HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Red Velvet Cake and question about Sprinkles cupcake mix

Hello -

I am looking for an alternative to red food coloring for Red Velvet Cake.

Also, does anyone know what make the Sprinkles cupcakes "red"? I saw the owner on Martha Stewart the other day and she seemed to mention that they us all natural ingredients, so I'm curious what they might use in their red velvet cupcakes.


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't know but in a post on the PA board they said that William Sonoma sells a Sprinkles Cupcakes Mix, so that might tell you

    1. I haven't used this recipe, but it looks like beets or beet juice are a common, if not the original coloring agent in red velvet.


      6 Replies
      1. re: dbug31

        No. no. no. The original version of RVC was likely some version of a Devil's Food Cake. Early cocoa turned a deep mahogany red after being exposed to the heat of baking. The cake was often referred to as Red Devil Cake. References to RVC go back at least to the 1930s and included red food coloring.
        There are some Southern cakes that include vegetables such as beets, however beets and/or their juice turn brown when exposed to heat, and the texture of these cakes is different than RVC.
        Red Velvet Cake has red food coloring. If you make a cake with beets, it's a beet cake.

        The original icing for RVC dates back to at least the Depression and is sometimes called "gravy icing." It is made with a cooked mixture of flour or cornstarch and milk beaten with shortening, butter, or oleomargarine.
        Cream cheese icing was not used on RVC until the cake became popular across the US after the movie Steel Magnolias in the late 1980. Actually, cream cheese icing was not used generally in the US until it was popularized by Kraft Foods on their commercials during Kraft Television Playhouse during the 60s and 70s.

        1. re: MakingSense

          Hey Making Sense,

          I happen to like RVC and ALWAYS use the cooked frosting, would never use cream cheese frosting, LOL except on carrot cake! As for red food coloring I think as long as RVC cake isn't a major food group for you, shouldn't be a problem. My Grandmother would also make a green one for St. Patty's Day, LOL talk about going "green".


          1. re: twh1475

            If RVC is a "major food food group," you've got a MUCH bigger problem than a small amount a red food coloring. Between the cake and the icing there's a pound of FAT in that cake. Special occasion cake, for sure.
            Love the idea of the green one for St. Patrick's Day!

          2. re: MakingSense


            Wow. Sorry.

            Very informative post. How do you know all of this? : )

            1. re: dbug31

              I've been making RVC since about 1960 from the recipe my mother had from who-knows-when. The old classic recipe.
              We have always wondered about it and started researching. Especially in the past several years because so many people have tried to make changes. I hate to see changes made for no solid reason, when you really don't have to. IMHO, if you object to RVC because of the food coloring or love cream cheese icing, make another dessert. Leave the classic alone.

              1. re: MakingSense

                I agree, Making Sense. Authentic is best.

                I am sharing the 60 year-old-recipe for red velvet cake from my husband's family, who lived in Kentucky. The frosting is delicious--definitely not the "cream cheese" one. It is SO disappointing to folks who love the original red velvet cake to have to settle for "way too heavy" cream cheese frosting on this delicate and unique cake. Thanks for letting me whine about this--it has bugged me for years.

                Now, the recipe...

                The Ruby Family's Red Velvet Cake
                (Sea Level Recipe)

                Make the cake:

                ¼ cup (2oz.) red food coloring
                3 Tbs Nestle’s Quick cocoa mix
                1-1/2 cups sugar
                ½ cup shortening
                2 eggs
                2-1/2 cups flour*
                1 cup buttermilk*
                1 tsp vanilla
                1 tsp vinegar
                1 tsp baking soda

                Mix food coloring and Quick to make a coloring paste, then set aside. Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, then coloring paste. Beat well, then alternate adding flour and buttermilk, a little at a time. Add vanilla and mix well. Remove bowl from mixer. Stir in vinegar by hand, then soda.

                Line bottoms of 2 -10” (or 3 - 8”) pans with parchment paper. Grease or spray Pam on sides and paper.

                Bake at 350 F.
                Three layers: approx. 28 minutes.
                Two layers: approx. 33 minutes. (30-35 min.)
                Cupcakes (makes about 28) 20 minutes. Spray the top of the muffin pan.


                For 2 layers
                1 stick butter, softened
                ½ cup shortening
                1 cup baker’s (fine granulated) sugar
                3 Tbs. flour
                2/3 cup milk
                1 tsp vanilla
                For 3 layers (makes a bit extra)
                1.5 stick butter, softened
                3/4 cup shortening
                1.5 cup baker’s (fine granulated) sugar
                4.5 Tbs. flour
                1 cup milk
                1.5 tsp vanilla

                Cream butter, shortening and sugar. Gradually add flour. Add milk and vanilla.(It will look terrible at this point. You will find it hard to believe it will ever smooth out into frosting.) Mix continuously for 12 minutes (but 15 is good, too). This is a very long time, if you don't have an automatic mixer--if you hang in there, it's worth it.

        2. We had these for Valentine's Day, and they were bright, bright red - so red that if your wet finger touched the cake, the finger turned vibrantly red (crumbs in the sink made big red streaks, too) . . . . there's no way that was natural!! They were tasty, but all that artificial color freaked me out - I would've been satisfied eating the cream cheese frosting plain!!

