Nigella Lawson’s Red Velvet Cupcakes

9 Nov

I’ve fantasized about making red velvet cupcakes since they first wooed me from a tiered cake stand at Cocoa Locale, a little Montreal bakery that’s all pink walls, retro kitchenware and rose petals on frosting.

The chocolate- and vanilla-flavoured beet-red sponges look spectacular slathered with a thick, sweet swirl of cream cheese icing. The sponge is moist and squishy, yet robust enough to hold its own under an extravagant load of full-fat frosting. And as glamorous as they appear, they are simple to make using Nigella Lawson’s recipe from her gorgeous new book, Kitchen. This is how Nigella’s cupcakes look…

From Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson, with kind permission of Knopf Canada

A few things to bear in mind before you get started:


I’ve added conversions, but if you buy the book, know that it’s metric all the way.


Just a quarter of a teaspoon of Wilton concentrated gel (half what the recipe calls for) gets you this Elmo-hued batter. You’ll need to experiment, depending on the brand of colouring you go for. Add colour with a toothpick, bit by bit, because once it’s in there, there’s no taking it away.

Lemon tanginess:

For the frosting, I used a whole lemon, not the prescribed half. There’s a lot of sweet to balance out, so taste and tweak.


Nigella makes 24 cupcakes with this recipe, I went for 12–what’s not to love about double frosting?

And here’s the recipe (abbreviated):


Nigella Lawson's Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • 250g/ 8 oz plain flour
  • 2 tbsp/ 30 mL cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp/ 10 mL baking powder
  • For cupcakes:
  • ½ tsp/ 2 mL baking soda
  • 100g / 3½ oz soft, unsalted butter
  • 200g / 7 oz sugar
  • 1 heaped tbsp/ 15 mL Christmas-red paste food colouring
  • 2 tsp/ 10 mL vanilla essence
  • 2 eggs
  • 175 ml/ ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp/ 5 mL cider vinegar
  • For the frosting:
  • 500g/16 oz icing sugar
  • 125g/ 4 oz cream cheese
  • 125g/ 4 oz soft unsalted butter
  1. To make cupcakes: Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C / 325 degrees F and line muffin tin with (24) paper cases.
  2. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl.
  3. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar, beating well, and when you have a soft pale mixture, beat in food colouring and vanilla.
  4. Into this vividly coloured mixture, still beating, add 1 spoonful of the dried ingredients, then 1 egg, followed by some more dried ingredients, then the other egg, followed by the rest of the dried ingredients.
  5. Finally, beat in the buttermilk and cider vinegar and divide the batter between the cases.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, by which time the redcurrant sorbet-coloured batter will have morphed into a more sombre, but still juicily tinted, sponge.
  7. Leave the cupcakes to cool on a wire rack and do not ice with the frosting until absolutely cold.
  8. To make the frosting: Sieve the icing sugar or put it into a processor and whiz to remove lumps.
  9. Add cream cheese and butter and process to mix. Pour in 1 tsp lemon juice and process again to make a smooth icing.
  10. Ice each cupcake, using a teaspoon or a small spatula.4. Decorate with chocolate sprinkles and red sugar, or as desired.


If you try these, please let me know how you get on!

47 Responses to “Nigella Lawson’s Red Velvet Cupcakes”

  1. Kat November 11th, 2010 at 12:50 PM #

    They’re so gorgeous! Where did you get the red paper cups?

  2. Valerie Howes November 11th, 2010 at 1:33 PM #

    The dollar store!

  3. Martha November 15th, 2010 at 11:06 AM #

    Red Velvet is one of my favourite flavours for cupcakes. I’m definitely going to give this recipe a try!

  4. Marjorie December 17th, 2010 at 7:40 AM #

    In reading your post I found it very interesting and informative pertaining to the subject I am studying. Cooking and baking along with all information that relates to functions in the commercial kitchen along with home cooking and baking.

  5. Ema June 20th, 2011 at 5:05 AM #

    I just made them ….absolutely gorgeous!
    Thank you for sharing this fabulous and easy to follow recipe!


    • Valerie Howes June 20th, 2011 at 6:54 PM #

      I’m glad you liked them, Ema!

  6. tracy June 23rd, 2011 at 3:28 AM #

    my girls made them, now I am going to, they are fanastic

  7. Rebecca June 29th, 2011 at 3:20 AM #

    I tried these after aimlessly searching google for a red velvet cupcake recipe and they turned out perfect first time and were absolutely delish! My workmates gobbled down the first batch so I’m back in the kitchen tonight making more for my new adoring fans. Awesome recipe.
    I used 1 cup of plain flour and 3/4 sugar then another 1/4. I bought a liquid food colour and it worked the same.

    • Valerie Howes June 29th, 2011 at 9:55 AM #

      Glad to hear it, Rebecca!

