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

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  1. This is my FAVOURITE red velvet cake!! I made this for a friends birthday and know one believed that I made it because it was so good! Also the cream cheese frosting is to die for!! Thanks Sally!

  2. I made this cake for my friend’s birthday and it was by far one of the best cakes I’ve ever made. The cake itself was so moist and the cream cheese frosting was perfect – not cloying like so many that I’ve tried. I really enjoyed learning a couple of tips as well such as how to make your own cake flour. I will be checking out the rest of your recipes, Sally. Next one is the carrot cake!

  3. Honey Mae Mori-Subiera says:

    Hi. I’ve tried your triple chocolate cake and it’s been a hit. Now I am thinking of making this red velvet cake, but it concerns me that I wasn’t able to find a vanilla extract in the stores. Can I use an almond extract instead? Thank you!

  4. Excellent recipe for red velvet cake! Best we’ve tried and we’ve tried many. It was our wedding cake years ago and I’ve been trying to replicate it. I will try your cupcakes as the 6 inch cake next time!

  5. Since bakeries were unable to deliver for my birthday during Covid, my husband decided to bake me a cake and let me pick a recipe. He has never baked a cake before so I was a little concerned about the recipe having too many details with room temperature ingredients, etc. He nailed it, absolutely perfect. I have eaten red velvet cake my entire life, it is my favorite, and this was the best one I have ever tasted. It was easier than he thought it would be, although a little time consuming for a first timer. I did assist him in the food coloring department, we didn’t have gel so it required a little more color than the recipe called for and you can easily play with the color. We shared the leftovers with a neighbor in a front porch dessert exchange and they now think my husband is a professional cake maker, also saying it was the best one they’ve ever had. He is going to make a chocolate one next week, so that says a lot that he would want to do it again.

    1. This cake tastes amazing but I have one question please. I always encounter the same problem with cream cheese icing, it turns out too runny. I do not add the cream or milk and I use vanilla bean paste to minimise the liquid going in but as soon as the sugar goes in the cream/butter mixture it just turns too runny. I’ve tried adding extra sugar but I’ve stopped when it becomes to sweet and still remains too runny. Any tips I would much appreciate.

      1. Hi Anna! Any chance you are outside of the US? For cream cheese frosting you need full fat block style cream cheese which I have heard from other readers is different than the cream cheese spread sold outside of the states. Some non US readers have used mascarpone in its place.

      2. Hi Sally,

        You are spot on, I am in the UK and I have noticed that this type of icing is usually from US recipes. Thanks for the mascarpone tip! I will try that out. I’ve also done some more online research and I’ve been given a couple of ideas to try (like straining the cream cheese in a muslin before starting). Thanks for responding to me so promptly!

  6. Joshua Ramsey says:

    I made this for my mom for her 53rd birthday… red velvet is her favorite and she absolutely loved this! This was also the first cake I have ever baked and it turned out so amazing!

    1. Hi, Sally! I’m planning to make this for my dad’s birthday tomorrow, and I can’t find gel food color anywhere. Is it possible to replace it with powdered food dye? And if so, how? I’ve been researching for the past hour but I can’t seem to find a reliable answer (simply because I don’t trust myself lol). Thank you in advance!

  7. Wow this cake was great!!! Thanks Sally!!’

  8. Erin O'Connor says:

    Hi I’m a newbie to this site. I absolutely love all the tips Sally thank you so much. I made the cake yesterday for my sons 16th birthday. I too found the icing too runny….tasted amazing though. I ended up adding more icing sugar and refrigerating to make it more stable to pipe. However my biggest issue was the cake was very dry, dense and pale looking. I couldn’t source the gel so I ended up using liquid red colouring and obviously not enough. Not sure why my cake was dry though. Disappointing. Maybe I didn’t cream butter and sugar enough, I did note that when I tasted the batter before baking it had like a grainy texture….like it wasn’t incorporated enough? Anyway, I will try and make again and try and improve. Love the site.

    1. Hi Erin, Did you use full fat blocks of cream cheese for the frosting? Cream cheese frosting is definitely softer than regular buttercream but if you use the full fat blocks (not the spreadable kind in a tub) it should be thick enough to pipe simple shapes but not intricate shapes. Here are all of my tips to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake.

  9. Bethany K Broussard says:

    This cake is probably the best Red Velvet recipe I’ve used, it’s super moist (Despite using all purpose flour) and it’s not too sweet and I think the folding of egg whites really gave the cake a nice texture and light feeling. Will be using this recipe again and again!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed it, Bethany!

  10. Thank you for a beautiful recipe. This was my first time making a red velvet cake and it was exceptional. The tip about the egg whites was key to the success I think.
    I did struggle with the cream cheese frosting, too runny and I couldn’t seem to fix it – it still tasted yummy!

  11. hi!! The Powdered Sugar have corn starch??? Here in Brazil we use different names! For the frosting i have to use the sugar with or with not corn starch??
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Patrícia, Powdered sugar can also be called confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar. It’s a very fine powder and typically contains cornstarch to prevent caking and clumping. I hope this helps!

