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 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 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 (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
  • 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 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. 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

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

966 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Hi, Sally I have tried the red velvet cake, it was delicous . the fact is that it is very difficult to have butter milk in my country, Can you tell me with what product can I replace it in this recipe, please.

    1. Thank you Sally for taking your precious time to answer me. It was very helpful to me.

  2. Hi Sally, can I use this recipe for cupcakes also?…Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Marsha! Sure can. I also have my red velvet cupcakes recipe too.

      1. Thank you, I will check it out 🙂

  3. Hi Sally,

    I want to use this recipe, as it looks amazing. However, I have alot of 18.25 oz boxes of vanilla cake mix, can I just add the cocoa to the cake mix and substitute that for the dry ingredients? Or will I need to adjust the amounts of each ingredient?

    1. I’ve never tried to alter box cake mix like that. I would assume that the ratio of ingredients are not the same so I recommend making this particular recipe from scratch!

  4. I used this recipe for a Red Velvet Cake and a Blue Velvet Cake at work! I run teams named after colors so I have a Red Team and a Blue Team. They were a huge hit!

  5. Hi sally i have to make a 10 inch layer for my daughters wedding can i use this recipe for a 3inch deep 10 inch pan please

    1. Is it just a 1 layer 10 inch cake? You can use this recipe for a 2 layer 10-inch cake. The layers will be a little thinner.

  6. I made this recipe and was wondering if you can leave the frosting mix and the cake
    (once cooled) in the refrigerator over night to decorate the next morning?

    1. Hi Krystel! I recommend keeping the baked and cooled cakes covered at room temperature overnight. Cakes dry out quicker when refrigerated.

  7. Pastry_rebel says:

    I just tried this recipe last night and it came out great! The cake had a good flavor and was very moist. I actually doubled the recipe so I was able to make 3 round layers and one whole sheet cake. Will be keeping this.

    1. I’m thrilled you enjoyed this recipe! Thanks for sharing your positive feedback 🙂

  8. Lora Dormady says:

    I have buttermilk powder available. Could I use it and regular milk or should I use the lemon juice or vinegar option?

    1. Hi Lora! You can use the buttermilk powder. Follow the instructions on the container. No need to add the lemon juice or vinegar.

    2. I Want to try this recipe tomorrow. Can I add coffe to enhance the chocolate flavour if so how much?
      Thank you.

  9. Absolutely delicious and moist.
    I am not a big red velvet cake fan.
    I always thought red velvet was overrated, but I needed to have a red or pink cake for an event and chose red velvet as a result.
    It was good! It’s still not my favorite flavor, but I really liked the cake.
    It was very moist which is opposite of some of the red velvet cakes I’ve eaten in the past. The flavor was great as well.
    I especially loved that it was not too sweet. You could taste the butter. Yum!
    I could see adding extra cocoa if I make the recipe again.

    1. Thank you so much for your positive feedback, Sandi! Thrilled you enjoyed this recipe 🙂

  10. Barbara Ketner says:

    Hope I can get a quick reply to my question, as I am making the red velvet cake right now! I have put in 2-1/2 teaspoons of gel red food coloring and so far, it is a rust or brownish yellowish color. Do I need to keep adding more until I get the red color I want, or will it get darker as it sits?

    1. Hi Barbara! The cake bakes up to be a darker color. Tint the batter until it looks red. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a dark red. What brand of food coloring are you using? I purchase a color called Super Red.

  11. pat porter says:

    Im making this for a wedding, it will be 10 8 and 6 inch teird cake, can i make them ahead and freeze them till Im ready to frost and decorate?
    thanks

    1. Absolutely. Baked and cooled, the layers freeze wonderfully.

  12. Karen Parma says:

    Hi Sally!
    i tried this recipe and it was to die for!!! amazing! always get good compliments about it. i was wondering ( i know you have a vanilla recipe) but for this one if i omit the vinegar, food coloring and cocoa will it make a vanilla cake? same texture and procedure as this red velvet? please advise! thank you sooo much!!!!! you rock!!!

    1. Hi Karen! You can certainly try that. Have you tried the vanilla cake though? It’s my favorite and has some wonderful reviews, too!

  13. Joy Juliano says:

    Sounds yummy! Will try this tomorrow for my daughter’s bday but I’d like to lessen the sugar by half cup, what can I replace it with?

    1. Hi Joy! You can reduce the sugar in this recipe, but the results will differ (as expected!). Nothing can really replace the chemical properties of real sugar in a cake, so just make it as is with less sugar.

  14. Hi there! I’m having some trouble getting ahold of distilled white vinegar – do you have any suggestions for substitutions? Thank you!

    1. apple cider vinegar would be a great alternative!

  15. Hi Sally, absolutely love this recipe thank you! I just wondered if you could clarify the oven temp / setting for me? I am in Australia & using a fan forced oven. Is your temperature of 177 Celsius fan forced or just normal? I wasn’t sure and ended up cooking the cakes at 160 Celsius just in case buy it did take longer & the outside crusted / cooked before inside was cooked through! Thankyou!

