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!

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!

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. Hey Sally!
    Quick question about the sugar, I usually bake with organice pure cane sugar which is not as fine as typical granulated – would that be okay for this recipe, or do I need to stick with typical granulated?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi, Sally! I can’t say for sure, as I don’t have experience baking with organic cane sugar. For best results, I would stick to the regular granulated sugar if possible. I hope this helps!

  2. I made this last summer and it’s fantastic! I decorated it with red/white/blue sprinkles for 4th of July. I’m making this tomorrow for my office, and I notice in your top pic you piped some of the icing on top. It looks like you spread the icing a bit thinner to have more to pipe. Perhaps a silly question, but do you see a problem with making 1.5 times the icing recipe to leave enough for piping. There’s a risk that I would have a bowl of left-over icing that I would be forced to eat, and I’m OK with it! Just asking because sometimes increasing the recipe doesn’t always work well. Thanks, as always!

  3. Are you supposed to use baking soda? Or was that a typo? Did you mean baking powder? Just wondering. Can’t wait to make this!

    1. Hi Jessica, We are using acidic ingredients in this cake so we do in fact need to use baking soda. If you are interested in learning more about the difference you can check out this post in my Baking Basics series explaining the difference between baking powder vs baking soda.

    2. Tastes absolutely delicious, made this for my boyfriend’s birthday and the whole cake was gone in one day. Will be making this again, thank you!

  4. Hi Sally.
    I made the Red Velvet cake today for a friend & he shared it was the best that he has ever had. I love to bake so took my time & did not over bake it, I am
    overly cautious, don’t care for dry cakes. Thanks SO much for sharing .
    Pat

  5. Hi! I’d love to make a 3 layer cake but with 20cm cake pans (closer to 8 inches). Do you have an idea of what the cooking time would be? Thank you!!

  6. Lauren Engelbrecht says:

    Hi Sally!

    I currently only have one 9” round pan. I thought I had two. Could I bake the first layer, transfer it to a wire rack to cook using the parchment paper and then bake the second layer? If so, how full should the cake pans be?

    1. Sure can! The best way to divide the batter evenly is to weigh the batter or measure its volume so you have the perfect even amount in each. I usually fill the pans halfway.

  7. I’m planning on making this for my fiancé’s birthday, but since theres just the two of us I’d like to make a smaller version. Approximately how many 6 inch rounds do you think I would get out of this recipe?

    1. Hi Rebecca! I recommend reviewing my 6 inch cakes recipe post– you’ll find it very helpful. Then use my red velvet cupcakes batter.

  8. Can this recipe be divided into 2, 8” (2” deep) cake pans? Thanks

    1. Hi Allison, 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 may even overflow.

      1. Hi
        I made this recipe yesterday in 2, 8 in rounds I just made sure to fill the pans to the appropriate levels. About 2/3 full. I used the left over batter to make cupcakes for me and my husband. As my previous review stated the cakes cooked and rose BEAUTIFULLY!

    2. Hi Sally! I made this cake tonight and they rose and fell, leaving a dip in the middle. I live at 6250 ft- I wonder if that’s why they fell… I also used cake strips, and they took almost 40 minutes to cook completely. Not sure what factor exactly affected them, but I thought you might lend some advice as you’re more of an expert 😉 thanks so much

  9. Why does the frosting recipe call for 16 oz. of cream cheese instead of 8 oz. which is more typical? Does this frosting end up being very heavy?

    1. This frosting recipe has been scaled up to produce enough for a layer cake.

  10. Just finished making this cake. This might be the best looking set of cakes I’ve pulled from my oven. They rose BEAUTIFULLY. I couldn’t get cake flour so I followed your recommendation to make yourself. Thank you! What great direction every step of the way. I can’t wait to decorate and give to a co-worker for her son’s birthday. Again thank you for a wonderfully written recipe!

  11. I’m making this cake this afternoon for my son-in-laws birthday and thought I had vegetable oil on hand. Can I use olive oil instead?
    thanks in advance

    1. You can, but the flavor may be a little different. I recommend extra virgin olive oil.

  12. Jo Ann Baldwin says:

    This is the best red velvet recipe I’ve ever made. Followed everything exactly, it was moist, full of flavor and the icing amounts were spot on.
    One question, can you freeze the cake? I’m making a three tier cake for a friends 60th birthday and I’m making three different cakes that are her favorites, so I will be freezing one layer of each cake. It’s always good to have something amazing in the freezer, I was wondering if I can freeze this cake as I want to use it as my top layer.
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Jo Ann, I’m so glad you enjoy this recipe so much! Yes, it does freeze well. These are my best tips on how to freeze cakes.

  13. Hi Sally! Can the cakes be frozen for a few days before assembly? Thanks!

    1. Yes, they sure can! This is how I freeze cakes.

  14. I can only say WOW!!!!
    I made these into cupcakes and I have to say they are amazing. I am so excited to share them with my friends today at the birthday party.
    I knew this recipe would be perfect and I didn’t have to test it out prior to serving.
    The cake was still soft even after refrigerating it.
    So happy I found this recipe. So good!!!
    Will definitely make again.

  15. My fried is dying of cance. Whenever we go out to eat, all she talks abound is red velvet cake. I made this for her. Was a pain, just like her, to do all the extra steps. It was worth the “pain”. Tasted wonderful and met her picky expectations. I will continue using the icing recipe as my new go to cream cheese icing.

    1. I’m so very happy that she enjoyed this cake!

  16. Why is baking powder missing? Is it not required?

    1. Hi Mary Ann, For this recipe we are using baking soda because the other ingredients are acidic. If you are interested I go into details on when we use each in my post Baking Powder vs Baking Soda.