  8. Santi July 3rd, 2011 at 10:10 PM #

    What type of cocoa powder did you use? Is it OK to use dutch processed cocoa?
    Cant wait to bake them tonight!!

    • Valerie Howes July 6th, 2011 at 10:32 AM #

      Dutch processed is OK, since the recipe contains baking powder, but natural cocoa powder is what the recipe calls for. Hope yours turn out well!

  9. LizzyMo July 24th, 2011 at 9:41 AM #

    Made this as one big cake for hubby on valentine’s day and it was gorgeous, my 7 year old was so impressed we tried again last week for his birthday and ended up with a boiling bright red mess which went all over the oven and wouldn’t set! Have tried twice since with the same result! Don’t know if I’ve lost my mojo in the kitchen or what. Any ideas?

    • Valerie Howes July 24th, 2011 at 11:34 AM #

      My guess here is that you might need to replace your baking soda and/or baking powder. Sometimes these lose their effectiveness over time. Hope you have better luck next time!

  10. pauline August 2nd, 2011 at 6:52 AM #

    great pictures!
    and by the by, what is dutch processed cocoa? heard it mentioned a lot…
    and what is considered good-quality cocoa? is Hershey’s quality enough?
    oh do you have any handy recipes that don’t contain butter?

    • Valerie Howes August 13th, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

      Hi Pauline,
      Dutch processed cocoa is alkalyzed. If you’re using a recipe that relies on the acidity of cocoa powder to activate baking soda as the only baking agent, use natural cocoa powder. If the recipe has baking powder as a raising agent, you can use Dutch process cocoa powder. You have to be careful, as they’re not interchangeable.

      Dutch process cocoa powder has a mild flavour and dissolves easily in liquid. It’s great for European pastries and delicately flavoured chocolate cakes that also have vanilla in them. Common brand names are Lindt and Valrhona.

      Natural cocoa powder brand names include Hershey’s and Berger.

      • Valerie Howes August 13th, 2011 at 12:05 PM #

        All that to say, Hershey’s is perfectly acceptable in this recipe, Pauline!

        I just posted a couple of oatmeal cookie recipes that require oil or any kind of fat, and not necessarily butter. I’ll look into doing more baking with butter substitutes.

  11. valerie August 15th, 2011 at 2:42 AM #

    I’m about to cook this recipe, but I’m wondering how to make my own buttermilk ? And how do I know if that’s right ?

    • Valerie Howes August 16th, 2011 at 12:35 PM #

      Hi Valerie! You can add 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk to make a buttermilk substitute.

  12. Carly September 23rd, 2011 at 4:14 PM #

    Thank you for the recipe. It is perfect! You are also right about the food colouring as I only used half of what was recommended.

    The only thing that would be good to know is some were perfect and others were a bit lobsided and had cracks on the top – any tips and advice?

    • Carrie October 29th, 2011 at 4:20 PM #

      Carly, your oven probably just has hotspots. To prevent cracks, bake your cupcakes at a lower temperature and rotate your cakes half way through baking, this should do the trick.
      Love this recipe, when I made a full batch it only yielded 14 cupcakes though.

  13. Sara Mawson-Sinclair November 21st, 2011 at 4:52 PM #

    I’ve just made these and they are so delicious!!

    I just wanted to check which is the correct measurement for the baking soda as the ingredients list says 1/2 teaspoon/5 ml and they are not equal.


    • Valerie Howes November 22nd, 2011 at 7:04 PM #

      Thanks for pointing this out, Sara. It should be 1/2 tsp/2 mL.

  14. Rachel Smith December 21st, 2011 at 4:17 PM #

    I made these recently and found they were quite bitter. i didnt have buttermilk so i just used ordinary milk, also i used liquid colour- do you think either of these things could be the reason?

    • Valerie Howes December 22nd, 2011 at 9:37 AM #

      Hi Rachel. Yes, buttermilk is more acidic than milk, and it works with the baking soda (alkaline) to lighten the batter and help the cupcakes rise. If there is not enough acid to activate all the baking soda, you can get a bitter or soapy taste.

  15. Chiara Alysia Henry January 3rd, 2012 at 3:49 PM #

    is it alright to use 5ml of spirit vinegar instead of cider vinegar? Thanks

    • Valerie Howes January 4th, 2012 at 10:44 AM #

      I think the flavour of cider vinegar would be softer for baked goods, Chiara.

  16. Chiara Alysia Henry January 4th, 2012 at 4:45 PM #

    Thanks val.will take ur advice n trybaking these cupcakes tomorrow

  17. Ange January 10th, 2012 at 10:50 PM #

    Do you mean 100% cocoa powder fir this recipe

    • Valerie Howes January 11th, 2012 at 10:33 AM #

      Hi Ange, the recipe just calls for cocoa powder without specifying percentage. Of course, the better quality the cocoa powder, the better the flavour.

