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What are the ingredients in just desserts red velvet cupcakes?

Red velvet cupcakes are a beloved dessert known for their rich red color and sweet, chocolatey flavor. The signature ingredients that give red velvet cupcakes their distinctive taste and appearance include cocoa powder, red food coloring, buttermilk, and cream cheese frosting.

Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder provides the chocolate backbone in red velvet cupcakes. It adds a subtle chocolate taste without making the cupcakes taste like full-on chocolate. The amount of cocoa powder can range from 1-3 tablespoons depending on the recipe. The cocoa reacts with the other acidic ingredients in the batter, helping to bring out the red color from the food coloring.

Dutch-Processed vs. Natural Cocoa Powder

Dutch-processed cocoa powder works best for red velvet cupcakes because it has a milder, less acidic taste that won’t overpower the other flavors. Natural cocoa powder would make the cupcakes taste more bitter. When shopping for cocoa powder, look for a box labeled “Dutch processed.”

Red Food Coloring

Red food coloring gives red velvet cupcakes their vivid crimson color. Traditional red velvet cupcakes use a liquid food coloring gel or paste, which mixes in better than food coloring liquid. The amount of food coloring can range from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. More food coloring equals a deeper red color.

Gel vs. Paste Food Coloring

Gel food coloring tends to produce the brightest red shade. Paste food coloring also works well but gives a slightly darker hue. Liquid food coloring won’t mix in as evenly and may lead to paler or streaky color. When using gel or paste food coloring, it helps to mix it with a bit of the dry ingredients first to evenly distribute the color before adding the wet ingredients.


Buttermilk gives red velvet cupcakes a signature tangy taste and helps make the crumb soft and moist. The acids in buttermilk also react with the cocoa powder to enhance the red color. Using regular milk won’t provide the same flavor or texture. You can make your own buttermilk substitute by mixing 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar with 1 cup of milk.

Low-Fat vs. Whole Buttermilk

Low-fat or nonfat buttermilk works just as well as whole buttermilk for red velvet cupcakes. The lower fat content won’t affect the texture or taste. If you like, you can swap in an equal amount of plain, unsweetened yogurt for a similar effect.

All-Purpose Flour

All-purpose flour provides the base structure and texture for red velvet cupcakes. This versatile flour with a moderate gluten content helps give the cupcakes enough rise while still creating a tender, delicate crumb. All-purpose flour makes lightweight, cakey cupcakes. Using cake flour would make them too delicate and flaky.

Bleached vs. Unbleached Flour

You can use bleached or unbleached all-purpose flour for red velvet cupcakes. Bleached flour might produce a slightly lighter texture, but the difference is negligible. Go with whichever you have in your pantry.

White Sugar

Granulated white sugar sweetens the batter and helps provide a deliciously tender texture in the baked cupcakes. The sugar caramelizes slightly to balance the chocolate and tangy flavors. Superfine sugar dissolves more easily but regular granulated sugar will also work. Stay away from brown sugar which would affect the flavor and color.

Fine Granulated vs. Caster Sugar

For minor texture differences, try caster sugar which dissolves more evenly or superfine sugar with a finer crystal size. But plain white granulated sugar makes excellent red velvet cupcakes too. The cupcakes will still taste sweet and have a cakey crumb.


Butter contributes rich flavor and moist, tender texture to red velvet cupcakes. It helps provide enough fat and moisture to create a soft crumb. When creamed with sugar, the small air pockets in the butter also allow the cupcakes to rise. Margarine or oil cannot replicate the flavor and texture of real butter.

Salted vs. Unsalted Butter

Use unsalted butter for the purest flavor in red velvet cupcakes. This allows you to control the exact amount of salt in the batter. If you only have salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe by about 1/4 teaspoon.


Eggs provide structure, richness, and moisture in red velvet cupcakes. As the eggs are whipped with the sugar, their proteins help add air into the batter. The fats in eggs also keep the crumb soft and tender. For best results, use large eggs at room temperature.

Egg Whites vs. Whole Eggs

Always use whole eggs for red velvet cupcakes, rather than just whites or yolks alone. The yolks provide essential fat and moisture. The whites help leaven the batter and set the structure. Omitting either part would throw off the texture.

