Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red velvet cake is much more than vanilla cake tinted red. This recipe produces the best red velvet cake with superior buttery, vanilla, and cocoa flavors, as well as a delicious tang from buttermilk. My trick is to whip the egg whites, which guarantees a smooth velvet crumb.

This is my forever favorite red velvet cake recipe. I published it on my blog a few years ago and decided it’s time for clearer recipe instructions and a video tutorial. Many of you love this recipe too, so let’s roll up our sleeves and rev up our mixers!

Red velvet cake is the queen of all layer cakes. The “I can’t quite put my finger on the flavor” cake. It’s the sweet marriage of buttermilk and vanilla with a little cocoa for good measure. She’s tall, dramatic, and completely covered in silky cream cheese frosting. This is my best red velvet cake.

Red velvet cake

What Does Red Velvet Cake Taste Like?

I used to be unsure about red velvet. I don’t really trust a cake that has a mystery flavor. What is red velvet? Is it vanilla, chocolate, or just a butter cake tinted red? From red velvet brownies and red velvet cookies and red velvet cupcakes, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know red velvet. Red velvet is:

  1. Mild cocoa flavor
  2. Tangy buttermilk
  3. Sweet vanilla
  4. Very buttery

These 4 flavors are essential to the perfect red velvet layer cake. Not only is the flavor outstanding, red velvet cake’s texture is worth writing home about. It’s dense and soft with a moist and velvety crumb. However, the absolute best part about red velvet cake is the cream cheese frosting. Slathered on thick, my cream cheese frosting recipe is delicately sweet and undeniably creamy.

Red velvet cake

How to Make Red Velvet Cake

I use specific ingredients, certain amounts, and unique mixing techniques to produce my best red velvet cake recipe. Begin by whisking the dry ingredients together, then beat together the wet ingredients. We’ll combine the two, add buttermilk and tint the batter red. More on food coloring below.

  1. Cake Flour: I highly recommend that you use cake flour. Cake flour is much lighter than all-purpose and the perfect base for a light, soft-crumbed cake texture. Like I mention above, red velvet’s texture is important to the authenticity of the flavor. You will thank me for the recommendation after you taste how incredibly soft this cake is! It’s the texture you find at professional bakeries. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY cake flour substitute.
  2. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder: 2 Tablespoons is plenty for a little cocoa flavor without overpowering the vanilla and butter flavors.
  3. Butter & Oil: What sets red velvet cake apart from chocolate is its buttery flavor. With only butter, we risk a dry cake. With only oil, we lose the butter flavor and softness that comes with creaming butter & sugar together. So all that’s to say, use both butter and oil. Moist texture, soft and cakey texture, buttery flavor. Boom.
  4. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is tangy, creamy, and makes baked goods extremely moist. You can’t make delicious red velvet cake without it! Additionally, buttermilk helps activate the baking soda to leaven the cake.

What About the Food Coloring?

Red velvet cake wouldn’t be red without food coloring. I recommend gel food coloring because the color is concentrated, so you need less of it. For natural coloring, use beet powder. If you don’t want to use food coloring, leave it out! The cake will have the same flavor and be a lovely shade of cocoa.

Whipped egg whites

My #1 Trick

I add one simple step to this red velvet cake recipe and it guarantees the BEST texture.

Whip the egg whites separately, then fold into the batter.

This cake recipe requires 4 large eggs. Separate the eggs before starting. Beat the egg yolks with the wet ingredients, then beat the egg whites into fluffy peaks and fold them in last. Beating the egg whites incorporates air and promises a velvet-rich texture.

You will never go back.

Red Velvet Cake Video Tutorial

Cream Cheese Frosting

In my opinion, cream cheese frosting pairs best with red velvet’s flavor and this frosting recipe is really simple. You need block-style cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, a splash of milk, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt to offset the sweetness. It glides on seamlessly and is silky smooth. If you’re looking to pipe decoration with this cream cheese frosting, chill it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. This guarantees the creamy frosting will hold its shape.

The BEST red velvet cake I've ever had!! Moist, rich, buttery, and topped with cream cheese frosting! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Red velvet cake

This recipe converts red velvet skeptics. I should know because I used to be one!

Interested in turning this red velvet beauty into a tiered wedding cake? See my homemade wedding cake for details.

More Classic Cake Recipes

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Red velvet cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Red velvet cake is much more than vanilla cake tinted red. This recipe produces the best red velvet cake with superior buttery, vanilla, and cocoa flavors, as well as a delicious tang from buttermilk. My trick is to whip the egg whites, which guarantees a smooth velvet crumb.