  18. Abeer February 9th, 2012 at 6:52 PM #

    Hi Pauline,
    I am in the middle of preparing my cupcakes! I have finished baking them but still have to make the icing!
    I tried them and also made my husband try them, and was really upset that they did not turn out well! The consistency was great, they even looked good. I followed the recipe exactly but we both thought the batter lacked flavour. There definitely needs to be a bit more sugar and vinegar in this (I was using distilled white vinegar so that could have made the difference – the original nigella lawson recipe allows any vinegar to be used). I added some extra sugar and vinegar to the remaining batter I had and it definitely seems improved!
    Because I was unhappy with the recipe of the batter, I decided to try a different cream cheese frosting instead of following this recipe. I will make one that uses less butter and also some heavy whipping cream… Hoping it turns out well! Will consider adding the lemon too!

  19. Abeer February 9th, 2012 at 6:53 PM #

    I meant to write “Hi Valerie” instead of “Hi Pauline” … oops!

    • Valerie Howes February 9th, 2012 at 8:58 PM #

      Hi Abeer,
      Thanks for letting us know how you got on. The recipe from Kitchen calls for cider vinegar, so I’d be careful about switching it up. Cider vinegar has a softer, slightly sweeter flavour. For the quantities of sugar and vinegar, I’d be wary about making changes too, although it sounds like you were careful and this has worked for your second batch. What I might suggest is adding a little extra vanilla (some brands are more intense than others) or using a little less food colouring (some brands can lend a slightly bitter flavour if used in large doses, as is the case here).

    • Valerie Howes February 9th, 2012 at 9:01 PM #

      No worries!

  20. Stars February 13th, 2012 at 5:04 PM #

    Hello Valerie, I just made these cupcakes as a valentines gift – I am a fairly accomplished cake baker, but have never made a red velvet cake before – I was dubious, the batter looked odd, and smelled of vinegar. I used 18 small muffin cases, and cooked them for 25 minutes. I watched them cook, the mixture bubbled up through little holes in the top of the already risen cakes, at this point I was not very hopeful. I thought I must have done something wrong? However, these are some of the BEST CUPCAKES I have ever made/eaten. Thank you very much, I have no doubt that when I give them away, they will be very gratefully received indeed! x

  21. Maureen March 3rd, 2012 at 1:21 AM #

    What adaptation for Johannesburg which is high altitude?

  22. Suvi March 29th, 2012 at 1:27 PM #


    I just made these cakes for my husbands works cake sale for tomorrow. They are so gorgeous!! I made double the quantity and that made 32 nice size ones. I followed the recipe to the point except I doubled the coco powder quantity. And I used liquid food colouring (38ml).

    I have always wanted to make red velvet cakes and these are just SO good!! I will definately make them again!! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    Happy Easter Time to Everyone!


  23. Ana April 10th, 2012 at 12:08 AM #

    All was going well until I took the cupcakes out of the oven… They were not moist and squishy like it had in your description. I will not give up. I will try agian.

  24. lainey June 10th, 2012 at 3:58 PM #

    I love this recipe however, every time I bake the cupcakes, they sink in the middle. Is there anyway I can solve this problem?

    • Valerie Howes June 12th, 2012 at 6:37 PM #

      Hi Lainey,

      I have two suggestions for the sinking in the middle:

      Check if your baking soda has expired; it has a short shelf life.
      Be sure not to pull the cupcakes right out the oven when testing for doneness.

      I hope this helps. Good luck!

  25. Kat August 3rd, 2012 at 2:13 AM #

    Hi, ive made these cupcake and they were wonderful!Perfect first time an deveryone loved them I was just wondering it the same recipe can be used to make one large cake and what size pan would i need for this much batter? Also what oven temp and cooking time would it need? TIA

  26. Tooba August 31st, 2012 at 7:57 AM #

    Is there any substitute of buttermilk? And will the cupcakes work fine if i use Milk ONLY?

    • Valerie Howes August 31st, 2012 at 8:36 AM #

      Hi Tooba,
      You can’t replace the buttermilk with milk, unfortunately–you need the buttermilk to react with the soda and make them rise.

  27. Suvarna April 16th, 2013 at 2:23 PM #

    Hey! I would love to try these, but I’ve gotta make them sugar-free. Should I cut out the sugar and go ahead with the rest of the ingredients or is there another way(without using artificial sweetener)?

    • Valerie Howes April 17th, 2013 at 9:27 AM #

      Hi Suvarna,
      I recommend making them with the same quantity of coconut sugar or maple sugar.

  28. amanda April 19th, 2013 at 1:12 AM #

    can we substitute the cider vinegar with distilled vinegar?

    • Valerie Howes April 19th, 2013 at 8:25 PM #


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