          1. The Sprinkles mix is outstanding! I've made the red velvet cupcakes and they came out so moist and tender. Plus I really like the proportions for the cream cheese frosting recipe included with the mix.

            1. The sprinkles cupcakes on the Martha Stewart show were colored with strawberry puree. Check out the MS website for recipe and check out the comments section of the recipe.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Emme1

                I'm pretty sure that was for the strawberry cupcakes, not the red velvet ones. Adding strawberry puree would not work with the subtle chocolate flavor of the red velvet cake.

                1. re: Emme1

                  Yes, these were the strawberry cupcakes, not the red velvet ones . . . . I think the OP saw the episode, realized those were strawberry, but had an *additional* thought re the red velvet.

                  I have been searching high and low on the 'net and I can't find an ingredients list for the red velvet ones anywhere . . . . I'm sorry I threw away the container for the mix, but again, they were SO red, I cannot imagine it was a natural food coloring in there.

                  1. re: gansu girl

                    There is a company that sells an all-natural red food color made from red currents. They don't guarantee any results if you use it in products that are heated, i.e. baked.
                    The only thing that I've ever found that held it's color without significant change through baking was strawberry. Raspberry darkened. Both of those changed the flavor.

                2. They could be using a natural based food coloring like India tree. Never used, never made red velvet, so not sure, but I would guess if they claim they are all natural that is what they are doing...

                  1. I didn't see this discussion until today when I googled Sprinkles Red Velvet cupcakes. I was at Williams Sonoma this morning and the manager told me I'd love the cupcakes. It was a stupid price to pay for a mix but I bit. I can not get the dye off my hands from the batter. Looking on the package, it lists FD&C Red 40. Is that natural? It certainly won't come off my hands after repeated washing (I was tasting the batter). The cupcakes are cooling and they came out nicely but really are nothing much. I'm not a Magnolia bakery fan either, but it was an easy fix for me today. LMF

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: LilMsFoodie

                      No not natural, beyond being an organic compound...it is manufactured not derived from natural sources. Interestingly banned in several European countries as are many food colours, but considered safe by the FDA and several studies.

                      1. re: LilMsFoodie

                        Thanks for posting the info, LMF.

                        I figured that had to be food coloring, but I wasn't certain.

                        For me, RVC/Cupcakes will be a special treat...but I don't like consuming that much food coloring, no matter how delicious it might be. :)

                        1. re: LilMsFoodie

                          No, not natural. I was wondering how they got that red color w/out artificial food dye and w/out the extra flavor you get from natural food dyes (like beets, hybiscus, etc.). My daughter is allergic to red food dye #40 and I've played around w/ a lot of different alternatives. Everything natural seems to add flavor to it.

                        2. A recipe in our newspaper the other day used raspberry syrup. Didn't really appeal to me. Just made a "traditional" RVC with the traditional 2 oz of red food dye and it was yummy. All things in moderation ( unless you're allergic).

                          1. Well, not trying to sound insensitive, but just keeping it real. Just don't serve your daughter red velvet cake. there is no substitute for red velvet cake. This is to the person that was looking for a red dye alternative due to their daughters allergic reaction. I am a nurse and come from a family of chefs. Presently and historically. Martha Steward is no authourity on the subject of food and household up keep. She is only what her fans have made her out to be. Anyway the subject of Red velvet cake is the topic of my response.
                            Red Velvet Cake dates back to the early 1800's. Born and raised in New Orleans, i have come to realize that so call southern recipes originate back to Europe or Africa. You see there were no Southern Americans( they were European born and bred settlers). Africans used to make a dish that has been described as cake mix, sort of like cus-cus. It wasn't until slavery that this thicker version of cake mix became baked. you see it was a sort of a pudding,(True puddings were made with flour as a base) The original color was extracted( or in africa squeezed for a red flower that grows in africa). The juice from the flower added sweetness. That is where the red color come in as well as the consistency (vinegar also contributes to the consistency as well).
                            But the flower juice and vinegar were for ceremonial purposes. NOT for taste and consistency.
                            However a slave drop the batter onto the hearth by mistake one day while cooking for her masters. The aroma had a distinctive smell from any cake the Lady master had ever smelled.(AND i agree it does). The master at that time went into the kitchen(which was at that time unheard of) to inquire. When she saw the baked mash she thought it was a cake and ordered the slave to bake that type of cake for every holiday. Believe it or not.

                            1. If you live near a Whole Foods, they do sell an organic red (and blue and yellow as well) food coloring. I've never personally tried it, so I can't promise you how it would work.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: beth1

                                Whole Foods do still carry "natural" food dyes but at $16.99 for the 3 small bottles it is too much. I didn't look at the ingredients as i was so shocked but will next time I go.

                              2. Chowser gave me an idea. Get dried hibiscus petals. They are available in most Latin markets. They are used to make tea. Cold, sweetened hibiscus tea is call Jamaica. It's very dark red. Try making a concentrate, no sugar. I think I will next time I make red velvet cake without cream cheese frosting.

                                1. Here's to heresy! The color adds nothing to the flavor. Leave it out. Wear rose-colored glasses if you must. Go ahead, call it Red Velvet Cake. No velvet in it, is there? Boston Cream Pie is cake. Grasshopper Pie is insect-free. Don't get hung up on the accuracy of food names!