Red Velvet Cupcakes

Why is red velvet a food trend right now? Please tell me who to blame.

Recently I was asked to do a gluten-free cooking demo for the local chapter of the Celiac Association. There was a special request to make red velvet cupcakes. Not one to turn down a challenge or a request I said sure.

For the last three months I have been complaining about red velvet and I’ll do so one final time while I post this recipe and then you’ll never hear a peep from me about the subject ever again. I promise.

Like any new recipe that I attempt to make gluten-free and vegan I start with a ton of research online. I wanted to confirm what I had thought the story behind red velvet was and how red velvet cake gets red, etc. It was interesting. According to Wikipedia traditional red velvet cake is a light chocolate cake that turned a reddish-brown color due to the reaction between vinegar and buttermilk with the unprocessed cocoa that was used back in the day. Now with our modern day more alkaline “Dutch Processed” cocoa the chemical reaction that causes the cake to turn reddish-brown isn’t as common.

So what about those bright red cakes and cupcakes I see everywhere? Oh those. Yeah, those are red because of copious amounts of red dye #3 (I think that’s the right red).

I’m going to just come out and say it here since I’ve been saying it to everyone else lately. I hate fake food coloring. I think they’re junk, and weird, and probably not healthy. (I have no time to research whether this claim is true or false so that’s why I said “probably”.)

I feel like the commercial baking industry has taken a reddish-brown cupcake and made it so fake red that when you tell people it’s “Red Velvet” and it’s not bright cherry-red they think you’re color blind.

But, I did promise to make them and so I tried my best to use as little food color as possible. I made 5 batches of these over the last few months and I can honestly say that I probably won’t bake red velvet anything for a very, very, very long time. And when I do I’ll try using beets to give a bit more redness to the batter – naturally.

The first three attempts at these cupcakes was with liquid food coloring. What a waste. The color just doesn’t carry through at all. The final attempt I had I ended up using nearly 3 tablespoons of liquid red food color and it just grossed me out – and still didn’t make a vibrant red cupcake like everyone was expecting.

The last two tries a friend convinced me to use the gel food coloring that cake decorators and bakers use. I didn’t quite know how much to use so I started out with her recommendation of just a bit scooped up with a toothpick as it is very potent stuff. In the end I looked up on Martha Stewart’s site (yes, Martha you came to my rescue) and her recipe for red velvet uses 1/2 teaspoon of the gel food coloring. I had already done the toothpick thing a couple times plus 1/2 teaspoon after reading what Martha said to do.

Guess what? The batter did look different.  A much deeper red and not so pinky-red. I thought for sure these little cupcakes are going to turn out completely fake-red and satisfy everyone who is expecting that. So naturally when they baked up and looked no more red than a reddish-brown I was pretty frustrated.

At this point I was beyond caring. I had battled red velvet long enough and 5 batches of cupcakes later I said forget it and served them reddish-brown red velvet and hoped nobody would ask why they weren’t bright red. Someone must have mentioned the redness because I do remember having to choke back a rant about red food coloring and the battle I had with it. And so here I am venting about it, getting it out of my system, so that I can move past this hiccup and stop being weird and annoying about it.

Thanks for listening, or at the very least, scrolling down past this rant to read the actual recipe. Not that my rant would even make you want to make these right? I am such a lousy food blogger.

cupcake pan

red velvet cupcakes
red velvet cupcake batter
3.8 from 4 reviews
Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • 1½ cups white sugar
  • ½ cup vegan margarine
  • ¼ cup applesauce + ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Powdered egg replacer (Ener-G), to make 1 egg
  • ½ cup non-dairy milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ cup brown rice flour
  • ½ cup tapioca starch
  • 2 teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon red food gel
  • 1 cup boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream sugar and margarine.
  3. Mix applesauce with first amount of baking soda. Add to sugar mixture with the prepared egg replacer. Beat until combined.
  4. Sift brown rice flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, and baking powder together.
  5. In a small bowl or measuring cup combine milk with lemon juice. Add second amount of baking soda and let sit.
  6. Alternate adding wet and dry ingredients to the applesauce-sugar mixture. Make sure each addition is completely mixed before adding the next.
  7. Add vanilla, salt, cocoa powder and food coloring. Mix well.
  8. Add boiling water and fold in until the batter is nice and smooth.
  9. For mini-cupcakes: Makes 48 mini-cupcakes. Scoop batter into mini-cupcake pans. Bake for 25 minutes or until tested done.
  10. For regular cupcakes: Makes 24 regular cupcakes. Scoop batter into cupcake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until tested done.
  11. For jumbo cupcakes: Makes 12 jumbo cupcakes. Scoop batter into cupcake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until tested done.
  12. For all sizes, let cool at least 5 minutes in the cupcake pans before removing to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
  13. Once cooled, frost with vegan buttercream frosting or cream cheese frosting.

