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

554 Comments

  1. If I’m using the cake flour do I have to sift it then measure? Sorry I’m new to this and want to make it for my daughter’s birthday party this weekend.
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Great question Elizabeth. For this red velvet cake recipe, I do NOT sift the cake flour before using in the recipe.

  2. This frosting will not hold its shape as rosettes for a long period of time. I suggest this vanilla frosting: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2013/04/20/very-vanilla-cupcakes/

  3. Was asked to make a RV cake for a church function, I want to make this as a sheet cake, could you give me the measurements of cake pan I would need?

    1. I would use a 12×17 half sheet pan. Unsure of the bake time.

      1. Oh. My. Gosh came out fantastic! 3 ppl came up to me at church today and asked if I would bake them THAT cake for their birthday. Thank you Jesus for leading me to your blog! Up until then I had given up on ever trying to make a RV cake….absolutely a keeper!

  4. Natalie Abouzaki says:

    Hi Sally, the cake looks amazing, and want to make it this week for my husbands birthday. I just have a question, I am planning on covering the cake with fondant, can I do that with this icing ? Thanks

    1. Hi Natalie. No, I do not suggest it with this cream cheese frosting. It isn’t sturdy enough.

  5. Hi Sally,

    This is the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had. Thank you for the detailed instructions. It really helped this newbie baker. I used cake flour per your suggestion and the cake was so soft and fluffy. I also loved the frosting recipe. It was so creamy! My husband took the leftovers to work and he said it was gone before lunchtime. Thank you!

    Miranda

  6. I really love this recipe so thank you for sharing. Do you think the cake recipe would work for mocha, replacing 1tbsp of cocoa with coffee?

    1. You could use 1 Tablespoon of instant coffee instead of cocoa. I’ve never tried it this way though. Let me know how it goes.

  7. Ayesha Jhumka says:

    OMG Sally!! it’s the first red velvet cake i’ve had that tastes divine without the cream!!! Really moist and buttery!! I’m supposed to be on a diet but I just couldnt resist a huge piece of this cake 😛 Thanks soooo much for this recipe. Im eager to try your other recipes soon..Looks like you’re a choc and mint lover! CHEERS!

  8. This morning I made this cake. Let me just say it’s by far the BEST red velvet recipe I’ve ever made. The texture is perfect! I will add this recipe to my personal handwritten recipe box. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe and even sharing your tips!

  9. Delicious! So light and tasty. I looked at a lot of recipes and decided with some trepidation on this one. So glad I did! Like some others in the uk, couldn’t use cake flour so just used plain with some cornflour.

    Only made 3/4 of the cake recipe and half the icing and found it ample.

  10. Thanks a million for this recipe. Couldn’t stop making red velvet since I discovered it. Made already 4 times in less than a week. Your recipe is simple easy to find ingredients and yummy. I love you. 

  11. Jenny Martinez says:

    This cake is the best red velvet I have ever tasted let alone made. Adding it my list of favorite recipes ever. Adore it. Great job with butter and oil. Absolutely the best combination.

  12. I’m going to try your cake this weekend for my son & daughter-in-law’s 5th anniversary. Their favorite cake! Did you use no-taste liquid red food coloring or just the standard red liquid from the grocery store? If so, any aftertaste? Thanks.  

    1. Just the standard– no aftertaste detected. You can use any brand you prefer.

  13. Enid McKitrick says:

    I made this cake yesterday and I’m amazed at how good it is. As a chocolate lover I wondered how a cake with only 2 tablespoons of cocoa could be delicious, but it is! The texture is the most impressive, though – soft and tender and moist. The frosting is delicious too, though I don’t think it needs the cream. Mine wasn’t quite as stiff as I like it and even with more powdered sugar added it didn’t stiffen up. But all in all a huge success!

  14. Hey Sally!
    I made this recipe for the Fourth of July and I absolutely loved it. I am constantly browsing your website for new recipes and ideas. Thank you for putting so much time and effort into your posts I truly appreciate it. 

  15. Hi Sally! I had a friend ask me to make her wedding cake. She wants red velvet cake for the flavor but does not want the dye. Will excluding the dye from this recipe negatively effect the finished product (aside from color)? Thanks! 🙂

    1. You can most definitely leave out the coloring.

  16. Hi Sally, I have tried a few of your recipes and I love coming on your site and trying new things. I just made the red velvet cake over the weekend for a babyshower and it was a total hit. I read all your instructions carefully and followed all directions and it turned out perfect!!! Thank you so much!!!

  17. Hi Sally! I was planning on making this cake this weekend and I made your super moist carrot cake in the past (which was absolutely incredible!) in which I used the 9 inch springform pan. Would two of those pans work with this recipe as well? I wasn’t sure if they were comparable to the 9 by 2 deep dish pans you suggest here. Thank you! 

    1. 2 9-inch springform pans work!

  18. I made this cake and it was perfect. I had a go- to red velvet recipe that I had used for years but I’ll never make another one. This was so light, airy and moist all at the same time. I even tried cupcakes using this exact same recipe because I noticed that Sally’s red velvet cupcake recipe was a bit different. The cupcakes turned out perfect. They’re so addicting.
    Perfection!!!! My hats off to Sally for this GREAT recipe!!

  19. Hi Sally, 🙂

    i used this Gorgeous red velvet cake recipe of yours for a birthday party and it was a super duper hit. Everyone just loved it to bits, and the birthday girl actually hid the rest of it since she didn’t want to share it with anyone. lol… thank you so much, really.  🙂 

    BIG HUG
    Aarti 

  20. Lisa Campbell says:

    Thank you for this great recipe! I’ve tried many but this is my favorite! I’m on my 3rd batch today – for a wedding cake. So happy to find this!

  21. Hi, the cake was really lovely, however did not come out red….disappointed with that. Can you advise which make food colouring are you using for best red colour. Thank you

  22. Hi Sally, your red velvet cake is very popular with my family.  It is always requested whenever a family member’s birthday comes around.  I have 12 grandchildren.  So, you can just imagine how many times your red velvet cake is baked in a year.  And, that’s discounting Christmas, Thanksgiving and other celebrations.  That’s how delish your r.v. cake.  Thank you so much for sharing your recipe.  

  23. I made this cake over the weekend for a birthday celebration and it was a hit!!!!  I love working with your recipes. I always direct them to your website for the fabulous recipes. Thank you!

  24. I made this cake for my supper club. It was a big hit & every one had to take an extra piece home with them.  I appreciate all the extra notes you included in the recipe, they were very helpful.

  25. I bake a lot. I’ve tried many red velvet recipes. None of them have turned out as well as this recipe. It was the most moist, tender, melt-in-your-mouth red velvet I’ve ever had. I used up all my red color and it wasn’t quite the red I wanted. Stores were closed, so I had to think of something fast. I added some burgundy color in and it gave it such a depth of red. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  26. This is my favorite red velvet recipe. Always turns out amazing! My family loves it. Thanks Sally!

  27. Sally’s recipes never disappoint. This red velvet cake is stellar!

  28. I have never made a Sally’s Recipe that wasn’t delicious! Her site is my go to for all things sweet. Love this!!

  29. Hands down the best Red Velvet cake I’ve ever had. It’s the perfect blend of cocoa and vanilla, and the cream cheese frosting is delicious!

  30. I made this for my friend’s niece’s birthday who loved it! All her friends and family gave it rave reviews. I tasted the scraps from leveling the cake layers and they were SO moist!

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