Ingredients

  • 3 cups (345g) cake flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 Tablespoons (10g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature and separated
  • 1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • liquid or gel red food coloring
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, at room temperature

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 16 ounces (450g) full-fat block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) heavy cream or milk
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the oil, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and vinegar and beat on high for 2 minutes. (Set the egg whites aside.) Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 2-3 additions alternating with the buttermilk. Beat in your desired amount of food coloring just until combined. I use 1-2 teaspoons gel food coloring. Vigorously whisk or beat the 4 egg whites on high speed until fluffy peaks form as pictured above, about 3 minutes. Gently fold into cake batter. The batter will be silky and slightly thick.
  5. Divide batter between cake pans. Bake for 30-32 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If the cakes need a little longer as determined by wet crumbs on the toothpick, bake for longer. However, careful not to overbake as the cakes may dry out. Remove cakes from the oven and cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  6. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, cream/milk, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until completely combined and creamy. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. Frosting should be soft, but not runny.
  7. Assemble and frost: Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard or crumble over finished cake. Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer and spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I always use an icing spatula and bench scraper for the frosting. I used Wilton piping tip #12 for decoration around the top.
  8. Refrigerate cake for at least 30-60 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  9. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for 5 days. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 10 minutes before assembling and frosting.
  2. Cake Flour: For best texture and taste, I strongly recommend cake flour. You can find it in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY cake flour substitute.
  3. Vinegar: The vinegar helps brighten the red color. Don’t get scared, a touch of vinegar is normal in red velvet desserts! You can’t taste it.
  4. Why is everything at room temperature? When everything is near the same temperature, they mix together easily, evenly, and produce a uniform texture. It’s important!
  5. Food Coloring: The amount of red food coloring is up to you. I tested with varying amounts. To get the dark red color you see here, use about 2-3 Tablespoons of liquid food coloring or 2 teaspoons gel food coloring. Dye the batter until you are pleased with the color. Use beet powder for a natural alternative or leave the food coloring out completely.
  6. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a key ingredient and flavor in this recipe. Use low fat or full fat. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own sour milk. To do so, add 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar to a liquid measuring cup. Add enough regular milk (whole milk is best) to make 1 cup. Stir the two together and let sit for 5 minutes before using.
  7. Sheet Cake: This batter fits nicely into a 9×13 inch cake pan or 12×17 inch sheet pan. Same oven temperature. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or 20-25 minutes, respectively. Keep your eye on the cake and use a toothpick to test for doneness.
  8. 3 Layer Cake: Divide the batter between 3 9-inch cake pans. Bake for about 22-25 minutes.
  9. Bundt Cake: This cake batter fits into a 10-cup or larger bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.

Recipe originally published on Sally’s Baking Addiction in 2015

Need something smaller? Here are my red velvet cupcakes!

I love this Red Velvet Layer Cake recipe! Learn exactly how to make it on sallysbakingaddiction.com
I love this Red Velvet Layer Cake recipe! Learn exactly how to make it on sallysbakingaddiction.com

956 Comments

  1. Good flavor but very dry which I’m guessing is from the egg white. I baked it for a customer. I had to use a soaking syrup. They loved the cake but if it wasn’t for the syrup things may not have turned out so well. I’m wondering if the addition of sour cream to the batter would help? I would love your thoughts on this.

    1. Hi Lisa, You are still using the egg yolks in step 3. The yolks combined with the oil should keep this cake very moist! If you try it again, you can bake it for a few minutes less if you think it dried out from being over-baked.

    2. I have had the same issue with dryness when I make this, even when I pull it out of the oven a little early. Nice texture, though.

  2. Hey Sally I love this cake and is my go-to red velvet recipe. My only issue is with the cream cheese frosting for some reason the block style cream cheese doesn’t seem to exist in the UK and everytime I use normal Philadelphia or non branded stuff it ends up very runny. Any ideas on how to solve this? I have found this post which suggests replacing half the cream cheese with butter but will that work, I’ve also considered adding mascarpone but I’m worried what this would do?

    1. Hi Grant, I’m so glad you enjoy this cake recipe! From what I understand, spreadable cream cheese sold in a tub in countries outside of the US is a little different from the spreadable cream cheese in the US. It’s thicker, sturdier, and more solid and should be OK to make frosting. I have no experience with it, but this is what I’ve heard from other non-US readers.

      1. Hi Grant. I have the same problem here in Germany. The frosting made with Philadelphia is quite runny. The only creme cheese available in blocks is Kiri. This one should be available in the UK too. It is not as good as the block creme cheese in the USA but better than the other products. It also helps a bit to use 250g of Mascarpone instead of creme cheese and it is important to put the mixture back in the fridge for about 20 minutes before applying it to the cake.

  3. Hi Sally! You are the best and this recipe is incredible! I have one problem I’m struggling with…icing a cake. I’m so bad at it. I try to put the icing on and crumbs go everywhere or I can’t get the crumb layer right. I have no idea what I’m doing here. It’s comical. Everything tastes great but it’s so messed up. Any links/ blogs/videos that you have to help me??
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Cherie, I’m so glad you enjoy this recipe! You can watch me frost this cake in the video above, starting around the two and a half minute mark. You can also watch me frost my Naked Cake which is exactly how you would do a crumb coat.