Use this great recipe for Vegan Buttercream Frosting.


  1. Clara says

    I’m newly gluten-free (but not newly vegan) and these hit the spot for me. Your hard work paid off, I promise. I’m also not a fan of food colorings and so I skipped the gel altogether. I saw on Cooking Channel’s “Not My Mama’s Meals” where Paula Dean’s son used beets instead of (all kinds of ingredients his mom usually uses) and they turned out a pleasing chocolate color with hint of red. I would love to see how you might alter your recipe to use beets instead :)

    • Megan says

      I’m so glad that these worked for you Clara! Once I test these with beets I’ll be sure to post about it and let you know how it turned out. I’m going to see if I can dig up the recipe you’re referring to and make it gluten-free. Might be a good place to start experimenting! 😉

    • Jennifer A says

      I omitted the red food coloring. Instead, I boiled a couple beets and pureed them with a little cooking water until smooth, to use instead of the applesauce. I used 2 Tbs. of cooking water to make the Ener-G egg replacer as well. The batter tastes good and is the same color as the pictures above. They are baking now. I will let you know how they turn out in the end!

    • Megan says

      I have a cake decorating set with assorted tips and a piping bag. I picked up a super cheap one with a plastic piping bag and it works just fine. I just was playing around with fun ways to make designs and piped out a little icing at a time in dots or swirls in some cases. Just fooling around mostly. :)

  2. Laurie says

    I made this recipe this weekend and it turned out brownie-like. The problem possibly occurred with the omission of the “first baking soda amount” from the recipe ingredient list. I just didn’t include any additional baking soda as I am new to baking from scratch and don’t fully understand how it all works together. I made them with the buttercream frosting for a Red Velvet cupcake lover and she said they tasted just like them except a lot more moist. We all decided we like them brownie-like. :)

    • Megan says

      Ahhh I hate when I do that! You’re right the “first amount” of baking soda was missing from the list. The baking soda being added to the applesauce helps it behave a bit better as an egg replacement. The second amount (2 teaspoons) of baking soda would have been essential to add to the milk, so I hope you did that.

      That being said, these are really moist cupcakes as it is. So I don’t think the recipe necessarily flopped with the omission of the first amount of baking soda. I’m glad you still liked them even as moist as these were. What size of cupcakes did you end up making? I find the regular size cupcakes bake up the nicest for some reason.

      Thanks for sharing your comments and pointing out my omission. I’ve updated the recipe ingredients list now. :)

  3. Laurie says

    Thank you for your response. I did add the soda to the milk – phew! I made a regular cupcake size. I don’t think it was a flop at all I just thought they would be a little lighter. Everyone really liked them. In fact, my son said they were “the bomb” haha. I am making them again this weekend and looking forward to having them because they are so yummy! :)

    I appreciate your blog and all the great information it has for someone like me who is new to all this and is challenged in the kitchen.

    • Megan says

      Haha ‘the bomb’! Awesome. I’m glad you like them so much. :) And thanks for your kind words. It’s always nice to hear when people really enjoy my site and can get use from it.

  4. Lauren says

    These look great! I need to follow a gluten-free diet and my parents are vegan so this will be perfect!!

    Would it be possible to convert this to a sheet cake? Maybe using a 9 x 13 pan?

    • Megan says

      Yes, you could try to make this into a sheet cake. My experience with baking gluten-free and vegan cakes is that sometimes the middle tends to be gummy while the outside edges can become too overdone. That’s why I always end up baking cupcakes because you can control it a bit better, I find. But by all means, give it a try – make sure to grease and flour your cake pan! – and let me know how it turns out for you. :)

  5. Sara says

    I just made these, and I realized after I got them in the oven that it doesn’t say when to add the egg substitute. I just realized that I didn’t add it at all. What’s going to happen, I wonder?

    • Megan says

      Oh man, I hate it when this happens. Originally this recipe used 2 measures of the applesauce as the eggs, but then after testing a bunch of times decided to do two different types of egg replacer – one with powdered egg replacer and one with applesauce. I’m sorry about that Sara. How did they turn out? I’m not sure they would have been a total flop because there was at least the applesauce “egg” in there. In fact, it might have made these less dense and brownie-like with just the applesauce. Let me know, I’m really curious now. Sorry again. I hope they were okay still.

