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.
  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. If you absolutely cannot get ahold of it, a mix of all-purpose and cornstarch is fine. Sift together 2 and 2/3 cups (333g) all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup (40g) cornstarch and use this instead of cake flour. Sifting them is imperative. Measure 3 cups AFTER sifting and use in the recipe instead of cake flour.
  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

632 Comments

  1. Made the Red Velvet cake for Christmas (but with buttercream frosting). It was so light and moist. The family loved it!

  2. Sally’s Red Velvet Cake eith Cream Cheese Frosting is simply divine. Beautiful, moist, with a nice crumb. It always garners rave reviews when I make it.

  3. Perfect tasting cake, they came out way bigger than expected and needed just ten mins longer. The frosting failed miserably though (got very runny very fast), maybe some more details are needed on how to make decent thick frosting.
    The cake also didn’t turn out red or even dark red but that’s probably more the fault of the type of food colouring that I used.
    All in all a cake that had lots of fans!

    1. So glad you tried this red velvet cake recipe! Did you use blocks of cream cheese? That will make a big difference in the final consistency of the frosting.

  4. I love a homemade red velvet cake and detest recipes lacking the buttermilk. But, historically (in many family recipes passed down through the generations), the true icing for red velvet is neither cream cheese nor buttercream, it’s a cooked icing, which is dense like cream cheese and has a distinct flavor.

  5. Does adding baking soda to vinegar separately and then mixing it to the batter towards the end make any difference to the texture..

  6. Hi, Sally, I’ve never been a big fan of red velvet cake, but I certainly am going to try your recipe, it looks divine! Question for you: what color gel coloring did you use? Thanks for all your wonderful creations.

  7. Hi Sally, just wanted to check re: making 3 layers instead of 2 – is the “3 nine inch pans” correct, and the layers are just much thinner?

    Thank you, and I can’t wait to try this out!

  8. Hi Sally! I love red velvet cake but prefer it a little more chocolatey than 2 TBSP. If I add more, should i adjust the quantities of the other ingredients, specifically the wet ingredients?

    1. Hi Beth! I recommend swapping out some cake flour for extra unsweetened natural cocoa powder. I haven’t tested this recently, but let me know how the cake turns out.

  9. Hi Sally,
    I’ve already made your applesauce carrot cake and strawberry cake. Both were outstanding. Your recipes are so much more simple to make than many other recipes out there, AND deliver 100% in flavor and texture. I just made your red velvet cake last week. I do not have deep 9″ pans, so made the cake in three WS gold touch 9″ pans and baked them for the minimum 22 minutes. Another reviewer was correct; it is a large volume of batter! While I did not eat the cake, my mother raved over the crumbs (from leveling the cakes), and the person I made it for, said it was an OMG cake! Thanks Sally, for another winner. BTW, I do own your cookbooks and would highly recommend that other readers support their Sally’s Baking Addiction, addiction by supporting you too!

  10. This is the best of the best for red velvet recipes that I’ve tried! Very light and fluffy. I had to bake it an extra 10 minutes though and the cakes were very high! That frosting is just divine. My husband loved his early Valentine’s Day treat!

  11. I made this one last week as my first bake since my family Christmas cookie bake day, and it was a wonderful choice. Before delving so deeply into baking, red velvet was just another flavor, but after making a cake myself, it made me love it all the more!

  12. I’m usually not a fan of red velvet, but this looks so moist and delicious! Thank you for the tips about the egg whites. And I think cream cheese frosting goes with everything, or all by itself haha 🙂

  13. Quick question: What exactly do you mean by “baking soda”? I’m from germany and “baking soda” could be translated to “baking soda” or “sodium bicarbonate”. Planning to bake this cake for my mothers birthday on monday 😉

  14. I love red velvet cake and have been using the same recipe for years. I decided to try yours and it is the best red velvet I’ve ever had! The cake flour makes a huge difference! My mom, who doesn’t like red velvet at all, loved it too! It’s a keeper!

  15. Finally I found the best recipe for Red Velvet Cake. Nice tricks. I made your recipe on Valentine’s Day and it came out perfectly. It’s moist, soft and fluffy. Even your frosting recipe was heavenly delicious and I only put milk instead of heavy cream because we don’t have it in our country. I used the Dutch processed still my cake turns beautifully red. I must say this is the best I’ve had. I love your website. Thank you Sally. From now on I’ll keep reading your website and to try your other recipes as well.

  16. Hi Sally,
    I read somewhere that the high amount of sugar in most American recipes comes down to a regional preference. Where I live in Asia, we don’t consume this much sugar :). In the interest of using sugar wisely (I sometimes bake for diabetic friends), what is the minimal amount of sugar that would work for this recipe?

    * I usually reduce by half & even then, am told the cake is too sweet loll

    Much thanks.

    1. Hi Shanta! I can’t say for sure. Cakes are definitely on the sweeter side. They’re dessert! Feel free to reduce the sugar, I just can’t be sure of the final taste and texture. Let me know how it goes!

    1. Hi Jess! I haven’t tested this recipe (halved) in 6 inch cake pans, so I can’t say for sure. That would be my first recommendation though.

    2. Hi Jess! I’m thinking of making these into 6 inch cakes, too. Did you end up making them? And you tell me if halving the recipe worked? Thanks!!

  17. Hi Sally – do you think I can bake just one cake and then once cold divide it in 2 layers or is just best to bake 2 cakes? Thanks and cheers from Italy 🙂

    1. Hi Alice, I recommend baking two separate cakes. If you tried to bake one single layer it would be too thick and not bake evenly!

  18. Hi Sally,

    I’m going to attempt this cake for a competition, however I need it to be a 4 layer cake. Am I correct in assuming that I would just need to double the quantity of each ingredient to achieve this? Thanks

    1. I recommend preparing the cake batter as written and dividing it between 4 cake pans. The cakes are very thick with only 2 layers, so you can easily get away with 4. The bake time will be shorter.

    1. Hi Karen! No, I recommend sticking with cake flour. See note about the all-purpose flour substitute if you’re in a pinch!

  19. Great tasting cake. The recipe makes a ton of batter, and I had to bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

  20. Hi Sally,

    Great recipe! My cake came out brown though. I used two teaspoons of red gel food coloring. I followed all instructions. I’m thinking that something happened because I was using a hand mixer? The batter just never really turned red.

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