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.

sliced red velvet layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

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.

slice of red velvet cake on a black plate

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 layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

slice of red velvet cake on a white plate

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 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.
  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.
  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 in a glass bowl

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.

red velvet layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

Slices of red velvet cake on white plates

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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slice of red velvet cake on a white plate

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 (354g) 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
  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 5 and 1/2 cups (660g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 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, 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 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 2 teaspoons of gel food coloring. You could use liquid food coloring too, but gel food coloring is more potent. You’ll need at least 1 Tablespoon of liquid. Dye the batter until you are pleased with the color. Use beet powder for a natural alternative (mix it with 2 teaspoons of water before adding) or leave the food coloring out completely.
  6. Buttermilk: Buttermilk is a key ingredient and flavor in this recipe. You can use low fat or full fat. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own sour milk. To do so, add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons 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, then let it 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.
  10. Cupcakes: You can use this cake batter for 2-3 dozen cupcakes. Fill cupcake liners 1/2 – 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 20-21 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes spring back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Use my red velvet cupcakes recipe if you need fewer.

Recipe originally published on Sally’s Baking Addiction in 2015

Need something smaller? Here are my red velvet cupcakes!

red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

1024 Comments

  1. Hi, is it possible to do this recipe without chocolate? Kind of like making a vanilla red velvet cake?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Delores, a mild cocoa flavor is a key element in red velvet’s signature flavor, so we don’t recommend leaving it out. You could however make a vanilla cake and use gel food coloring to tint the batter red as desired.

    2. Hi how do adjust the recipe to 6″ pan. Thank you.

      1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Jacq, you can use our handy Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions guide to scale this recipe down — or, simply use our Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe instead, which yields the perfect amount for a 3 layer, 6 inch cake.

  2. Hi Sally!

    I only have a 8 inch round pan, how would you recommend to adjust or should I just get a 9 inch pan instead?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Baun, you can use your 8 inch pan to make three layers of this cake. (If you only have one pan, no worries — simply bake one at a time and leave the leftover batter covered at room temperature). Bake for about 22-25 minutes. Happy baking!

  3. Marguerite says:

    Hi Sally, I’m interested in making a blue velvet cake. Could I use this recipe and simply swap out the red gel food coloring for blue? Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Marguerite, you sure can. Many readers have had success making green, blue, and purple versions of this cake. See recipe notes for details on the best kinds / amounts of food coloring to use. Have fun!

  4. Hi sally!
    I alredy baked this cake 10 times
    And it keep sinking in the midle i use your sustitute cake flour recipe
    Any suggestions?!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Luza! A little sinking is normal, but it’s possible the cake needs an extra minute or so in the oven to bake through. Do you use a toothpick to test for doneness?

  5. Hi Sally!
    I want to make and decorate this cake for a birthday party on Saturday. The cake will be 6 layers and I wondered if I could make the cake a couple of days ahead and if I should freeze the layers until i am ready to assemble and decorate.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jill! Yes, that’s the best way to make cake layers ahead of time. Here’s our guide to freezing cake layers!

  6. Hi do you think I could make this cake eggless for someone with an egg allergy?

  7. Hi Sally, without any white vinegar will it really affect the cake? Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

  8. Hi Sally! I’m making this cake for my son’s first birthday. Could I use melted coconut oil instead of vegetable/canola? For health reasons. Thank you and LOVE your blog!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cristina, you can, but the taste may be slightly different. Hope the cake is a hit!

  9. Hi Sally
    This was an absolute hit at my place! Everyone raved about it! However it’s quite a big cake for a small party!
    Can I halve this recipe and bake in one 8 inch pan? And then perhaps cut it into two layers? How much of a height would that give me roughly?
    Also, what if I was to split the halved cake batter into two pans of 8″? How much do I reduce the baking time by?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Suzy, that should work to halve this recipe and use an 8 inch pan. The bake time may be slightly longer, because your cake will be thicker. It may be difficult to cut the cake into two layers, so you could do two very thin separate layers (bake time will be shorter). Or, you can use our red velvet cupcakes recipe which yields less batter (the perfect amount for 3, 6 inch cake layers). Our cake pan sizes and conversions guide may also be helpful to you, too!

  10. Hi, I absolutely love your recipes! I have a question about decorating this cake. Is the frosting sturdy enough to pipe and decorate similar to your 6 Inch Birthday Cake with Easy Buttercream Flowers design? For a birthday, I was thinking of doing a pink velvet cake and piping flowers like you with the Easy Buttercream Flowers. Also, will I need to scale up the frosting for that?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sabrina! You can pipe with cream cheese frosting, but for designs as intricate as yours, we recommend using traditional vanilla buttercream instead — you can use the proportions from our favorite white cake to ensure you have enough to fill and cover the cake, and then 1.5x or 2x it to ensure you have enough for all the piping. Hope this helps!

  11. Lucia Snyderman says:

    Hi! I love this cake – just made it for myself for my birthday! I just have one question – I used white vinegar and put in many drops of red food coloring, but mine still turned out brown. How do you make it red?
    Thanks -Lucia

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lucia, were you using liquid or gel food coloring? For the most vibrant results, we recommend using gel food coloring (we use two full teaspoons to get the red color seen in the photos). We hope you enjoy the birthday cake — happy birthday to you!

  12. Lucia, Can you use Red Velvet Emulsion instead of food coloring and if so how much would you use? Excited to try this recipe, I have been looking for a red velvet recipe that isn’t dense and this will be the first time I beat my egg whites separately.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Vickie, you can, but keep in mind that emulsions tend to have a very strong flavoring to them as well, which could significantly alter the taste of the cake. If you do decide to try, we’d start very small (perhaps 1/4 teaspoon or so, and then increase as desired). For best results, though, we’d recommend sticking with food coloring so as not to alter the taste. Let us know what you try!

  13. Hi, May I know why you using oil and butter together instead of butter ???

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Marie! Great question. 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. Using both ensures a moist texture, soft and cakey texture, and buttery flavor — all key to that signature red velvet taste.

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