Bake

Red Velvet Cookies

by:
October 25, 2021
4.7 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.
Author Notes

Ten years ago, I was strolling through the West Village in New York City when I first came upon Magnolia Bakery—with its toy-like displays of layer cakes, cheesecakes, and cupcakes; all that pastel yellow, green, and blue frosting; the long line snaking out the door.

The cupcake was in its heyday. It seemed everywhere you turned there was a cupcake shop: If it wasn’t Magnolia, it was Butter Lane on 7th Street, Melissa’s on 14th, Georgetown on Mercer, or (RIP) Crumbs on University Place. I had just moved to Manhattan from Atlanta a few months prior, where the cupcake craze had yet to explode, and felt lucky to live in a city where a shop’s single purpose was to dole out mini cakes topped with buttercream. I had also just broken up with my then-boyfriend and was soaking in the cold winter streets on my own for the first time. And the one thing you need when you’re cold, alone, and heartbroken is to stumble upon a bakery filled with cupcakes.

The sweet brightness of the shop was in stark contrast to how I was feeling that night. It wasn’t until I got to the counter after waiting in that line, ordered myself a red velvet cupcake (something I had never had before), and took my first bite that, for one brief second, I was able to forget about the breakup and wrap my mind around this new thing I had just shoveled into my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it. Was it vanilla or chocolate? Or both? Definitely both, like a black and white milkshake. Or a deeper cookies 'n' cream.

That first bite at Magnolia would inform how I’d measure all other red velvet desserts thereafter: Red velvet batter must, in my opinion, have enough sugar to caramelize at the edges after being baked (for flavor, but also a slightly chewy texture in the cupcakes' case). There must be savoriness (thanks to salt and vinegar, the latter of which helps the cake rise, too) as well as bitterness (thanks to the cocoa and food coloring). Speaking of artificial facades, there must be a deep, bold, brick-red hue to it (because that’s the color of reignition).

Most sources point to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in N.Y.C. as the crimson cake’s original creator. Wherever it came from, red velvet is, for me, a flavor that I’ll always associate with my early years in New York, and by extension, who I was back then: wide-eyed, vulnerable, and unabashedly sanguine.

A lot has changed in ten years: The hotel has since closed and been turned into luxury condominiums; I barely remember that ex-boyfriend’s name, let alone his face; and cupcakes, especially red velvet, are way over. But even after all these years, one thing has remained the same: I still love this stupid city. —Eric Kim

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Red Velvet Cookies
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • makes 8 cookies
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick or 57 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon red food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (any kind will do, like red, white, rice, and apple cider; just not balsamic)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups (219 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (21 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter, oil, egg, and salt until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla and mix until well combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda to combine. Add to the butter-sugar mixture and stir gently until just incorporated.
  4. Using a medium ice cream scoop, scoop the cookie dough onto a plate (you should get about 8 cookies). Freeze for 10 minutes. Roll each cookie into a ball with your hands, then toss around in a bowl of powdered sugar, covering the outsides completely.
  5. Arrange the cookies on a half sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool before transferring to a container or (let’s be real) eating right off the pan.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • KK
    KK
  • Thais Suárez
    Thais Suárez
  • Kristina Mazzio
    Kristina Mazzio
  • JocelynT
    JocelynT
  • amdame1
    amdame1
Eric Kim was the Table for One columnist at Food52. He is currently working on his first cookbook, KOREAN AMERICAN, to be published by Clarkson Potter in 2022. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can find his bylines at The New York Times, where he works now as a writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @ericjoonho.

46 Reviews

KK December 4, 2021
Pretty and taste great. Adds a bright red-snowy pop to a collection of holiday cookies. Thank you, EK! Notes for other bakers, similar to some other comments: Encourage use of gel color, heavy roll in the sugar, and smaller cookies worked well (12-15 minutes). Wonder if: freezing the balls, allowing them to thaw, then baking works. If that works then we could prep lots of cookie dough and then bake all in one day. If someone tries it, please post how it went!
 
Holland March 1, 2021
This made far more than 8 cookies! It'd be helpful to know what we are looking for in a properly baked cookie. I wasn't sure what to look for and defaulted to the recipes "20 minutes". They ended up extremely dry and hard, some more descriptive language would have been helpful!
 
nglancy February 20, 2021
These tasted nice and cracked fine, but they were not red (maybe UK food colouring?) and also I did the granulated sugar + packing on the icing sugar but still had trouble getting a decent white layer. Not too sure what I could usefully change next time, so not sure I will try again.
 
improbability December 22, 2020
What a beautiful recipe. I intentionally used “baking vanilla” which is quite strong and princess cake-y and made medium-sized balls (about 30g) for slightly smaller cookies. I also did the granulated sugar trick and really packed on the powdered sugar. The results were gorgeous and a nice pop of color on my cookie plates. I’ll definitely make this again.
 
brittany December 13, 2020
Made these this afternoon. Maybe it was because I was using plant-based food coloring from Whole Foods, but my cookies came out brown. They were tasty! But they lacked the effect I was going for with the red velvet...
 