  12. Hi Sally! I love this recipe, it always turns out great! Would you know how to turn this into a purple velvet cake? I have red and blue food colouring (which I know make purple together), but should I reduce the cocoa powder? Any help would be great 🙂

  13. I made this for a friend’s birthday and I followed the recipe to a T! It came out great!!!

  14. Alyssa Fecura says:

    I made this recipe today and the cake fell in the center. Not sure what happened. I double checked all ingredients.

    1. If a cake falls in the center after it has been removed from the oven it’s likely under-baked. Leave it in the oven a few extra minutes next time.

  15. Thank you for sharing this recipe and the detailed tips and explanations. This was the first time I made red velvet from scratch and it was perfect! I am in Australia and left the milk out of the frosting so it was a workable consistency.

  16. Mary Ellen Hansen says:

    My son and I baked this cake together and were disappointed with the results. I believe we followed the recipe to the letter, but found it pretty tasteless and dry. The directions were so thoughtfully laid out too

  17. I made this and it was so good!!
    I used the whole bottle of red food coloring and it still turned out brown on the outside, I think it’s because I buttered and floured my mold. I used a bundt cake mold and it took about 52 minutes to cook in my oven and filled up the pan all the way.

  18. Hannah Riels says:

    This recipe was delicious! I made it for my daughters birthday and she loved it! The cream cheese frosting was great- sweet but not too sweet, just the way she likes it! I will definitely be saving this recipe to use again and again in the future. Thank you so much for this recipe Sally!

  19. This recipe is incredible. My oven is crazy with its temp so it took a solid extra 7 minutes for the layers to cook all the way ! I should get a new oven. But I’m keeping this recipe!!!

  20. I tried this recipe, and couldn’t believe the amount of sugar and butter. Although I used half of the sugar amount both for the frosting and for the cake, it was still overly sweet, but not moist or tasty. The frosting amount was tremendous, I had to throw it out along with the cake, it was the worst tasting cake I’ve ever baked. Such a waste of time and ingredients.

  21. How long can the icing last in the freezer. I made too much. And yes this is my kids favorite cake. They love it!

    1. Hi Jane, You can keep the frosting up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing, thaw in the refrigerator then beat the frosting for a few seconds so it’s creamy again.

  22. Can I use red velvet Betty Crocker cake mix instead of regular and just don’t add the food coloring? If not, what cake mix should I use?

  23. Someone made this for me for my birthday and it was amazing! You can actually taste the chocolate undertone of the red velvet cake. Highly recommend. Do you happen to know the nutrition information? Thank you!

  24. I would love to make this recipe but I was wondering if I can use self rising flour, converting it to your diy cake flour then omit the salt and baking soda from the recipe?

    1. Hi Tara, I don’t recommend self rising flour for this cake.

  25. Hi Sally! I’m always using your recipes and in fact I did the red velvet cupcake version already! I was just wondering if this recipe, along with the cream cheese frosting can yield 3 9-inch round pans? I’ll be making this for my sister’s recipe and she wants it to be 3 layers that’s why. If you have suggestions on how I can make it into 3 layers, it would be such a great help. Thank you!

    1. Hi Phoebe! See my recipe note 🙂 Divide the batter between 3 9-inch cake pans. Bake for about 22-25 minutes. Happy baking!

  26. Hi Sally, this is a great recipe. I look forward to using it for my friends birthday cake. I would like to make an 8 inch birthday cake and I was wondering, how do I convert the measurements to suit a three layer 8 inch cake?

    1. Hi Nicola, You can divide this amount of batter between three 8-inch pans. The bake time will be approximately 22-25 minutes or until the tops of the cakes spring back when gently touched and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

      1. Thank you so much for your response 🙂
        Have a good day!

  27. Joanne Madrid says:

    What If I don’t have paddle attachment? Because I only have handheld mixer

  28. Because of social distancing I am going to drive 2 hours and leave this cake for my daughter’s birthday May 6th I love cooking from scratch but have never done a red velvet which is her favorite. I was going to make my butter cake and add coloring but this sounds alot better. So thanks I will post again once she has a slice.

  29. Hey I’m trying to make this cake for Mother Day but I kinda want a three layer cake so does anyone know how to make this recipe three layers instead of two?

    1. Hi Emma, See recipe note.

      1. Thank you so much keep up the good work !!!

      2. In your video, you make it as a 2-layer cake. What size cake pans did you use? I plan to make this for my son’s birthday in a week or so.

      3. Hi Danny, I used 9-inch cake pans.

    2. read notes – same batter in 3-9” less in each of course and lower bake time

  30. Hi Sally,

    From your pictures, your cream cheese frosting looks very white. How do you get it so white?

    1. Hi Beth, The color will depend on the color of your butter and vanilla. If it’s looking a bit yellow and you want it to be bright white you can add the tiniest drop of purple food coloring to it and it will whiten up – I know it sounds weird but it works!

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