  17. Made this today for my sister’s birthday and oh my was a total success. Thank you for sharing. For the icing, I put a dash of Orange juice and made this into a 4 layer cake. Devine. Thank you again

    1. I’m thrilled it was a hit, Frances!

  18. Hi, I was wondering if I could fit this recipe into 3 8 inch pans (2 inch deep), thanks!

    1. Hi Lily, I just wrote a very in-depth post yesterday about converting cake pan sizes! I hope you find it helpful!

  19. Hi Sally. I made your red velvet cake in a rose bundt pan but it overflowed. I just cut the excess off. Otherwise it was very delicious! I’d like to make them into cupcakes. How many do you think it will make, bake at same temp, and how many minutes?

    1. Hi Gayle, I’m so glad you enjoyed this recipe! For cupcakes you can simply follow my red velvet cupcakes recipe!

  20. I’ve never made a red velvet cake before, and am very excited to make this on the request of a colleague. I have allergies to a number of food colourings; would this cake tolerate the addition of beetroot juice to give it some colour? Appreciate it might not be as vibrant but I’m hoping it’d still be reddish! Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Alex, For natural coloring, use beet powder instead of the juice. 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. I have a link above in the post to beetroot powder. Enjoy!

  21. I am enjoying your recipes so much. You always give such clear instructions, and I try to follow them to the tee. I made your red velvet cake for a meeting I was going to, and although I’m more of a cookie fan than cake person, everyone thought it was delicious. I made the cake in a 13x 9 pan, and the question I have is about the frosting. I used your cream cheese frosting, but for some reason it didn’t adhere to the top of the cake very well… you could practically peel it off. I put the cake in the refrigerator after I frosted it before taking it to the meeting; could that have been my problem?

    1. I’m so happy you tried this cake and that it was a hit at your meeting! Before you frosted the cake, was it dry to the touch? If it was wet on top (either from condensation or thawing) it might not adhere very well. Your frosting might also be a bit too thick to spread well on top – next time if you have this problem add a bit more cream to thin it out a little.

  22. Hi Sally,
    I made the cake, but it’s not red. The flavor and the cake itself is incredible, but not red. I used the gel food coloring. What can I do the next time to get the red color?

  23. Sally Guerrera says:

    Hello, Sally.
    Do you have any advice on making this in a half sheet pan – as far as maybe doubling the recipe? – and baking time?
    Thank you,
    Sally G.

    1. Hi Sally, See the recipe notes on how to make this in a 9×13 inch cake pan or 12×17 inch sheet pan. For other sizes you can use my post Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions to help you figure out exactly how much batter you will need.

      1. Sally Guerrera says:

        Thank you for getting back to me so quickly, Sally. I think I misspoke when I said sheet pan. I want to make the cake in a cake pan 11x15x2 not the 12×17 sheet pan. Do you think if I double your recipe it would be too much?
        Thank you,
        Sally G.

  24. Hi sally I want to make this great red velvet cake any time soon. Can the recipe be doubled or halved please? Also, must I whip the egg whites for the cake to come out perfectly because I don’t have a mixer. Thanks

    1. Hi Khear, You can cut this recipe in half but I do not recommend doubling it. For the best texture make it twice instead of doubling so that you do not over or under mix the batter. The light and velvety texture comes from the the whipped egg whites. You can certainly try to whip them by hand with a whisk but it will take a good bit of arm muscle.

  25. Samantha Hiner says:

    Hi Sally,

    Is there any issue in whipping the egg whites before I start on the cake batter? I was hoping to use my mixer for both, and I only have the one bowl.

    Apologies if you’ve answered this before!

    Thank you!

    Sam

    1. Hi Samantha! You can whip the egg whites first, set those aside at room temperature, then start the batter.

  26. I am looking to make a three tier red velvet cake for my nieces wedding. Can this cake be stacked?

    1. Sure can!

  27. I’ve made this twice now- both turned out amazing! Super moist and great flavor. My only caveat would be to add more food coloring. I tried two teaspoons of gel food coloring the first time and it was still a light red. Then the second time I switched to liquid food coloring but I still only used two teaspoons and got a similar result. I’ve seen other recipes call for two tablespoons, so I’m going to try that on my next attempt to get that rich color.
    Thank you for sharing!

  28. Hi Sally,

    I want to use this cream cheese frosting with your chocolate tuxedo cake recipe in place of the white chocolate ganache. Would this cream cheese frosting hold up well if I added fresh raspberries to it?

    Thanks!

    1. That sounds delicious, Diana! You have a few options – you can try to gently fold the *dry* raspberries into the frosting after it’s mixed, you can put down a layer of the frosting and then top with a layer of fresh berries, or you can add the powder from freeze dried raspberries into your frosting (like I do with the frosting on my strawberry cake).

      1. Awesome! Thank you so much!

  29. Hi, You’ve probably answered this question already and I have read your cake pan article but if I were to divide the batter into 3 8-inch rounds would the cooking time be the same like in your original recipe using 2-9inch?

    1. Hi Sofia, the bake time would either be the same or shorter. Begin checking at 24 minutes and use a toothpick to test for doneness.

      1. Thank you! I’ll definitely try it.

  30. Sarah Braithwaite says:

    Hi there, I’m attempting to make a red velvet cake in a hemisphere cake pan to make a giant tomato (don’t ask!) I’ve had mixed results with batters in the past in this tin!

    Would this recipe hold up to a lower cooking temperature for a longer time? The hemisphere pan tends to brown too quickly but have raw cake in the middle if I cook for recommended times on regular recipes! I would normally use a 5 egg Madeira batter and bake at 140 Celsius for over an hour but I don’t want a dry red velvet cake!

    Thanks

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