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. Love all your recipes! I was wondering if making your own cake flour is as good as actual cake flour. Like with the diy buttermilk that works just as well but is the diy cake flour the same success or should I just buy the real stuff to have no heart ache 😉

  2. Hey sally. This cake looks beautiful! I want to try making this for valentine’s day! I always wondered what flavor these red velvet cakes are lol. The crumbs part…do we just smoosh the crumbs into the side of the cake with our hands…? And they just stick? Lol
    Thanks!

  3. Can the oil be substituted? I made a red vekevet once from a recipe I found and it called for 1 cup and a half of oil….it was super greasy so now I’m scared to go over even half a cup. I absolutely love red velvet so I don’t want it to be greasy but I don’t want it dry either.

    1. To be honest, I don’t suggest it for this recipe. Of the test recipes I made for this cake, I found none of them to be greasy. You can try it if you’d like or find another recipe using all butter or less oil.

  4. Hi Sally! I’ve been trying to find the perfect Red Velvet cake to make for Valentine’s Day and this looks like a winner! I was wondering though, I know the cake is supposed to be light but does that mean if I were to make my cake with 3 layers, that the bottom cake layer might deflate under the pressure?

  5. I always LOVE your nerdy detailed posts, Sally! It helps me learn lots that I didn’t understand or “get” about baking. I want to reach into the screen, pull this red velvet cake out, and gobble it all up myself! It looks fantastic and so authentic! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  6. Red Velvet is a divisive flavour in our family. Those of us who love it vs Mum, who only eats the cream cheese frosting and gives her cake to Dad. She will however clean out the frosting bowl with her tongue if you give her the chance.
    I recently made a gluten free red velvet cake (three times in one weekend to get the flour combination right) and my boyfriend and I are still recovering (read: putting in extra gym time) after that weekend 🙂
    Soon though, we will be ready for our next indulgence, and I can’t wait to try your butter and oil tip. Food science is definitely my favourite kind of experimenting!

  7. hi, i really appreciate you taking time in educating your readers about the recipe you are about to share, i’m learning a lot, thank you so much! will try this soon 🙂

  8. Hi Sally! I LOVE your blog and read it every day although I have never commented! (And of course I’ve made plenty of your recipes :)) I just had to tell you that Whitney on the Bachelor reminds me so much of you!!! I don’t know if you watch the Bachelor, if you don’t you should look up who Whitney is because every time I see her I think of you. 🙂

    This cake looks delicious also! I am usually not brave enough to stray from a box mix because my homemade cakes always turn out dry or taste like cardboard but maybe with all your tips I can make a delicious homemade cake! I will have to give it a try!

    1. Katelyn, you aren’t the only person to tell me that I look like her! I do not watch the Bachelor so I don’t know what she is like on TV? Hopefully nice?

      1. She is so sweet and pretty!!! She is my favorite left on the show! You would like her! I know it is on again on Sunday and Monday night this week, you’ll have to tune in and take a look 🙂

  9. Yum – I will have to try your version with the separating of the eggs.

    My daughter is addicted to Red Velvet…but hates frosting…SHOCKING, I know! I have come up this version that she likes, so thought I would share.

    I only put the cream cheese frosting in the middle layer as she is agreeable to that. Then I pour a very thick and so chocolately ganache over the cake and let it drip. Literally – let it drip wherever and however it wants over the top and down the sides – Do not ice it or smooth it… Letting lots of cake and even showing off the cream cheese icing inside. Evenb my hubby, who doesn’t understand the rest of the family’s love for RVC, loves this one.

  10. I really appreciate your instuctions! We czn ne er know too much, especially in science & baking huh? I too have a dilemma with artificial dye, severe allergy! I’ve used beet, carrot, blueberrie etc….juices, concentrated to color cakes & frostings. Ive also found on line natural candy & cake decorating products. Nowadays you can find it alot easier. But… the dyes are pricey and leave you a bit unsatisfied. You can reduce your own beet, parsely, carrot etc. Juices yourself at a (nothing) price with patience and time,and, they last in the fridge for a while. Experiment with the extracted colors, fun & interesting. I’m so excited to make this amazing looking cake my daughter has a recent new love for “red velvet cake” asked me just 3 days ago how to reinvent it in the “best” way. Of course yor timing is perfect (and so is this recipe)! Thanks again Sally ! My Stefani will appreciate it too! Happy Valentines day ♡

  11. Sally! You’re killing me here! It’s so hard to finish a cake at my place with just two people (but it looks soooo good and cream cheese frosting is the best kind of frosting out there). Maybe if I make this, I’ll be able to make some friends! 😀 Your explanations are amazing and make everything approachable. Can’t wait for your candy cookbook to be released!

    1. Haha I “forced” my friends to come over and taste test with me over some wine. 😉 I’m sure if you tell friends that you’ve made this cake, they will be over before you hang up the phone!

  12. Some people are tired of Red Velvet – not me! This is one of my absolute favorite cakes. Love the tips and helpful tricks – you are so awesome and always go the extra mile to get to the bottom of these foodie mysteries. Thank you for that! Pinning for later…so excited to make red velvet again! 😀

    xo,
    Tammy

  13. Thanks Sally for using the ‘real thing’ ingredients – there is such a big difference between cakes made this way and their (unfortunate) imitations – I think that is why people are tired of red velvet – it just doesnt taste special at all.

    I for one love the science as much as the dessert – it persuades me to be a better cook – I know that is what you do in your work and I so love it. Happy Valentines Day!

  14. try kicking up you cream cheese frosting

    8 ounces Mascarpone Cheese (italian cream cheese)
    8 ounces cream cheese
    1 cup butter
    2 pounds powdered sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoon pure vanilla

    Mix well and spread on cake….Mascarpone is costy but so worth it….it make a big differcents in taste of Cream Cheese Frosting.

    1. does this frosting hold up for decorating? My niece wants me to make the Rosebud wedding cake this summer. and I need to find a cream cheese icing that I can use for decorations.

  15. You know me Sally, I LOVE your baking science nerd alerts! I actually just had a dream last night that I had to go back to grad school in the chem lab and start running reactions all over again… A little more complicated than the acid/base of baking, but not nearly as tasty. I’ll stay right here in the kitchen with desserts, thanks! 😉 And this cake?? It’s absolutely gorgeous!! That color is spot on, and it looks like it deserves to be in a magazine!

  16. I love your site and all your yummy recipes, but I have one suggestion/request….I am from Pennsylvania Dutch country, and where we live, red velvet cake has one and only one correct frosting. I am not sure when the idea started that red velvet cake should have cream cheese icing, but please give this a try at least once. You may never go back to cream cheese for this cake again 😉
    (This amount is perfect if you use a 9×13″ pan. If you bake a layer cake, you might want to use 1 1/2 or 2x the recipe.)

    Red Velvet Icing
    5 tablespoons flour
    1 cup milk
    1 cup butter – softened (2 sticks)
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla

    Gradually whisk milk into flour in saucepan. Cook, stirring until thick. Remove from heat and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on mixture. Cool to room temperature.
    Beat butter, sugar and vanilla well. Add cooled white sauce mixture. Beat well so that sugar dissolves. The frosting will look sort of grainy at this point, but keep beating on high until mixture resembles thick whipped cream. This may take about 5 minutes. Spread on cooled cake.
    This cake needs to be refrigerated, but tastes best at room temperature.

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