This is why I don’t bake very often.

My grand plan*, hatched earlier this week, was to bake red velvet cupcakes for Tom for Valentines Day.   Can I just say at this point that we don’t usually “do” Valentines Day (load of rubbish really), but since a certain person beginning with M arrived in our lives, spontaneous romantic gestures have taken a nose dive so now we are grateful for calendar reminders.  Anyway, the grand plan involved turning up at Tom’s office this afternoon, looking all comely and wifely, and presenting him with valentines cupcakes to share with everyone.

When things started going a bit pear-shaped, I revised the delivery strategy in my mind to an anonymous cup-cake drive by.  Shortly after that it became, “fuck it, he can have one when he comes home and take the leftovers into the office tomorrow.  What is this, nineteenfuckingfiftytwo??”

I will spare you most of the detail on why it took me twice the normal time to prepare them, or why they look purple (or shit-brown, depending on the light), or why I ended up with a hardened mass of molten butter and sugar in my sink, or why Molly, me and every surface in the kitchen were covered in a fine film of icing sugar.

No, I will just cut to the good bit.  They were amazing. Incredibly light, soft, moist cake and the best cream cheese icing ever.  I’ve made several versions of cream cheese icing for carrot cake and none came close to this. I followed the Hummingbird Bakery recipe to the letter.  The Hummingbird Bakery is based in London and make heaven-sent cupcakes.  They are famous for their red velvets.  I pinched the recipe online and, obsessed with replicating Hummingbird perfection, even downloaded their baking tips online.

I have reproduced the recipe below, but ahead of that, a few helpful tips from my experience and also from the Hummingbird tips PDF I found online (which I think made all the difference to how mine turned out)

  • DO get hold of Dr Oetker red food colouring (I couldnt source it locally or by grocery delivery and used an inferior version.  Hence why the colour of mine didn’t work out.  The thing about red velvets is they look amazing, so sourcing the right colour is worth it. Some people use beetroot juice but not sure of the outcome)
  • Fill your cupcake cases 2/3 full.  If you’re too stingy with filling them, they
    won’t rise nicely and they’ll overcook and be dry.  The finished sponge should rise to the top line of your paper case. (HBB)
  • When creaming butter and sugar together, always make sure you do this until the mixture is light and fluffy, usually at least a good 5 minutes.  Otherwise your cakes will not rise nicely.(HBB)
  • After adding flour to a mixture, don’t overbeat as this will overwork the flour and
    make the cake dense. Simply beat or stir until the flour is just incorporated.(HBB)
  • Don’t be tempted to put the bowl of sugar and butter in the oven ‘just for a sec’ to bring the butter to room temperature.  You WILL forget it’s there. (Me)
  • If you do the above, I wouldn’t put the now molten sugar and butter in the sink. Bad idea. (Me)
  • If you can work out how to beat the butter and icing sugar together without producing something resembling a volcanic ash cloud, with all its resulting fall-out, I’d love to hear from you. (Me)
  • If you run out of crappy red food colouring, probably best not to start adding other colours from the box that aren’t red.  They’re not red, see.


  • 60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 20ml red food colouring (get hold of Dr. Oetker’s as red food colourings vary in strength.)
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml buttermilk
  • 150g plain flour
  • ½tsp salt
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1½tsp white wine vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold

You’ll also need:

  • 12-hole cupcake tray, lined with large cupcake cases


  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
  2. Put the butter and the sugar in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed. Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added. Scrape down the side of the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 mins, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  5. Meanwhile for the cream cheese frosting: Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 mins. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
  6. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon over the cream cheese frosting on top.

* With thanks to Meg.  She decided she was doing red velvet cake and I totally stole her idea.  Thanks Meg x