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

697 Comments

  1. WHAT A SHOWSTOPPER!!!!! (total hit material right here! wow…!!!!)

    All the baking details are so nice to read and I found myself nodding along. And wishing I could lick the frosting bowl and have a huge slice of this beautiful cake!

  2. The layers of the cake are so boldly red and beautiful, I love it! Now I just have to decide whether to make this whole cake or your red velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s Day! The new red velvet oreos have left me craving something that actually tastes like red velvet and cream cheese frosting–I think I’ve found it 🙂

      1. Butting in to say that YES the red velvet Oreos are awesome! I got some this weekend and I’m too embarrassed to admit how many I ate. I brought them to work today to make coworkers eat the rest because I cannot control myself.

  3. This cake has a super ‘WOW’ factor! I can’t think of a better way to say – ‘I love you’ – to my hubby and our 3 children than putting this beautiful cake in the middle of the table!
    I love the way you’ve used cake crumbs to decorate the edge of the frosting.
    I recently used buttermilk in a Nutella and Hazelnut Covered Chocolate Marble Cake. The addition of buttermilk turned the batter into a mousse like consistency and the finished cake was soooo light.
    Can’t wait to give this a try . Thanks for posting. Sammie 🙂

  4. I love using the leveled-off cake to garnish the outside with crumbs! Makes it look so pretty. Also, clues you into the gorgeousness on the inside.
    As a red velvet convert (I didn’t care for it much for the longest time), this looks like it was done right! I’m very eager to try it your way!

  5. This cake is beyond gorgeous…that frosting and the crumbs love it.. I wish someone would make me this cake for any occasion. I love all the details you give in how it’s made that is so important to many of us who don’t bake as often as you.

  6. SUCH a pretty cake, Sally!!! Kevin is such a lucky guy. I love those little “XO” plates. I’ve been P-interesting those like crazy lately using a sharpie with ceramic mugs.

    And I totally agree with thick layers versus thin. If you do a three tier cake, the icing layers seem to be thinner in-between, so I like two + a thick layer of frosting. MM-mm!

  7. This cake looks incredible! Red velvet is my favourite cake flavour but I’ve actually never made an entire red velvet cake myself. There are so many recipes out there to choose from but when I get around to it, I’ll definitely be trying yours 🙂 In my experience, your recipes are always the best!

  8. Can you believe I’ve never EVER made red velvet cake? I always end up with chocolate because I just can’t resist. I suppose I should make both on the same day so I can have my cake and eat too. 🙂

    Looks amazing. Pinned.

    Happy MOnday Sally!

  9. I’d like to know if this recipe can be transferred to a 9×13 pan?
    If so, what would the change be for baking time?
    PS. Love, love, love to bake and follow your site daily. My old oven broke…YAY and now own a brand new gas range/oven. Woo Hoo.!!
    When it comes to baking, would you advise using the convection mode or the regular bake cycle.?
    Something I have always wondered about. Which mode gives the best results….especially for a cake/muffins/quick bread.
    Thank you.

    1. I believe this recipe will fit into a 9×13 pan but I am unsure of the bake time because this is the only way I make it. I have a conventional oven, but convections work for my recipes as long as you slightly reduce the oven temperature and alter the bake time as needed. It varies with ovens/recipes.

  10. Looks amazing! I’m so excited to make this and I loved reading about the science behind the baking. I reference the book “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” all the time to find out awesome tidbits : )

  11. I think Red Velvet Cake looks really prettty but I can’t get past the copious amounts of artificial food coloring. Years ago I looked up “artificial food coloring” and found out it is made from coal tar. There are so many other options for cake that I just stay away from Red Velvet.
    Your Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake is looking really good for Valentines Day.

    1. Thanks Karen. I’ve hesitated posting a red velvet layer cake recipe for this very reason. If you’d ever like to try it, you may leave out the food coloring entirely since it is really just for looks. That lemon blueberry layer cake is a great option too.

    2. I will be attempting this recipe with natural food dye. (Super pricey) In search of a recipe I discovered that many people use a 1/4 cup beet juice as a substitute…

  12. Dear Sally,
    I´m surely going to bake this cake on the weekend 🙂 I have never tried red velvet before but this cake looks so amazing and mouth watering that I´m sure it´s a perfect start.
    My friend asked me though to put some of the dough aside and mix it with the liquorice powder (he´s kind of addicted to it I suppose 😉 ). As I myself really do not like the taste of it, am not really sure how it would match the cake flavour. Do You think I should just mix a little bit of it in or rather add it instead of cocoa powder? Any suggestions?
    Thank You!

  13. I know I’m weird, but I hate chocolate!!! All I can ever taste in red velvet things is the cocoa. However, I love cake. I’ve always wondered if I could make red velvet and leave out the cocoa (I know it won’t technically be a red velvet cake anymore)? Would that alter the cake??

    1. You can definitely leave out the cocoa, Chrissy. And it’s not weird at all that you don’t like chocolate. I prefer fruity desserts over chocolate desserts anyway. Though… I still love chocolate too haha

  14. Can’t wait to try this. My son is getting married and he wants red velvet cake. So I think I’ll try your recipe. Thank you for all the details !

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