Babette December 12, 2020
I baked these last night. Loved them. Made 24 instead of 8, cooked for 15 minutes,thought they were a little dry. Any ideas what I did wrong?
 
Thais S. November 14, 2020
I made these yesterday and my sister (who isn't big on sweets or cookies) loved them. I reduced the sugar to 1 cup and baked them for 18 minutes and they came out phenomenal. We really enjoyed them!
 
Kristina M. March 11, 2020
I made these for a coworkers birthday... they were a hit! He didn't stop talking about them for days. I used a slightly smaller scoop about got about 20 cookies. I baked them for 18 mins as someone else mentioned in another review. Thanks for the recipe, I will be making these again!
 
Eric K. August 2, 2020
I’m so glad. Thank you for making them.
 
Maz February 25, 2020
Can you stuff these with cream cheese before freezing?
 
Eric K. March 10, 2020
Sure! Sounds delicious. Maybe a sweetened, whipped cream cheese situation.
 
JocelynT December 23, 2019
These are great! Followed the recipe, just made them a little smaller so made 16 and they cooked a little less.
 
Eric K. March 10, 2020
Thank you!
 
Meg December 15, 2019
I made these today during my marathon Christmas cookie banking session and they were so easy and delicious!! My favorites of the day. I made them as written and they came out great- only change was I made the balls a bit smaller so I ended up with just shy of 2 dozen, and baked them for 18 minutes which was perfect. Thanks for a great recipe! Will definitely be added to the rotation.
 
Eric K. March 10, 2020
Yay!
 
amdame1 December 15, 2019
I added white chocolate chips to the batter in an effort to get some of that cream cheese flavor. It's certainly not a perfect replica, but it's a step in that direction.
 
Eric K. March 10, 2020
Great idea.
 
bpal December 14, 2019
These are SO good! They perfectly capture that red velvet flavor. Thanks for the amazing recipe!
 
Eric K. December 15, 2019
Aw, I'm so glad. Thanks for reporting back.
 
Christina M. December 12, 2019
I'm planning on making these. They're just so festive! I'm thinking that just grocery store red food coloring is what's called for here. Not some kind of red gel or fancier, thicker red food coloring? Any thoughts? Thanks!
 
Eric K. December 12, 2019
Yep, regular food coloring! With that said, if you can find the gel stuff (easy enough to order online), they're a little better b/c they mean less moisture in the batter, which means starker, cleaner crinkles.
 
Christina M. December 14, 2019
Thanks! This will be fun and no doubt delicious.
 
Cara F. December 10, 2019
Would it be OK if I chilled them in the fridge overnight instead of freezing them?
 
Eric K. December 11, 2019
Whoops, sorry Cara. I posted my answer to your question under the wrong thread.

Yes, absolutely. That's actually added insurance for the cracks to show most clearly. You can bake them, still, at 350°F for about 20 to 25 minutes. (I'd still check at 20.)
 
Cara F. December 14, 2019
Thanks, Eric! They look stunning!
 
kmb December 10, 2019
These were excellent! The oil in the dough really helped the powdered sugar stick, and the dark red cookie peeking through the snow white coating was visually stunning. I doubled the recipe and got about 35 cookies out of the batch. I also used LorAnn Red Velvet emulsion instead of plain food coloring.
 
kmb December 10, 2019
Also, before freezing the dough balls I rolled them in granulated sugar (a tip I think I got from Cooks Illustrated).
 
Eric K. December 10, 2019
Great tips, kmb. I actually tried a batch with the granulated sugar trick, but found that there wasn't much of a difference (at least in my test). But it does sound like some people are still having issues getting the white tectonic effect to show post-bake, so hopefully your tips will help them!
 
Eric K. December 10, 2019
Yes, absolutely. That's actually added insurance for the cracks to show most clearly. You can bake them, still, at 350°F for about 20 to 25 minutes. (I'd still check at 20.)
 
