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

707 Comments

  1. 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!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Isn’t Red Velvet cake more like a Chocolate cake tinted red, not Vanilla cake?? Especially since it also has cocoa powder, plus tastes more like a chocolate cake. Did you really use to think that it was a Vanilla cake tinted red?

    1. Hi Amelia! There is so little cocoa in red velvet cake, so it often tastes more like vanilla than chocolate. Just a slight cocoa flavor. 🙂

  11. Hi sally can I make this recipe into a 6-inch 3 layer cake? Would the cake hold? Thank you so much I love love your recipes!

  12. It seems the white vinegar is used only if using red food coloring. If I omit the food coloring, do I omit the white vinegar?

    Thanks.

    LB

  13. Just made this for the first time and it turned out amazing!! Made 3 layers with 8-inch pans and it’s the best cake I’ve made! Thank you so much!!

  14. Hi Sally,
    I’m making this red velvet cake for a family picnic. A lot of the guests are lactose intolerant so instead of the cream cheese frosting would you recommend your vanilla buttercream or your lemon buttercream (does lemon go with red velvet cake?)?

  15. I made this for July 4th and covered the top and sides with red, white, and blue nonpareils. It was a hit! Separating the eggs is key! Very moist cake! I may use this to make cupcakes!

    I made mine in three layers. I will definitely make this again.

  16. Great recipe! I added about 1.5 tsp of salt to balance the sweetness. Do you usually spoon and level the sugar for frostings?

  17. Hi Sally, I’m making this for my friend’s birthday. If I choose to make a 3-layer round cake, do I need to increase the amount of frosting made for a 2-layer round cake? Thanks!

  18. I’ve used several red velvet cake recipes in the past, but can’t locate them. I saw your recipe and it looks wonderful. I have been asked to make a red velvet groom’s cake and I was wondering how many cups of batter this recipe makes. I need to know so I can calculate the number of batches to prepare. Also, what is the consistency of the buttercream icing? The cake will be two tiers and I’m concerned that it may be too thin and will come off when I separate the tiers for serving.

    1. Hi Janet! I wish I could help, but I’ve never measured the exact number of cups this batter yields. My guess is around 8-9 cups because the amount is similar to another 8 cup cake batter recipe in my repertoire. The cream cheese frosting is very creamy and not as sturdy as buttercream. You may be better off with a vanilla buttercream for this, just in case you need something thicker.

  19. Good day Sally
    Can I make this recipe to 1.5 measurement. As I need a bigger cake. Three 9” pans…
    Need your advise
    Thanks

    1. You can divide this batter between 3 9-inch cake pans. The bake time will be a little shorter since the cakes will be thinner. No need to make more batter!

  20. If I want to make a this a 3 layer cake… Is it best to do that in smaller pans, say 3 8 inch pans? It sounds amazing! I want to make this for my daughter’s 5th birthday in a few weeks. Thank you! 🙂

    1. You can divide this batter between 3 9-inch or 8-inch cake pans. The 9-inch cakes would be a little thinner. Either way works!

      1. My sons girlfriend likes red velvet cake with chocolate frosting do you have a recipe for that instead of white?

  21. Hi Sally. If I want to
    Make cupcakes instead, would it be okay for the cupcakes to sit outside for a few hours? Wanna serve it for a party. Worried about the frosting melting. 🙂

    1. Hi Maya! As long as they’re not sitting directly in the sun on a hot and humid day, they’ll be fine. Keep cold as much as you can right before serving.

  22. do you need to refrigerate the cake or cupcakes when finished due to the cream cheese icing. i am transporting the cupcakes and it is very hot and humid so wondering if i should use ice packs.

    1. Sure can! I would significantly reduce the cream cheese frosting. The cake is already pretty moist and all that frosting would make the cake pops too wet.

  23. Hi Sally! Would it be ok to bake this cake in two 8 inch round pans please? If so, may I ask what temperature and bake time I’d be looking at please? Thank you!

    1. Hi Clarice! I recommend 2 9-inch cake pans OR 3 8-inch cake pans. The cakes will be very thick using two 8 inch cake pans and may not bake evenly– or even overflow.

  24. Hi Sally I’d like to make this for my daughter’s baby shower in 5 days – she loves RV cake but I’d need to cover in fondant/sugar paste – is it suitable? or is it too moist – I would use buttercream filling. How long will it keep once covered? Weather here is 80f all week. Thx Ann (UK)

    1. Hi Ann! Happy to help. You can cover this cake in fondant– no problem there. For best taste and texture, I wouldn’t cover it for longer than 1 day prior to serving.

  25. Absolutely delicious and fluffy. Since I can’t easily get cake flour in my country, I made some by sifting my a” pupose flour 4 times, taking out 7 level tablespoons and replacing those with corn starch. Also, I used only one cup of sugar and a whisk where the recipe called for mixing on low (my mixer is not too high tech). The trick is to fold in the dry ingredients, not mix them in per se.

  26. Hi Sally,

    I would like to make some individual sized cakes using 4″ cake pans. How would I adjust the baking time?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Maegan! The baking time will be shorter depending on how thick the cakes are. I can’t give the exact time, but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Enjoy!

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