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. I followed the recipe to a “T” . Made the cake flour with corn starch and regular flour sifted twice. Separated and whisked the egg whites, everything room temperature. I used a Bundt pan and My cake turned out to be more bread like. It took almost an hour in the oven. The taste was great the frosting was amazing. I had a lot left over but used it for fruit dip since it was not too sugary. It was challenging since this is the first non box cake I have ever made. I use this site often because Of the details and explanations for everything. Maybe next time I should just use normal cake pans.

  2. I’m not much of a baker but this recipe was easy to follow and I had a lot of fun with it. The cake was delicious but seemed too dense. I’m not sure what would have lightened it up a bit??

  3. Very disappointed. I, too, had issues with the cake baking all the way through in the center. I think it’s because there is more batter in this cake than if you use just a regular box cake (and who wants to do that??) Don’t get me wrong…the cake tasted good and was very light and moist, it just didn’t make me want another slice. In fact, I took a few bites and was ok not finishing it. I do appreciate the step-by-step instructions, though. Thank you!!

  4. Hi there I wanted to make a tall 4 layer 6inch cake using this recipe. Would I have to scale down or is this version of the recipe okay?

  5. Hi Sally, I was wondering if I could use cranberry juice (fresh cranberries reduced down on the stove to make a juice) in place of red food coloring, I have no red food die, Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Marcela, I haven not tried that but I fear that you would need to add too much liquid to the cake that way. If you leave the food coloring out it will still have the same delicious taste!

  6. Loved this. Fantastic directions (which I need). Made it in a 9×13. I did use less powered sugar in my icing (just my preference). I’m making another this morning to take to my son and his family.

  7. Amazing texture and flavor.

  8. Just made this cake last weekend for a friend’s birthday…and it was a hit! It’s moist, fluffy….and the flavor blends perfectly with cream cheese frosting recipe shared here. What a delight 🙂 Thank you Sally.

  9. Uma Daswani says:

    If I halve the recipe, will it fit into two 6 inch pans? How long do I bake then?

    1. Hi Uma, You would still have too much batter for just two 6-inch pans. You can fill each pan 2/3 full and then use the extra batter to bake a few extra cupcakes though! See my post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions for help converting recipes to different sizes.

  10. This was a fun recipe to make and tasted amazing. One WARNING: like many others, my cake would not cook in the center and dried out the outside edges. I found a common trick that solved this problem in 5 minutes. I put tinfoil over the cake moderately bound so the heat trapped in the center. My cake was fully cooked in the center from liquid to perfection after five more minutes in the oven. Otherwise I loved this recipe and it was a hit with my family!

  11. Amazing texture. Love this recipe!!

  12. Hi Sally,
    Can I use this recipe for red velvet cupcakes?
    Thanks

  13. Farhana Afroje says:

    I followed the recipe and the result was amazing. This was the best ever cake I have ever baked. It was soft, moist and flavorful. Thank you so much for all the useful instructions.

  14. This is hands down THE BEST red velvet cake recipe! I have made it many times as a two layer 9 inch cake, I was wondering if this would work as a 4 layer 6 inch cake? I could also make a 4 layer 7 inch cake if this batter would be too much for a 6 inch cake. I prefer my cake layers to be more on the thick side for a taller cake, please let me know your recommendation. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Alaa, so glad to read how much you enjoy this red velvet cake recipe. There’s too much batter for a 4 layer 6 inch cake, but you could try using the red velvet cupcakes batter for that size. A 4 layer 7 inch cake would be better with this cake batter, but you’ll still have too much. Use any extra batter for cupcakes, if desired.

      1. I plan to bake this in 6 inch pans as well. i have 4 pan – at what degree and for how long do you recommend?

        I hope the leftover will allow 1-2 more layers?

  15. Angela Farrell says:

    Can I refrigerate the cake before serving uncovered or do I need to cover it? Thank you for your help. The cake looks amazing!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Angela, if you’re covering the frosted cake for just the 30-60 minutes prior to slicing, no need to cover. If refrigerating for longer, try to cover it as best you can with plastic wrap to keep the cake from drying out. Hope you love it!

  16. Thanks but I don’t have cornstarch and I need it for tonight

  17. Could this recipe work in a Bundt Cake pan? Also how can I keep the edges of the cake soft and not have a thick crust layer?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sebrin, see recipe notes for Bundt Cake instructions. Make sure not to over-grease the pan as this will lead to hard edges. Hope you love the cake!

  18. Hi! Would this recipe hold up well under fondant? I need to make a three layer cake using 12 inch cake pans. How would I adjust the recipe to make a cake that size?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cinthya, you can cover this cake in fondant– no problem there. You can use this handy guide to determine how much batter you’ll need for those pans. Happy baking!

  19. Made this for my son’s birthday as he requested. Wonderful recipe and easy to make.

  20. Haven’t tried it yet but doesnt it take baking powder?

  21. I made this recipe for my daughter-in-law’s birthday and it is fabulous. I think it is the best cake I have ever made, and I have been baking cakes for 50 years!

  22. Baked this cake for the first time for my daughter’s birthday – came out beautifully. Cake has a great texture and tastes delicious with the frosting

  23. So excited to try this!!! As far as covering the cake layers overnight at room temperature when making ahead of time, do you recommend plastic wrap? Or a cloth? Thanks!!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Diana, we usually use plastic wrap. Happy baking!

  24. Joanna Ruckenstein says:

    Hi!
    Tried this today for a client…the icing tasted great. But the cake came out dry and I followed the directions exactly and made no substitutions. I think maybe there’s not enough buttermilk or oil in the batter. Next time I’ll use my stand by chocolate one bowl cake recipe and just add food coloring.

  25. i loved this recipe so much, sallys baking addiction is my go to fro every single thing i want to bake.

    1. Cheyenne Duckert says:

      Same! I only use this website. I’ve never had a bad recipe and the flavor has always been better in the recipes on here than on any other site I’ve used (hence why I stopped using other sites)

  26. Alessia Nencioni says:

    This is by far the best red velvet recipe! Thank you for sharing! It was for my daughter’s 13th birthday and a specific request on her part!

  27. The cake mix seemed to curdle when I added the egg whites, it wasn’t silky. It appears to have baked ok but I won’t know the texture until I cut it. Any advice please?

  28. Made exactly as directed and the cake texture was really really off. I make a red velvet cake every year for my husband’s birthday (over 20 years now), trying a new recipe each time. This one was so bad we tossed it and I made a second using a different recipe. So disappointed! Frosting was great, the cake looked fine, but the texture was awful.

  29. Hands down the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had and I made it using this recipe! I couldn’t be more proud and delighted that it went over so well for my dad’s birthday. I followed the recipe to the T, including the tips and tricks for refrigerating the cake before serving for the best cut cake, it worked. Thank you for this recipe!

  30. I made this cake for my daughter’s 10th month bday..it was a hit..its the new family favorite

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