These vegan red velvet cupcakes are sweet, vibrant, and topped with a rose blood orange cream cheese frosting. They make the perfect Valentine’s Day dessert, birthday cupcake, or treat any time of the year.
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Red velvet cake sometimes gets a bad rap for delivering more showiness than flavor, which I can understand. The flavor is vanilla adjacent. I decided to add a little twist to the traditional red velvet cupcake by infusing the cream cheese frosting with blood orange juice and zest, and a bit of rose extract. It’s citrusy, it’s romantic, and it’s tasty. You can leave out the rose extract if you’re not a fan of floral flavors in dessert, or replace it with rosewater if you can’t find extract.
Okay, but isn’t red velvet cake just chocolate cake dyed red?
Nope! While red velvet does rely on red food coloring to get its signature color, the main flavor is not chocolate. The base of a red velvet cake is vanilla cake with buttermilk with just a hint of cocoa powder. The cake also traditionally includes vinegar, which makes it extra tender, and also helps the cake rise more. This vegan version calls for non-dairy milk and apple cider vinegar to replace the buttermilk.
Vegan food coloring
Food coloring and red food coloring in particular is often shunned in the vegan community because it’s “unhealthy” or “artificial”, and erroneously labeled not vegan. It’s true that some food coloring is animal derived, but most colors are synthetic nowadays. Like anything else, it’s okay to use in moderation (unless you’re allergic). Feel free to use natural food coloring if you prefer.
FD&C Red 4 vs FD&C Red 40
These two red dyes are often mixed up. FD&C Red 4 is carmine or cochineal, which is derived from insects, and is therefore not vegan. It’s used in cosmetics and as a colorant in food, and is typically listed as carmine on the ingredients. FD&C Red 40 is derived from petroleum and is vegan.
Vegan red food coloring
My absolute favorite vegan-friendly food coloring is Wilton gel coloring. Their no-taste red food coloring is the one I’d recommend for these red velvet cupcakes. Red food coloring can sometimes taste bad (hence the name of the food coloring), so definitely use a no-taste red for this recipe since it calls for a full tablespoon.
You can also get a 12-pack of Wilton gel food coloring on Amazon for $13 (at the time of publishing this post), which contains a small jar of no-taste red and 11 other colors you can use for all of your baking and decorating. Each color usually retails for $2-3 in store, so getting a multipack saves some dough if you do a lot of baking. You can also mix the colors like paint to create custom colors.
Vegan cream cheese frosting
You can use any type of vegan cream cheese you prefer, but I’d recommend using cashew cream cheese. You can learn how to make your own cashew cream cheese here.
You might think that the blood orange frosting would be pink, but the blood orange juice will only color the frosting slightly, if at all. If you’d like your cupcakes to have pink frosting, you can add a bit of your no-taste red or some pink food coloring.
- 1/3 cup vegan butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup non-dairy milk, plus 2 tablespoons
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon "no taste" red gel food coloring, see note
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 3 tablespoons vegan butter
- 1/3 cup vegan cream cheese
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon blood orange zest
- 2 tablespoons blood orange juice, about 1 orange
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon rose extract, optional
- Blood orange peel and white chocolate shavings for garnish, optional
For the cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Line a cupcake tray with 12 liners.
- Cream together the vegan butter, sugar, and vanilla in a stand mixer, or with handheld beaters or by hand in a large bowl.
- Pour the apple cider vinegar into the non-dairy milk, and let sit for a minute.
- Gradually add the milk and vinegar mixture to the creamed butter and sugar until fully combined.
- Add the red food coloring and mix until evenly distributed.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling each one halfway full.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a toothpick comes out clean.
For the frosting:
- Cream together the shortening and vegan butter in a stand mixer or in a bowl with handheld beaters until fluffy.
- Add the vegan cream cheese and beat until smooth.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing after each addition.
- Add the blood orange zest and juice, vanilla extract, and rose extract.
- Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, 5-6 minutes.
- Pipe or spread the frosting on the cupcakes.
- Garnish with orange peel and chocolate shavings or your favorite toppings.
- Red food coloring can have a bitter taste, but it's an important ingredient in red velvet cake. My favorite "no taste" red food coloring is this one from Wilton, which is a gel food color.
- Although the blood orange juice is a vibrant red color, it's not concentrated enough to tint the frosting. If you'd like pink frosting, you can add a bit of red or pink food coloring.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 cupcake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 262Unsaturated Fat: 0g
Other vegan Valentine’s Day treats…
In addition to these vegan red velvet cupcakes, you might enjoy some of these other treats.
These vegan anise cookies, or Italian anisette cookies, are a classic Italian cookie. They are tender, flavored with anise extract, and topped with nonpareils.
This vegan tiramisu is made with homemade vegan ladyfingers, vegan cultured cashew mascarpone, and aquafaba and coconut cream custard.
Break out the heart-shaped cookie cutters! These vegan sugar cookies are egg-free and dairy-free and so easy to whip up for decorating with royal icing.