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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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. 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. This recipe is complicated if you are not an experienced baker, and it took much longer than 30 minutes to assemble. In my oven, (in 2 x 9 inch pans) the batter did not cook through anywhere near 30 minutes at 350. When the center was finally cooked, the sides were dried out. Also, the recipe calls for too much frosting- we used maybe just over half of what was made. Having said that, the taste of the cake (and the part that was cooked properly), is delicious. Frosting is a bit too sweet- but kids loved it.

    1. I haven’t tried the recipe…yet, but as for the frosting, try adding some lemon zest. The acidity balances out the sweetness. I use this for all my cream cheese frosting and it’s truly amazing!

  2. Tried this recipe last week and it was absolutely sublime. True red velvet flavor if following the recipe very closely. The video is so helpful too. Will definitely make this one again!

  3. Samantha Hill says:

    Made this today. It is wonderful. Super light and airy.

  4. Helen Caines says:

    Hi Sally,
    I love this recipe. I made for my birthday and Mother’s Day (2 weeks in a row). I had been searching different sites and trying different red velvet recipes and by far this is the best tasting and easy to make. The butter and oil combo does make the difference!!

  5. I tried this recipe and the cake was so yummy. Am yet to try the cream cheese frosting. Thanks Sally

  6. Can i also use an 8inch round pan for this recipe? What adjustment should be done on temp and time? Excited to try this!

    1. Hi Andrea, 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.

  7. Hi Sally,

    Lovee your recipes!! I tried your banana bread and turned out amazing. (first time baker)

    This would be the first time trying to bake a proper cake, I only have a 6 inch tin, is it possible to cut the cake in half or should I buy another 6 inch tin? The 8 inch pans are sold out lol…

    What adjustments would you recommend me to do for the recipe?
    Trying to bake this for my partner’s birthday in this lockdown.. Thank you so much in advance!! 😀

    1. Hi Helena, I’m so happy you enjoyed the banana bread! For 6 inch cakes my favorite trick is that cupcake batter that produces about 12-15 cupcakes is the perfect amount for a 3 layer 6 inch cake. You can use my Red Velvet Cupcakes and find the baking information on my post about 6 Inch Cake.

  8. Hi,
    I can’t find cornstarch and it is out of stock online. I wanted to use cornstarch to substitute for cake flour. What can i use instead thanks! 🙂

  9. Hi I want to make this recipe in a week or so but I can only find light buttermilk. Would using light buttermilk mess the cake up at all?

    1. Hi Yvette, You can use either for this recipe– low fat is all I can find sometimes, so I usually use that.

  10. Is this sturdy enough for a 2 tier cake?

    1. Yes it should be with proper support! See my Simple Homemade Wedding Cake for how to stack and support tiers.

  11. Can you decorate a cake with this cream cheese frosting? I’m making this cake for a graduating senior and would like to write on the top of the cake and do a little decorating. Should I make a small batch of buttercream for the writing and decorations?

    1. Hi Jennifer, This frosting is pretty soft. It is fine for writing. I have used it for simple decorations with plain round tips – you can fill your piping bag and place the entire thing in the refrigerator before piping to help it hold it’s shape. For more intricate designs or textured tips you will want to make a small batch of thick buttercream frosting.

  12. nancy udell says:

    I had the exact same issue as another commenter. The middle of this cake never cooked. Because I was making it for my grandson, I did a test cake first in my big oven. Even after 45 minutes the center was liquid. But then I thought that the big oven must not be going to temp, and I tried it again in my small convection oven and still center was liquid after MUCH more than 32 minutes. By the time the center was done, the outside was dry. I would not use this recipe again. It might be me, but apparently I am not alone.

  13. this recipe does not have baking powder as an ingredient how does the cake rise?

    1. It rises because it has baking soda which reacts with the acid in the recipe (baking powder is baking soda with an acid already mixed in)

  14. I made this for my birthday last weekend! Couldn’t find cake flour anywhere, so I used the substitute recipe and my family really loved it! Would definitely make this again!

