Although I did not attempt to make a red velvet cake or cupcake while I was in Pakistan, as I was a newbie when it came to baking, I finally decided to give it a try and make one for my husband. Armed with a mini oven and a six-inch spring form pan, I set out on a mission to recreate a cake recipe meant for two layers of cake baked in a nine inch cake pan. Yes, I am that emotional and clueless about baking.

Over the week, I secretly collected all the ingredients, since this was meant to be a surprise for my husband. I bought a simple red plastic tray to set the cake on so that the cream cheese frosting stands out on the red. And just like that, it was all well planned out in my mind (very emotionally, of course).

After watching close to 20 videos and reading six to seven online food blogs, I decided to stick to the recipe and method by Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio, a blog and YouTube channel run by a cute Canadian lady named Jenn. Long story short, I made the batter, got red food colouring all over my fingers and my dish towel, then put half of the batter (yes half) in the six-inch spring form pan and popped it into the oven. I was so nervous and anxious that I could hear my heart beating in my ears while I waited for the cake to bake.

I think I must have stared at the cake throughout because I remember it rising from nothing to almost falling out of the cake pan. I hurriedly took out the cake pan and poked a toothpick into the almost burnt surface of the cake and stared blankly at the batter oozing down the toothpick. The cake was baked from the outside but was still pretty raw on the inside. I could not really do anything about it because well, I would get a black rock like cake that would smell burnt. I don’t remember exactly what happened between this and when I took out a fresh batch of red velvet cupcakes out of the oven but I think it wasn’t very pleasant – my husband told me that he called during this time and I was not talking like the normal me. I wanted him to hang up and let me deal with life.

After shedding a few tears on the kitchen floor, the desi aunty in my head and heart shouted something along the lines of:

“God will hold you accountable for all this wasted batter, you ungrateful person!”

I could not deal with this cultural awakening and thought of a Plan B to use the batter. And this is how I decided to make cupcakes – very much by ‘accident’ as you can tell. I made fresh cream cheese icing from the same recipe and the cupcakes were a hit! I did not expect a cake recipe to work so well for cupcakes but it did!

When it comes to my baking, my husband can be a very critical person if he wants to be. So imagine my excitement when he loved the cupcakes, from the first bite till the last. What more could I ask for?

Although the cake recipe worked just fine, I wanted to try out the cupcake recipe to see the difference and if it could achieve more in terms of texture and taste. And guess what? It was the same recipe!

In case you’re wondering what happened to that burnt cake, well, I can happily say that I did not let it go to waste. I used the baked part of it to decorate my cupcakes by crumbling it up.

So, without further delay, here is the recipe for the most velvety red velvet cupcakes:

Photo: Zainab Khan

Ingredients for batter:

Butter – ½ cup  (softened, at room temperature)
Granulated sugar – 1½ cups
Eggs – 2
Vanilla essence – 1 tsp (I use Trader Joe’s vanilla essence without alcohol as most vanilla essences contain a percentage of alcohol)
Buttermilk – 1 cup (You can make this by mixing one cup milk with one tablespoon of lemon juice to it and then let it sit for 10 minutes)
Red food colour – 2 tbsp (you can add as much as you like, depending on what shade of red you want)
Vinegar – 1 tsp
Baking soda – 1 tsp
Cake flour – 2 ½ cups (sifted)
Salt – ½ tsp
Cocoa powder – 2 tbsp

1. Preheat oven to 350 degree and line your cupcake tray with cupcake liners.

2. Combine the sifted flour, cocoa (sifted if possible) and salt. Sift the cocoa in too, if possible. Mix well with a whisk and then keep it aside.

3. Beat the softened butter in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a bowl on medium to high speed till it becomes creamy. Add the sugar and cream together and mix on medium speed for a minute or till mixed well.

4. Add one egg at a time to the butter mixture and run the mixer for about 20 seconds for each egg at medium speed. Now add vanilla essence and mix for about 10 to15 seconds on medium speed. Add the red food colouring and mix at medium to high speed for 10 seconds or till everything is mixed well.

5. Now add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk to the wet mixture till all the ingredients are mixed well.

6. Now mix vinegar and baking soda, stir it for three seconds and quickly add to the cupcake mixture and mix on medium to high speed for about 10 to 12 seconds.

7. Spoon out the cupcake batter with an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to fill just about three-fourth of the cupcake liners. Once all the liners are filled, give the tray a few gentle shakes to make sure the batter uniformly sits at the surface of each liner. Pop the tray into the middle shelf of the oven for 18 to 20 minutes. After 18 minutes, check by inserting a toothpick – if it comes out clean then that means they are done. If not, then give them another couple of minutes.

8. Cool the cupcakes off in the mould for about two minutes before taking them out. Let the cupckaes cool on a rack for at least 40 minutes or ideally one hour. While they are cooling, you can start making the cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients for icing: 

Butter – ½ cup (softened, at room temperature)
Cream cheese – 9 ounces (softened, at room temperature)
Vanilla essence – 2 tsp
Icing sugar/powdered sugar – 2 ½ cups


1. In a mixing bowl, mix together the butter and cream cheese until they are mixed well and creamy. Add in the vanilla essence and mix again.

2. Mix in the sugar in small proportions as it can be messy if you put too much in at once. Run the mixer on medium speed for a good one minute or until the mixture is creamy but not too runny.

3. When the cupcakes have cooled down, hold them from the bottom and apply the cream cheese frosting with a table knife. You can also apply the frosting using a piping bag with a tip. You can crumble one of the cupcakes to sprinkle on top of the icing on the rest of the cupcakes to make them look pretty.

In case you are still confused about the method, you can watch a video here.

Photo: Zainab Khan

This recipe turns out to be a knockout every time I make it and happens to be  a great way to make up to someone! Trust me!

This post originally appeared here.

Zainab Khan

Zainab Khan.

The author is an international development professional living in the United States who loves to write about modest fashion and food at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.