  6. Sara says

    Actually, they turned out really well. I was very pleased, since this is the first time in my life I have ever attempted any kind of non-traditional baking. The gluten-free vegan person I made them for said that he was impressed by how light and fluffy they were.

    • Megan says

      Yay! I’m so relieved they turned out. In fact, I may have to try this recipe with just the applesauce and see how they worked. Thanks for letting me know they still worked for you. :)

  7. Lior says

    Sounds really good! Is there something that I can use a substitute for the xanthan gum? I cannot use it because of allergy.

    • Megan says

      I haven’t worked much with guar gum but I think it would be the closest to xanthan gum to give you the same results. Hope that helps.

  8. Diana says

    I’m a fan if red velvet and I have to say a lot of bakeries dont make a bright red cup cake. The cake usually runs from chocolate with a hint of red to a medium reddish brown. So I think you are fine with the color lol.

    • Megan says

      I think the bakeries who let the color happen naturally are the ones doing it “right”. I am not a fan of artificial colors or flavors, that’s for sure.

  9. Diana says

    What vegan margarine do you use? I’m still learning how to eat like this and brands really help me a lot.

    • Megan says

      I have had good success with Earth Balance. Especially I use the buttery sticks for baking because they’re easy to work with – nice portioned out sticks. I also have used the Becel Vegan margarine and it works good for ‘everyday’ use … mostly what I end up using it for is for buttering my popcorn. Hahaha. I think if you ask most people which they use a lot would say Earth Balance. They have a lot of varieties to suit different dietary needs too. They have a soy-free one, one that includes olive oil, etc. They also have a coconut spread now too. Earth Balance uses non-hydrogenated oils.

      I had heard that Becel Vegan was made with hydrogenated oils but according to their website they also use non-hydrogenated oils like Earth Balance, so this is a good thing.

      Hope that helps! :)

  10. says

    These are Wonderful,

    I am a Personal Chef, My Client is Vegan and Gluten Free.
    I have tried other cupcake recipes and they have the “soggy sponge” syndrome, Dense and wet.
    This recipe works wonders…DON’T FORGET THE CUP OF BOILING WATER AT THE END!!!!!

    I have used this recipe to make vanilla and chocolate-mint cupcakes, simply substituting the flavorings, cocoa powder, food coloring.


    • Megan says

      I was on holidays when I saw your comment come through in my email and it made my day even better. I am so flattered that you’ve been able to use this recipe as a base for so many different flavors. I wish I’d thought of it. Hehehe. I bragged to my friends that a personal chef thought my recipe was great. So, thanks for that!

  11. Sara says

    I was wondering about the powdered replacer, how much do you use to equal 1 egg? I have never used this produce before.

    • Megan says

      Hi Sara,

      Generally whichever brand you buy will have instructions on the side for what measurements of replacer and water to use to mix up the equivalent of 1 egg. I use EnerG brand or Pane Riso brand. Generally it’s about 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons of dry replacer mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. I’d make sure to check the package you’ve bought and follow their measurement guidelines, just in case they’re different.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Lauren says

    Hi Megan,
    I was just reading your frustrations on the red colouring. I’ve not made these before, BUT, I’ve read before that Baking/Bicarb Soda make cocoa take on a darker shade. It’s used for the Oreo style of dark chocolate biscuits and also darkens gingerbread or honeyrolls too.

    So, I just thought I’d share that with you and other readers :)

    “Alkalinity darkens the color of chocolate and can take it to black like Oreo cookies. There are Black Magic Cakes that contain as much as 2 teaspoons of baking soda just to make the batter so alkaline that the chocolate turns black.”

    Hope this helps…Makes GF cooking that much more harder!

  13. Sujata says


    Thanks for the recipe. I am excited to bake these soon. I plan to use the boiled beet for the color as suggested by someone. Should I also use the applesauce in that case? Also I don’t have the cupcake size pan but I have the muffin pan (big size) – I hope that works – would filling each cup to 3/4th height work or less than that?
    Thanks a lot!

    • says

      Hi Sujata, I haven’t had a chance to make these with beet puree yet so I don’t entirely know how they’ll turn out. That being said if I was to make these right now I would omit the applesauce for sure. If you’re concerned about getting more lift, increase the egg replacer to make the equivalent of two eggs instead of just one. Depending on how much of the beet puree you use it also might affect how much liquid you add (non-dairy milk or boiling water) and it might also affect the baking time, so keep a close eye on them and test them regularly as it gets closer to the end of the suggested baking time in this recipe.

      You can definitely use a regular-sized muffin tin and just keep an eye on them and they may need longer to bake.

      Good luck and please let us know how it turned out!