  15. So delicious. Cake turned out so moist and fluffy. Tastes amazing. Had to add more powdered sugar (1-2 C) to the frosting to get it to pipe well and putting it in the fridge before hand helped.

    1. Best red velvet recipe, thank you for sharing the whole process really appreciated! I made it for my son b’day and everyone loved it.

  16. I made this for a friend’s birthday. I made a test cake beforehand along with the frosting. I used 2 nine-inch pans. It baked fairly close to time recommended- I checked a couple of times with a toothpick. It was delicious, moist, and light. My friend says it was better than the one a friend of hers bought for her.

  17. Turned out amazingly! Recipient of the cake was totally in love.

  18. I followed the recipe to a “T” . Made the cake flour with corn starch and regular flour sifted twice. Separated and whisked the egg whites, everything room temperature. I used a Bundt pan and My cake turned out to be more bread like. It took almost an hour in the oven. The taste was great the frosting was amazing. I had a lot left over but used it for fruit dip since it was not too sugary. It was challenging since this is the first non box cake I have ever made. I use this site often because Of the details and explanations for everything. Maybe next time I should just use normal cake pans.

  19. I’m not much of a baker but this recipe was easy to follow and I had a lot of fun with it. The cake was delicious but seemed too dense. I’m not sure what would have lightened it up a bit??

  20. Very disappointed. I, too, had issues with the cake baking all the way through in the center. I think it’s because there is more batter in this cake than if you use just a regular box cake (and who wants to do that??) Don’t get me wrong…the cake tasted good and was very light and moist, it just didn’t make me want another slice. In fact, I took a few bites and was ok not finishing it. I do appreciate the step-by-step instructions, though. Thank you!!

  21. Hi there I wanted to make a tall 4 layer 6inch cake using this recipe. Would I have to scale down or is this version of the recipe okay?

  22. Hi Sally, I was wondering if I could use cranberry juice (fresh cranberries reduced down on the stove to make a juice) in place of red food coloring, I have no red food die, Thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Marcela, I haven not tried that but I fear that you would need to add too much liquid to the cake that way. If you leave the food coloring out it will still have the same delicious taste!

  23. Loved this. Fantastic directions (which I need). Made it in a 9×13. I did use less powered sugar in my icing (just my preference). I’m making another this morning to take to my son and his family.

  24. Just made this cake last weekend for a friend’s birthday…and it was a hit! It’s moist, fluffy….and the flavor blends perfectly with cream cheese frosting recipe shared here. What a delight 🙂 Thank you Sally.

  25. Uma Daswani says:

    If I halve the recipe, will it fit into two 6 inch pans? How long do I bake then?

    1. Hi Uma, You would still have too much batter for just two 6-inch pans. You can fill each pan 2/3 full and then use the extra batter to bake a few extra cupcakes though! See my post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions for help converting recipes to different sizes.

  26. This was a fun recipe to make and tasted amazing. One WARNING: like many others, my cake would not cook in the center and dried out the outside edges. I found a common trick that solved this problem in 5 minutes. I put tinfoil over the cake moderately bound so the heat trapped in the center. My cake was fully cooked in the center from liquid to perfection after five more minutes in the oven. Otherwise I loved this recipe and it was a hit with my family!

  27. Hi Sally,

    I’ve tried some of your recipes and they all turned out great!! Thank youuu!! By the way , is there a way to make the cream cheese frosting thick even if I only use 2 cups of confectioner? I find it too sweet if I go beyond 2. Please help me 🙁

    1. Unfortunately, there really isn’t. A few things to try are to use the recipe as written but add extra salt to cut the sweetness. Or you can try refrigerating the icing which helps it solidify a bit. Either way be sure you are using full fat block cream cheese.

  28. Amazing texture. Love this recipe!!

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