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.

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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

948 Comments

    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

  1. 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?

  2. 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!

  3. 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. I LOVE your recipes! Any recommendations for how to scale this up for two 12” rounds? I’m going to try this out for my daughter Ruby’s birthday crowd.

      1. Thank you, Madilyn! I haven’t made this in a 12 inch pan but this is a helpful chart from Wilton that you can use to determine how much batter you will need: https://www.wilton.com/cake-serving-guide/cms-baking-serving-guide.html

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. All I can taste is the oil (I used canola) , what went wrong? I gave this recipe 3 stars because the texture is light and fluffy as promised and the bake time was spot on (I used a 9×13 pan for 40 minutes) but the flavor is inedible. I’ve re-read the ingredients list and am sure I incorporated everything as specified but sadly the only flavor to the cake is pure oil.

  9. 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?

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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!

  17. 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).

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. Hi Sally,

    I made this a couple weeks ago and I would like to make a small cake for my husband. Can I half the ingredients to get a smaller cake for him. I am wanting to do a 4in cake.

    Thanks

  21. Excellent recipe! I have made several of your cake recipes and they all have come out beautifully so far…

    I made a 10 inch round cake (1.5 x recipe), torted each layer for 4 layers, filled with your chocolate cream cheese frosting (heavenly!) and frosted the outside with ermine frosting.

    This cake was one of the softest, fluffiest cakes I have made. Rave reviews all around. Will make again, thank you!

  22. Have you dyed the frosting before? I’m making this cake for a friend’s baby shower and she wants the frosting to be pink. What type of food coloring should I use ?

  23. Oh, greatness, I made this cake today prior to Valentine’s day, I have halved the ingredients because I was not sure of myself with the oil ingredient, but believe me, I just have a super moist yummy cake. Now on valentine, I will not deduct or add anything., Thanks Sally, another hit!

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