Smaug December 10, 2019
Made some of these this morning-it's too early to start eating cookies, but I thought it worth pointing out to anyone wanting to try it that it takes a VERY heavy coating of conf. sugar to get this effect- some of it will be absorbed. I apparently tossed my food coloring in some forgotten pantry purge, so the visual effect was largely lost.
 
Smaug December 10, 2019
Nope- way too sweet for me, even with the sugar cut a bit. For the record, I made all but one about half size (not a fan of giant cookies)- I got one giant and 7 smaller out of half the recipe. The smaller ones cooked a couple of minutes faster; they have a higher proportion of outside to inside than the larger which I ( but not Mr. Kim, from other things he's written) prefer. I tried some without the sugar coating- they were a little smoother, and the cracks smaller. Also a bit less sweet. I think the vinegar tends to emphasize the sweetness, but an interesting touch. For a less cakey cookie, if such you desire, you might substitute cream of tartar.
 
Eric K. December 10, 2019
Love the cream of tartar tip; thanks, Smaug. I was actually waiting with bated breath today to see what you thought of the taste, and totally appreciate the feedback. I have this weird theory that the heavy cocoa in this recipe (vs. other red velvet recipes) makes the cookie taste sweeter than it is. But I won't deny that it is certainly a very sweet cookie.

I don't know if you saw my comment below, but imagine if you replaced some of the powdered sugar with buttermilk powder...? (Something I know you always have on hand.) Would that work or taste weird? Love the idea of adding tartness to this cookie, a la cream cheese frosting.

Or maybe someone can invent a desiccated cream cheese powder. Imagine that.
 
Smaug December 11, 2019
EK Sorry, but I'm the wrong one to ask about buttermilk powder; I do use it in baking, but I have a somewhat uneasy relationship with the flavor and wouldn't enjoy it as a coating. I've been messing around a bit with sherbets, and find that I prefer them with homemade buttermilk (citric acid+ milk) over cultured buttermilk. Long long ago in my college days I used to sometimes make a boxed cheesecake mix that, as I recall, came as a powder, so powdered cream cheese may bee more than a fancy of an idle moment.
 
Eric K. December 11, 2019
Citric acid is a great idea, actually. And wow, boxed cheesecake mix. That takes me back.
 
Smaug December 11, 2019
ps in a fit of -something- Googled cream cheese powder- there are indeed some available- Amazon carries some.
 
Eric K. December 11, 2019
Amazing! I see "heavy cream powder," too. Guess I have some testing to do...
 
Eric K. December 12, 2019
A pastry chef just messaged me suggesting "yogurt powder and the slightest bit of citric acid for a bit more tang, if desired." Stay tuned.
 
Pattie December 7, 2019
Overall the cookies are good. Nice texture, chewy inside and crunchy exterior. I think they are a little sweet, especially with all the powdered sugar needed to coat the balls. I would also either add more cocoa powder or use a dark cocoa powder for a more pronounced chocolate flavor.
 
Eric K. December 9, 2019
Thanks for the feedback, Pattie. I actually worried that maybe they were too chocolatey, and so all the other flavors were muted. Edd Kimber said something wonderful: What if the powdered sugar were cream cheese flavored, i.e. tart? That would balance the cookie beautifully. I may try this recipe again with buttermilk powder...

With that said, I do think reducing the sugar to 1 cup wouldn’t do any real damage to the overall cookie’s structure.
 
Lune December 5, 2019
Heartbreaks are hard. Finding happiness on your own is amazing. These cookies were intriguing me I will say that the idea of vinegar threw me off a little. When I added it, it was all I could smell (cider vinegar). I will stipulate that I used cane sugar. As soon as I added the vanilla, it made all the difference. I tasted the dough when all mixed in because, well, someone must! I am not a fan of sweets. The vinegar made sense. I made them a bit smaller for our office cookie swap and timed them at 17 minutes. I had 20 cookies (Eric, your cookies must be giant!). They have the cracks, the slight crunch crust on the outside and chocolate unctuous goodness inside without tasting very sweet which is perfect for me. I hope my sugar loving co-workers love them as much as I do! Thank you Eric for another great recipe!
 
Eric K. December 5, 2019
Lune, I'm honored (and impressed) that you've made them already! Thank you so much.
 
Linda S. December 5, 2019
The ingredients list olive oil..when is it added?
 
Linda S. December 5, 2019
Oops. Found it. Must have been reading too fast. It looks like a great recipe and I look forward to baking these.
 
Eric K. December 5, 2019
I don't blame you! It's an odd-ball ingredient in a cookie, for sure. But I found that the cracks weren't as clean until I replaced some of the butter with oil. And since I always have olive oil lying around...

Anyway, let me know how they turn out. :)