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract provides a sweet, aromatic flavor that complements the chocolate and tangy buttermilk tastes in red velvet cupcakes. You can use real vanilla bean seeds scraped from a pod for even more flavor. Avoid vanilla “essence” or imitation vanilla, as the taste won’t be as good.

Vanilla Paste vs. Extract

Vanilla paste contains vanilla bean seeds suspended in a thick syrup, giving it a stronger flavor than extract alone. For extra vanilla flavor, swap the extract for the same amount of paste. But extract gets the job done too.


A small amount of salt, such as 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, balances all the sweet ingredients in red velvet cupcakes. Without it, the cupcakes would taste one-dimensionally sugary. The salt minimizes the sweetness overload and enhances the other flavors.

Table Salt vs. Kosher Salt

Fine table salt or coarse kosher salt both work well for red velvet cupcakes. Kosher salt has a less intense salty taste, so use about half as much if substituting it. The flavor and texture won’t change noticeably.

Baking Soda

Baking soda helps provide lift and rise to red velvet cupcakes so they come out light and fluffy, rather than dense and flat. When baking soda is combined with the acids in the buttermilk and cocoa powder, it creates air bubbles that expand when heated. Use about 1/2 teaspoon per batch.

Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder

Because red velvet cupcakes use buttermilk for extra lift, you only need baking soda rather than baking powder. The baking soda does a sufficient job on its own. Baking powder would create too much rise and over-leaven the batter.

Cream Cheese Frosting

What sets red velvet cupcakes apart is their iconic silky cream cheese frosting. The tangy cream cheese balances the sweetness of the cupcake and provide a creamy texture. The cream cheese is whipped with butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla for smooth, spreadable frosting.

Block vs. Tub Cream Cheese

Always use regular full-fat block cream cheese for frosting rather than the whipped tub varieties. The air-infused tub cream cheese won’t whip up properly and the texture will be too thin, runny, and greasy.


Red velvet cupcakes bring together a delicious blend of ingredients for a uniquely flavored, tender-crumbed treat. Cocoa powder, buttermilk, butter, and cream cheese are essential for providing the signature taste, while food coloring gives them their festive color. Adjusting the amounts of certain ingredients like eggs, sugar, and food coloring will fine-tune the texture and shade of red.

From the dry ingredients of flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda, to the wet ingredients of buttermilk, butter, eggs, and red food coloring, each component serves an important role. Substituting component significantly alters the end result. While you can tweak and personalize recipes to your preferences, these classic ingredients are what define the red velvet cupcake.

With a light, tender crumb and rich chocolate-cream cheese flavor combo, it’s easy to see why red velvet remains one of the most beloved cupcake varieties. The mesmerizing ruby red color catches the eye, while the taste delights the palate. Whip up a batch of red velvet cupcakes for your next birthday party, holiday celebration, or any special occasion for something fun and festive.

Some people enjoy red velvet cupcakes with toasted pecans or walnuts sprinkled on top for crunch and extra flavor. You can also play around with different types of frosting like peanut butter frosting for a peanut butter and chocolate twist, or maple cream cheese frosting for an autumnal vibe. The possibilities are endless when you start with a classic red velvet cupcake base.

Red velvet cake and cupcakes have been gracing American tables since the early 1900s. The striking red color was originally achieved using beet juice. Food coloring didn’t come along until later. While the origins are fuzzy, it’s believed that red velvet was created at New York’s famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The recipe gained nationwide popularity after being featured in a cookbook published in Chicago. From there, red velvet cake and cupcakes took off as a Southern specialty.

Today, red velvet remains a bakery and homemade staple across America. It frequents potlucks, birthday parties, weddings, and holidays. Red velvet cupcakes are often topped with candy-like Valentine’s Day hearts for February 14th. Come Christmas, they transform into festive red and green with crushed peppermint candies. There’s no wrong time to bake up a batch of red velvet cupcakes.

If you’ve never tried red velvet cupcakes before, you’re missing out on one of life’s sweetest pleasures. Take a walk on the red side and whip up a pan for your next bake sale, potluck, or foodie indulgence. Let the sweet aroma of cocoa and buttermilk fill your kitchen as you mix up this iconic American treat. Savor your first red velvet cupcake bite knowing that you’re now part of a long-standing cupcake tradition.