  4. I want to make these into cake pops! Do you think I should halve the amount of frosting? I am using your vanilla cake pop recipe as a guideline. Thanks!

      1. I baked this cake on a whim last night and I am SO glad I did. I baked it in a Bundt pan because I’m lazy and didn’t want to deal with frosting all those layers. I also used pink gel coloring because it turns out I don’t have any red (oops) It took about 55 minutes and came out perfect! I drizzled it with a cream cheese glaze, and couldn’t stop myself from eating two slices for breakfast perfectly velvety and flavorful. This cake puts store bought red velvet to shame.

    1. Hi Stefanie, I wish I could help, but I have no experience baking at high altitude. I know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  5. I normally love all the recipes I’ve had from Sally’s website. They are always my go to. For some reason this one tasted a little sour. I’m guessing it is the buttermilk? The texture was great..did anyone else have this problem? Did I mess something along the way? I LOVED the strawberry cake recipe that was very similar to this.

  6. Hi Sally, I tried your cake receipe thrice and it turned out good. If I were to convert this receipe to Swiss rolls, how would the measurement work? Thanks in advance

  7. Hi Sally! I just baked this cake into three 8 inch layers and popped them in the freezer to be frosted later in the weekend. From the crumbs I tasted, this cake is super moist and delish! I noticed several comments from bakers ending up with a dry cake. I think that may be due to a couple discrepancies in the recipe. The first is that it calls for 1 cup or 240 grams of oil. However, one cup of oil is approximately 215-220 grams. If you intended it to be 240 grams, those using a measuring cup are missing approximately 1.5 tablespoons of oil, which could contribute to a drier cake. (I weigh my ingredients, so I went with 240 grams since people were commenting about having a dry cake.) The other issue may be the term “fluffy peaks” for the egg whites. I do not know what that means. I assumed you meant “soft peaks”, which is what I did. I suspect that some people may be over beating their whites to stiff peaks, which would likely result in a drier cake. I hope this helps other bakers. I can’t wait to frost this puppy in a few days and go to town on it!

  8. Just made this for the first time. Nice and fluffy, but not very sweet and sort of lacked a defined flavor for me. Followed the recipe exactly except didnt add enough red foox coloring.

  9. Thanks for sharing this recipe, Sally. I’m going to give it a go as I had given up after a few attempts a few years ago!! The colour was a problem even though I used beetroot. I’m going to try the gel colouring this time, fingers crossed it’ll work!
    Cheers

  10. Hello,

    I’m baking this cake now, and it is no where near cooked after 32 minutes. I’ve already added an extra 12 minutes. Praying for a miracle!

  11. The cake was DELICIOUS, with a soft, just right crumb. I did add a third tablespoon of (dark) cocoa powder. Yum! It was perfect.

  12. Hi, made this for work colleagues for valentine’s Day. They have already requested another. Fantastic recipe and instructions. Thanks, Carl

  13. Sadly, mine came out a bit dry as well. Could it be because I used powdered buttermilk mixed with water instead of the real stuff? I beat the egg whites for 3 minutes as instructed. I took the cake out at the recommended time, but the center collapsed a little, so I baked it for another 3 minutes. Good flavor though.

  14. Thank you for this recipe! I made this for my soon to be husband and he said, “Best Valentines Day ever” after he took his first bite! The cake was moist, and the frosting was amazing! I don’t even like cream cheese frosting, but now I can make the very best kind. Everyone in our house was melting with every bite. You’re awesome, Sally! Thank you for helping us shine on Valentines Day.

  15. Hi. Sally. I am new to the baking world and have tried to bake from scratch only a couple of times and failed. This cake cake out GREAT. The texture was perfect and moist. I used Philadelphia cream cheese as some others and found it was runny as well. I think I needed a little more depth in the taste so I will probably use a little more Coco powder. Also, I had no unsalted butter so I just used my regular butter. What is the difference in the cake with the butter? THANK YOU ALOT FOR THIS RECIPE!!

  16. Absolutely love this recipe!
    I’m not a baking expert and only occasionally make a cake and this turned out beautifully! I’m going to use your tip of beating whites separately for every cake from now on. Thank you for sharing!

    Just curious – how much colouring do you use? My cake is gorgeous but I used more than half the bottle I think . Don’t think I’ve ever used that much food colouring in one recipe ever lol

  17. I tried this for the first time last night and although my silly self forgot to add the vanilla (LOL), it was still good. Even without the vanilla, it still had flavor. I didn’t even realize I forgot it until I was putting everything away. I panicked, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. This was my first time separating the egg whites and folding them in. This cake was light, fluffy and moist. I will definitely try this with my vanilla cake to see if that helps because they always come out dense and dry to me. Thanks!!

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