  14. Sujata says

    Hi Megan,

    I baked the cupcakes today – I skipped beet – since it was the first time I thought it wise to stick to your recipe. The only thing I did was I used 11/4 cup pf sorghum flour and 1/4 cup brown rice flour since I did not have the fine brown rice flour. Also I did not have the food color. The cupcakes came out really nice and moist. Love’em. Yum!! Thanks for a wonderful recipe.
    Happy Holidays!!

  15. Julie says

    Did you try using red cacao powder? It is quite a bit redder than normal cacao powder, also, I am with you on the beets for colour. What about using beet juice, or vitamixing beets? Also, would flax egg work instead of egg replacer? I find the egg substitutes so gummy!

    • says

      Hey Julie! I confess I’d never heard about red cacao powder until reading your comment. A quick Google showed me that it was indeed some interesting stuff. I’ll have to track some down and give it a try. I haven’t tried beets yet but I am sure beet juice or vitamixed beets would be awesome.

      Any kind of egg replacer should work in place of powdered egg replacer. Sometimes I mix up using more than one kind of egg replacer in a recipe – 1 flax egg and 1 applesauce egg; 1 flax egg and 1 powdered egg replacer egg, etc. because sometimes it can affect the texture a bit. Baking – it’s all a big science experiment sometimes. :)

  16. says

    Hi there!

    Just so you know Select Tea makes natural food coloring. When I used their red food coloring over one to two years ago, my red velvet cake turned out brownish gold. Now they offer one that is heat and freeze stable, but I haven’t tried it. They are very expensive, though. About $15 for a tiny bottle, plus the shipping:

  17. Jenny says

    Can I use applesauce instead of vegan butter? I’m not a fan of oil as I’m plant-based. Please advise. Thanks!

    • says

      There is already applesauce in this recipe as an egg replacer (I chose to do 1 applesauce egg and 1 EnerG egg). I would be concerned that these already decadently dense cupcakes would be too moist if you added more applesauce. I would change up what type of egg replacer you use instead of applesauce if you’re going to replace the oil with applesauce. So use two eggs worth of EnerG or add a mashed banana and 1 EnerG egg so that you can use applesauce in place of oil. That’s my best advice without having tried it out.

    • says

      That sounds like the most unappealing thing ever. Sorry they didn’t turn out. Did you make any substitutions or alterations to the recipe? These are a very moist cupcake to be sure, but the flavor should be of chocolate. The only suggestion I might have to address the undercooked part is that perhaps your oven isn’t as hot as mine was so it could require a little longer baking time.

      • Stephy says

        I didn’t sub anything. The cupcakes themselves weren’t undercooked, but they looked like half-cooked hamburger, red on the inside and gray-brown on the outside. They tested as done. I have no idea what I could have done wrong.

        • says

          Hmmm I’m stumped too Stephy. I hate when a recipe doesn’t turn out like it should. What size of cupcakes did you make? I have made mini and regular sized cupcakes but not jumbo. I wonder if that might have something to do with it. There have been times I’ve baked a loaf or cake that tested as done and then as it cooled slowly fell and became so moist that it was as if it wasn’t actually baked. I’m just guessing at what might have happened. In any case I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you. If I come up with a solution I’ll let you know.

  18. Amanda says


    I am going to make these for my best friend’s birthday but she sensitive to vanilla.Is there a sub you can think of? Thank you! By the way- these look great! Thank you!

    • says

      Oh wow a new sensitivity I’ve never heard of before – vanilla! Honestly, I’d just omit it. I can’t think of another flavor extract that would be subtle enough without overpowering the cupcakes. The chocolate flavor is going to be enough to help these cupcakes along.

  19. Lorraine says

    I want to try making this as a traditional cake. How long would you suggest baking it for? I was going to use 2 9″ round pans to make a layer cake…

    • says

      Nice Lorraine! I would try baking this as a cake for about 40-45 minutes and test it. It might take longer. Let me know how that works for you. :)

  20. sue says

    Vegans don’t eat traditional red velvet cakes and such, because the red coloring is derived from the ground up wings of a cochineal bug. Pretty gross, eh? I’m not sure what food colorings use to get the bright red that they have. I’m interested in learning to use beets for red velvet goodies. Anybody have any good tips??

  21. Cat says

    I made these for a retirement party at work; I am vegan and a co-worker is celiac. What a hit! They tasted perfect. However they did not turn out even a slight shade of red and I put in quite a bit of the red gel. But the taste was great and that’s what’s important 😛 Will make again :)

    • says

      Sigh yes making them red was the challenge for me too. At the end of the day I’d rather just have a great tasting cupcake without all the food colouring anyhow, so we’re on the same page there! :)

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