    1. Hi Sarah! Happy to help. The temperature written is for normal conventional ovens. If using fan-forced/convection oven, I recommend lowering by 25F (-3.8°C)

      1. Hi Sally, thanks so much! have one other question -I used two 7.5inch (19.5cm) tins for this which was great, but I need to bake two with a bigger size tin – how much do I need to increase this recipe by to use two 25.5cm tins (10inch)? Thanks heaps! I’m a novice Baker and loved how well this cake turned out! 🙂

      2. Hi Sarah! You can use this recipe for a 2 layer 10-inch cake. The layers will be a little thinner so be sure you keep an eye on them while they bake!

  16. Hi Sally,
    I’ve never used baking dyes. Before reading your recipe I purchased powdered red coloring. Will it work as well? Or should I look for gel/solution?
    I’m trying to make red velvet for my daughter as a surprise 🙂

    1. Hi Agnes! The only powder I’ve used in this cake is the beet powder. I haven’t tried actual food coloring powder, but it shouldn’t be a problem to use.

  17. Hi,

    Distilled white vinegar I am struggling to find in the shops in UK – is this the same as White wine vinegar? If not, can you recommend an alternative.

    Thank you

    1. Hi Jenny! I recommend apple cider vinegar if you can’t find white vinegar.

  18. Hello. I tried this recipe and it is so delicious. My kids and I can’t stop eating. But I would like to ask because my cake is dry and crumbly. What may be the reason? Thank you very much.

  19. Hello,Please can I use magerine in place or unsalted butter?

    1. Hi Doofan! I do not recommend margarine.

  20. Moses Ndonga says:

    Sally i just tried this and the result is amazing. Thanks for it.

  21. This was an amazing recipe that I will use again! I live at 9,000 feet and cakes that are moist are tough to create, ESPECIALLY from a box!! Adjustments or not, dry is the result for me.
    My cake did fall a little in the middle, any suggestions for that?
    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Alison! I wish I could help, but I have very little experience baking at high altitude. Here is a chart some readers have found helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  22. Made it and loved it! Great red velvet recipe.

  23. Can frozen buttermilk (thawed for recipe) or powder buttermilk- reconstituted be used.?
    Thanks I have made the cake 3 times but have left over buttermilk.

    1. Yes, absolutely! Either will work.

  24. Amber Abney says:

    If using beet powder, do you make a food coloring from the powder or do you put the powder into the batter? If so, how much powder do you add?

    1. Hi Amber! It’s best to mix the beet powder with a little water first. This combination makes 1 teaspoon of food coloring, but you may want more since this is a lot of cake batter. 1/4 teaspoon red beet powder
      per 1 teaspoon cold water.

      1. Wendy Hurst says:

        Does the beet powder change the flavor of the Cale? I don’t like dirty flavor of beets but I also don’t like using red dye. Thanks.

      2. It won’t taste like beets at all!

  25. Can this be made with salted butter. That the only kind I have inthe house. If it won’t work I’ll go buy unsalted; but if it will work I can save myself a trip to the store. Thanks

    1. Hi Janet, you can use salted butter in this cake recipe with no other changes made. It’s sweet as it is, so there’s no need to reduce the added salt in the cake.

  26. Hi Sally! When I was a kid, this cake was called Red Devil’s Food Cake. Regular chocolate cake was just devil’s food cake. Not sure when or why it was changed to Red Velvet, but that name fits!

  27. I don’t know why, but the red dye and color has never appealed to me, so I have never made a red velvet cake. I never dawned on me to try the recipe WITHOUT the coloring! Your cake recipes are some of our absolute favorites. Definitely trying this soon!

  28. Hi Sally. I am excited to try this recipe as I remember the real Red Velvet cake of my long-ago childhood. If I want to make cupcakes can I use this recipe or double your Red Velvet cupcake recipe? It looks like there are slight differences in the two and I don’t want a Red Velvet failure. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes, you never disappoint. If your Skillet Chicken with Creamy Cilantro Sauce was a man I would marry it!

    1. Hi Kate! You can follow either recipe for red velvet cupcakes– both favorites! It would probably be best to use this cake batter for cupcakes since it yields more already. (Instead of doubling the cupcakes recipe.)
      I love that skillet chicken recipe! It’s one of our top 10 dinners for sure.

  29. Kathy Bolain says:

    Sally, I never hesitate to share your recipe with others. They are always reliable and great! I appreciate all the work you put into making sure your recipes are the best.
    My question may go beyond your knowledge but cake recipes and store mixes are being called ‘blue velvet’ or other color ‘velvet’. Are they using that title very generically or are they actually using the same 4 requirements with a color? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kathy! Thank you so much for baking, trusting, and sharing my recipes!
      To my knowledge, the other color “velvet” cakes are essentially the same as red velvet but tinted another color. That’s my understanding of them.

  30. Hi Sally!
    This is the best Red Velvet Cake I’ve ever tried! I used to really not like red velvet but you convinced me and made me love that cake! Wow it’s so delicious and moist. I love that you use butter and oil! Thanks for sharing and being a source of inspiration.

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