The Red Velvet Cupcake Test

The whole red velvet cupcake thing has had me baffled for quite some time.  What exactly is so special about red coloured cake, surely it has been around for ages, or well at least since red food colouring came into existence, so why all the brouhaha?  

There are quite a few stories surrounding the origin of the red velvet cake.   These range from the urban-mythical vengeful customer sharing the recipe for free after being charged $350 for it, to a chemical reaction between old-timey cocoa and buttermilk.  However considering how little cocoa is used in the recipe it would not have been enough to make the vividly red cake that we know today.  So my pick of the theories is that Red Velvet Cake came about as a marketing strategy from the Adam’s Extract Company during the Great Depression.  In order to boost sales they supplied the free recipe with every bottle of red food colouring.  And a legend was born.  The beetroot component of the red velvet cake myth comes from the Second World War when goods were rationed.  To give their red velvet cakes the kick of colour that was needed, bakers used beetroot juice to amp up the red colouring.

1920’s Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake

  • 85g dark chocolate, melted
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 680g beetroot, drained and pureed (we only used 400g)
  • 1 tsp red food colouring

Click on the gallery to view the method.

The Beetroot and Chocolate Velvet CupcakeThis recipe was the obvious loser.  Although it had a beautiful colour, the cupcakes were very heavy and dense.  And VERY beetrooty. So very beetrooty.  And not chocolaty at all.  It was very disappointing.





Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen Comfort Recipe
(makes 24)

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100 g soft unsalted butter
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 1 heaped tbsp Christmas-red paste food colouring (we used two small bottles of red colouring)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 175 ml buttermilk
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar (we used normal white wine vinegar)

Click on the gallery to view the method.

The Nigella Red Velvet CupcakeThis recipe has the most delicious batter you can imagine. The baked cupcakes have a very fine and delicate texture, a beautiful maroon colour and they are light and moist.  The very definite winner!






Baker’s Bin Premix
(makes 24)


  • 1 bag Baker’s Bin Red Velvet Cupcake batter

Click on the gallery to view the method.

The Baker's Bin Premix Red Velvet CupcakeObviously this is the cheat’s way of baking cupcakes, but in a pinch these babies will do just fine.  The texture is not as fine as the recipe above, it has larger crumbs, but they are light and airy and moist.  These cupcakes were the closest to red of all the recipes.




We made a boatload of lovely, fluffy cream cheese frosting and used it on all the different cupcakes.


  • 500 g icing sugar
  • 125 g cream cheese, softened
  • 125 g soft unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • the zest from one lemon

Fluffy cream cheese frostingMix all the ingredients together until you have fluffy, yummy goodness.

So there you have it, three different ways to make red velvet cupcakes.  I am still not convinced that this cake is in any way special.  Methinks a blind taste test with vanilla cake, chocolate cake and red velvet cake is what is called for here.

Until next time,

PS) This post would not have been possible without the assistance of the awesomest Danielle