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.

sliced red velvet layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

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.

slice of red velvet cake on a black plate

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 layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

slice of red velvet cake on a white plate

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 in a glass bowl

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.

red velvet layer cake on a marble and wood cake stand

Slices of red velvet cake on white plates

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!

red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

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. Made this for my 15 year old’s birthday party. The kids said the cream cheese frosting was way too sweet and I agree! Next time I’l only use half the powdered sugar and see how that goes. Also the quantity of frosting was too much, half would probably have been enough. Apart from that the actual cake was delicious and a hit.

  2. This is my favorite red velvet recipe. Always turns out amazing! My family loves it. Thanks Sally!

  3. Sally’s recipes never disappoint. This red velvet cake is stellar!

  4. I have never made a Sally’s Recipe that wasn’t delicious! Her site is my go to for all things sweet. Love this!!

  5. Hands down the best Red Velvet cake I’ve ever had. It’s the perfect blend of cocoa and vanilla, and the cream cheese frosting is delicious!

  6. I made this for my friend’s niece’s birthday who loved it! All her friends and family gave it rave reviews. I tasted the scraps from leveling the cake layers and they were SO moist!

    1. Haha I always taste those scraps too!

  7. This is the best red velvet cake! After trying several recipes I had given up for a while. I had to give Sally’s recipe a try and I am so glad I did! A lot of people think red velvet is just chocolate cake with red food colouring. I am not a chocolate cake fan, this is definitely NOT that. It has a wonderful flavour and texture.

    1. It’s not, I agree! It’s so buttery and moist with vanilla and cocoa. I’m so happy you’re thrilled with this red velvet cake recipe! Thanks Brianna.

  8. I love it! I use it for my cake, cupcake and bundt cakes. People are always asking for my red velvet cake and referring friends. Thanks Sally!

    1. Thank you so much for reporting back Feleshia!

  9. This cake is everything you want a red velvet cake to be…and the frosting is to die for!

  10. After taste testing a bunch of red velvet cake recipes, Sally’s recipe is my favorite!

  11. The BEST red velvet cake! The only recipe o turn to when I need to make one!

  12. The most perfect red velvet cake I have ever made! I even made it a “Teal Velvet” for a friend’s wedding cake! SO delicious!!

    1. LOVE that!! Thank you for your positive feedback, Krissie!

  13. This cake is incredible!!! Made it for hubby´s bday and it was a complete hit! Everyone loved it. It has an amazing ligth crumb and the frosting is to die for. I had made other red velvet récipes but this is the best ever!! A true classic and new family fave!!!

  14. The best best best red velvet cake. I didn’t think I even liked red velvet cake until I tried this recipe and OMG it is so freaking good. I brought it into work once and now all my coworkers request it regularly.

    1. I’m so happy this recipe changed your mind on red velvet cake 🙂 Thanks Melissa!

  15. Did you happen to edit this recipe since last week? (2/1/19) I made it last week for a wedding and it was DIVINE! I wanted to save it to my personal board instead of leaving it on my daughter’s wedding board, and it is slightly different (especially in the instructions!)

    1. Hi Kathy! The recipe is exactly the same, but I updated the instructions so the process is *slightly* easier. I’m so glad you’ve made this red velvet cake and enjoy it!

      1. Actually the recipe called for 1 and 1/2 Tbl of vanilla before. I’m going to make it again, for my birthday this time, and I’m not going to mess with perfection so I’m going off the original!

      2. Hi Kathy! I did slightly reduce the vanilla extract, but by all means- use 1 and 1/2 Tbsp!

  16. This is my favorite red velvet cake ever! And the cream cheese frosting is heavenly.

  17. I actually made this for New Years; I was waiting for a special occasion, not to mention a way to start the year off right! It was the greatest dessert that ever touched my tongue. It came out PERFECTLY, and delivered on every point of flavour and texture mentioned in the recipe. True to its name, this cake gave me feelings of pure luxury!!! Thank you, Sally, for making it a Happy New Year!

  18. Made this for cake pops before the recipe revision. The cake itself was very time consuming and a lot of steps to follow. But the cake was devine! The cake pops didn’t work so well, it required way less buttercream than I usually use. By time I figured it out, it was too late. But I look forward to making this cake as a regular cake soon!

  19. Maggie Ahmadi says:

    The best red velvet recipe. I’ve made several times and the beaten egg whites folded in make it so light. The taste is so good. This is the recipe requested by my kids for their birthday cakes.

  20. Hi Sally…always a pleasure trying your different recipes and might I add never was disappointed…I’m trying your red velvet cake for valentines day I’m certain it will be a great hit in my home..Thank you for always sharing your wonderful recipes…Charmaine

  21. I was so worried you changed your recipe! This is my favorite version of Red Velvet Cake, so I’m glad that it is still the same one. Would you consider leaving the old version around? 🙂 I think the new pictures are pretty, but I thought the crumb decoration on your old version was super cute and I wish I’d saved it for inspiration!

    1. Same exact recipe, but I began mixing the oil, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and vinegar all at once instead of separately. Cuts down on time and makes zero difference in the taste and texture outcome. I saved an old photo in the post of the crumb decorated cake!

  22. My favorite red velvet recipe. Never disappoints!

  23. I used to not care for red velvet cake…..til I made this one. LOVE LOVE LOVE!!! My go to recipe now. You will not be disappointed.

    1. Thank you so much Jennifer!! What wonderful feedback 🙂

  24. Absolutely delicious. 5 stars as all her recipes deserve!

  25. I’ve made this multiple times—one of my faves!

  26. I have never been a huge cream cheese frosting fan but I am slowly coming around. For that reason I have never baked my own red velvet cake. I have however been expanding and trying those others have made. The one I really liked had a few chocolate chips in it. Not overwhelming but just enough. Would adding that to this recipe change it too much or would you recommend altering anything else if they were added?

    1. I think adding 1 cup of chocolate chips would be DELICIOUS. That amount won’t overpower each slice. Now I want to try it! Let me know how it turns out.

  27. Made the Red Velvet cake for Christmas (but with buttercream frosting). It was so light and moist. The family loved it!

  28. This is the best red velvet cake recipe 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Alison!

  29. Question: How would chopped pecans in frosting work?

    1. Delicious. I recommend chopping them up very fine before beating or stirring into the frosting.

  30. Sally’s Red Velvet Cake eith Cream Cheese Frosting is simply divine. Beautiful, moist, with a nice crumb. It always garners rave reviews when I make it.

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