Red Velvet Cupcakes

We’re celebrating the release of COCONUT LAYER CAKE MURDER with a look back at some of our favorite Joanne Fluke recipes from the Hannah Swensen series! Tell us your favorite recipe in the comments.


By Joanne Fluke

flour in a jar
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  • 1 and 1⁄2 cups white (granulated) sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup salted butter (1 stick, 4 ounces, 1⁄4 pound) softened to room temperature
  • 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons red food color gel (if you can’t find gel, you can use liquid food coloring, but gel is best— I used Betty Crocker Classic Gel Food Colors)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 and 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour (pack it down in the cup when you measure it)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (or white vinegar if you can’t find red wine vinegar)

WARNING ABOUT FOOD COLOR GEL: Make sure you don’t buy red decorating gel instead of red food color gel. The decorating gel comes in individual tubes and is used to write on the top of cakes in various colors of gel frosting. You need to buy the concentrated food color gel that will color your cupcake batter red. If you can’t find food color gel, you can use liquid food coloring, but you’ll have to use double the amount.


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., rack in the middle position.
  • Line 24 cupcake cups with cupcake papers. (My cupcake pans hold 12 apiece so I used 2 cupcake pans. I also used double cupcake papers in each cup.)
  • Place the white sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the softened, salted butter and vegetable oil. Beat until the resulting mixture is nice and fluffy.
  • Mix in the salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa powder. Mix it in thoroughly.
  • Add the 2 teaspoons of red food color gel and the vanilla extract. Beat until the color is mixed in evenly.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Add one cup of flour to your bowl and mix it in thoroughly. Then shut off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  • Pour in a half-cup of buttermilk and mix that in thoroughly on LOW speed.
  • Add a second cup of flour to your bowl. Mix it in thoroughly and then shut off the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
  • Add the rest of the buttermilk (1⁄2 cup) to your bowl. Mix well.
  • Mix in the rest of the flour (1⁄2 cup) and mix thoroughly.
  • Mix in the red wine vinegar.
  • Shut off the mixer, remove the bowl, and give your cupcake batter a final scrape and stir with the rubber spatula.

    red cupcake
    Photo by Irina Edilbaeva on
  • The vinegar may make your batter foam up a bit. That’s perfectly all right.
  • Fill the cupcake papers 1⁄3 full of batter. (Lisa and I used a 2-Tablespoon scoop to do this at The Cookie Jar.)
  • Take the Chocolate Apricot Surprises you made out of the refrigerator. Peel them off the waxed paper one by one, and put them in the center of each cupcake. Push them down slightly, but be careful not to push them all the way to the bottom of the cupcakes!
  • Fill the cupcake papers with batter until they’re 3⁄4 full. These cupcakes don’t rise very much so you don’t have to worry about them overflowing.
  • Bake the Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 20 to 23 minutes. (Mine took 21 minutes.)
  • Take the cupcake pans out of the oven and let them cool completely on a cold stove burner or a wire rack. Do not remove the cupcakes from the pan until they are completely cool.

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcake MurderThis summer has been warmer than usual in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Hannah Swensen is trying to beat the heat both in and out of her bakery kitchen. But she’s about to find out the hard way that nothing cools off a hot summer day like cold-blooded murder…

It’s a hot, muggy evening, and the last thing Hannah wants to do is squeeze into a pair of pantyhose for the Grand Opening of the refurbished Albion Hotel. But with Hannah’s famous Red Velvet cupcakes being served in the hotel’s new Red Velvet lounge, she can’t bring herself to back out.

The party starts off with a bang with the unexpected arrival of Doctor Bev, a Lake Eden legend who left town in shame after she two-timed her fiancé one too many times. Bev’s splashy appearance on the arm of a wealthy investor is the talk of the night. But the gossip comes to a screeching halt when a partygoer takes a mysterious dive off the hotel’s rooftop garden.

The victim is the sheriff’s secretary, Barbara Donnelly, and she is barely clinging to life. The question is, did she fall—or was she pushed? As the police investigate, the only one who isn’t preoccupied with the case is Doctor Bev. She’s too busy trying to stir things up with her old flame Norman, who’s reunited with Hannah.

Just as Hannah’s patience with Bev runs dangerously thin, her rival is found dead at the bottom of Miller’s Pond. The only clue the police have is the Red Velvet cupcake Bev ate right before she died—and the tranquilizers someone seems to have baked into it. To everyone’s shock, Hannah is now the unlikely target of a murder investigation—and she’s feeling the heat in a way she never has before…