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!

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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

806 Comments

  1. Delicious recipe! I didnt have to make any adjustments for high altitude, I live in Denver and a lot of cake recipes dip on me. I also made this a second time with Colorado style infused butter and it came out perfect!

  2. Hi… im all the way from maldives… wanted to ask u something… if i am using a substitute for butter milk, doni have to put vinegar in the batter too??? Bcox ur buttermilk substitute recipe says to add white vinegar and ur using vinegar in the batter too… really need ur advice on this as this is my first time trying red velvet!!!

      1. Tried it… i tastes so good❤️ Loved it ❤️ Im gonna try ur other recipes now ❤️

  3. Have you tried this recipe in a bundt pan? I find they make for very pretty cakes for the novice decorator, but don’t know if this cake would be too moist and crumbly to come out right in a bundt pan?

    1. Hi Dana, 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.

  4. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe for my son’s birthday. Is it possible to make the cake ahead and freeze it before thawing and frosting it on the day we’re eating it? We’ll be traveling and I’d rather make the cake at home before leaving town.

      1. Thanks for the link! I never thought of using press and seal wrap! Looking forward to trying your recipe

  5. I have made these and is a hit !l as all of your recipes of course . Can I make cup cakes with these recipe ?? And if so how many and how long should I bake for ?
    Thanks

    1. I’m thrilled it was a hit! You can bake this as 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.
      Or if you need a smaller amount you can use my recipe for red velvet cupcakes: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/red-velvet-cupcakes/

  6. My family really enjoyed the cake I made yesterday for my daughter’s 18th birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever make a cake again without whipping up and the folding in the egg whites. One thing I will change is next time adding in 1-2 tablespoons more of cocoa powder. There was hardly a
    Chocolate taste—it just needed a tiny bit more. It’s subtle and may just be a family preference. I did see that most other recipes called for 5 tablespoons, which I think could be too much. The icing was perfect! We’re not big “sweet” people and it was just the leerfegtet balance.

  7. I’m making this cake in honor of a soul that’s no longer with us and her husband is celebrating his 93 birthday. As his caregiver this is my gift and bless his heart he ask me to make this kind of cake. So wish me luck and I’ll let you know how it goes!

      1. This recipe was right on the money. With a table full of country cooks, it was a great success. Thank you for sharing. My clients loved it. Said it reminded him of his wife’s cake. It was so creamy moist and delicious. I am now making one for my husband for thanksgiving. He said it was out of this world. I wouldn’t change a thing. Can’t wait to try another cake recipe from your cakes. Thank you!

  8. Hi Suzie, I’d love to help since I adore this recipe! Did you make any ingredient substitutions or alter the recipe or bake time in any way?

  9. This is a winner. I made this for my boy’s eighth month birthday. everyone loved it. Now I am searching what to make for his next month birthday. Sally, any suggestions.

  10. Hi Sally,

    Love your recipes. I don’t have those pans you talked about. Can I make it in a regular springform pan? How should I adjust the baking time? I can cut the cake in half horizontally and put the icing between

  11. The cake part turned out perfect. However, I chilled my crumbed cake is there are lumps in my frosting. The lumps are translucent. I was going to frost with remained of frosting anyhow and there are lumps (not as many) in there. Help!!

    1. Are they lumps of cream cheese not incorporated? I don’t know why the lumps wouldn’t be red from the crumbs on the cake. I’m glad you enjoy this recipe!

  12. This is my first time trying your recipe, and boy did I not regret it! It was the best red velvet cake I’ve ever tasted-MOIST and yummy! I’ve tried making red velvet cake using a recipe from a well known baking site before, however it didn’t turn out good. Thank you so much, Sally! I am planning to open a cafe soon, and this is definitely going to be on the menu! The only modifications I did was adding half a tablespoon extra cocoa powder, and using your other cream cheese frosting recipe, as I made this into a sheet cake. It turned out beautiful, and all my friends and family loved it. I love the idea of using both Butter and oil, and also beating the egg whites separately. You definitely earn yourself another fan! Thank you again <3 love from Malaysia!

  13. This is truly the most beautiful red velvet cake!!! I do a lot of baking and have tried and tested soo many red velvet cakes and honestly none have ever come close to this one! It has the most delicate vanilla and chocolate flavour without over powering each other. It is soft, fluffy and a beautiful crumb! I love it !!!!

    1. Yes, you can use two 8-inch pans. Your cakes will be a bit taller than mine so your bake time might be a minute or two longer.

  14. After all the amazing reviews, I am very excited to try making this cake but have a question about food colouring. I want a nice vibrant red colour and so after much research, I’ve decided gel food colouring is the way to go. I’ve found Wilton brand at a store nearby with 2 red gel options – “Red” and “Red (no taste)”. I didn’t even know food colouring had a taste haha! Which one should I use for this cake?

    1. Hi Nina! My favorite is Americolor “Super Red” gel food coloring. I think either one of the options you found, though, would be fine.

  15. Hi Sally,

    My cake came out really uncooked in the middle. I followed the recipe, but used pastry flour instead of cake flour. Do you think that could be why the middle is so uncooked while the edges are cooked? I also used 8 inch round baking pans and cooked for roughly 35 minutes. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. Hi Emily! If the cakes are still batter in the center, they need more time in the oven. The flour wouldn’t have caused the issue. Bake until the cakes are cooked through and use a toothpick to test doneness. 8-inch round cakes will be thicker and require more time than 9-inch cakes.

  16. Hi Sally,

    I’ve made this cake before and it’s been a huge success! I’m making this for a friends birthday but making a 7inch cake. How many layers will I be able to get out of this recipe For 7inches? And how long should they bake for?(I want a tall cake as I am going to decorate with a drip effect)

    1. Hi Sanj, I have never tested this recipe in a 7 inch pan. Wilton has a pretty good chart that should give you an idea of how much batter you will need and the bake times: https://www.wilton.com/cake-serving-guide/cms-baking-serving-guide.html

    1. Hi Tammy, I have heard from so many readers who have used this as a wedding cake! Cream cheese frosting should always be refrigerated but it should be ok to leave out for a bit to display it before it’s cut.

  17. Sally I’m just not getting any lift in the cake. Flavor is great, way better than the box cakes I used to use, but I think that the baking soda reacts too quickly by the time I’m done folding in the egg whites. Would 1:1 substitute of double acting baking soda work?

    1. Hi Bryan, do you mean double acting baking powder? I recommend sticking with the recipe and making sure that your baking soda is active. For extra lift, you can try supplementing the baking soda with 1 teaspoon of baking powder, too.

  18. I’ve made this recipe for only God knows how many times. Layer cakes, cupcakes, sheet cakes. It’s a very versatile cake and you can never go back after finding this recipe. Thank you so much for this.

  19. Tasted perfect. So, so fluffy! 2.5 in tall at center. Compliments on the frosting “not too cream-cheesey, great balance.” I followed as written using the “sheet cake” noted option: only one layer, 9×13 pyrex pan (buttered, parchment paper on bottom, buttered again, then floured), decreased heat to 325 F per the internet telling me to. Had to add foil cover after 40 min with top a little brown and needed 10 min more of bake time. Maybe will do two layers next time since so puffed!

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