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? Is it chocolate? Is it 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.
  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 even red velvet skeptics. I should know because I used to be one!

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 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) 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.
  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. If you absolutely cannot get ahold of it, a mix of all-purpose and cornstarch is fine. Sift together 2 and 2/3 cups (333g) all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup (40g) cornstarch and use this instead of cake flour. Sifting them is imperative. Measure 3 cups AFTER sifting and use in the recipe instead of cake flour.
  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

482 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,

    I want to make this cake for my dad’s birthday. I am planning on making it on Thursday evening and then Driving up to Scotland on Friday after work. So will eat on Saturday, will it still be suitably fresh? how shall I store it in the interim? 

    Thank you
    Alicia

    1. It will still be wonderful. I’d travel with it in a cake carrier. Keep it in the fridge when you aren’t traveling if you can.

  2. Hi Sally!! 

    For the buttermilk, when doing the DIY version can I use coconut milk (from the can since the consistency is thicker) instead of regular milk? The hubs is lactose intolerant 🙁 

  3. Hi! I love both your Red Velvet Cake and Cupcakes recipes. And I feel soo silly asking this question but I must! Will cupcakes turn out well using the cake recipe? I need to make more than a dozen and the cake recipe seems that it will yield the right amount of cupcakes. If it works well, is there anything I need to watch for? other than baking time? Thanks so much for sharing your “addiction”! 🙂

    1. Hi Dolores, you can absolutely make this cake into cupcakes. I wouldn’t change anything about the recipe. Obviously a lower baking time. 🙂 Let me know how they turn out!

  4. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for the Red velvet recipe, can you advise as my daughter loves Red Velvet cake, however wants a middle layer of Oreo cookies instead of the cream cheese fostering, how do I make that? thank you.

  5. HI Sally,

    I can’t wait to try the recipe for my hubby’s birthday this Saturday. Can I replace cake flour and baking soda with self raising flour? Thanks

  6. Hi Sally, your red velvet cake is very popular with my family.  It is always requested whenever a family member’s birthday comes around.  I have 12 grandchildren.  So, you can just imagine how many times your red velvet cake is baked in a year.  And, that’s discounting Christmas, Thanksgiving and other celebrations.  That’s how delish your r.v. cake.  Thank you so much for sharing your recipe.  

  7. Hi Sally! I love baking as a stress reliever. I made this cake last night. I ended up doing three layers instead of two because of the pans that I had. The cake turned out AMAZING!  I usually make all of my cakes with Swann’s Down Cake Flower.  I do have a question. I definitely think that the mix of unsalted butter and canola oil contributed to the moistness of the cake, but could I substitute the canola oil for butter? 

  8. Hi Sally, I love your recipes and came across this one so going to try it! I’ve been asked to make a ‘blue velvet’ cake, do you think this recipe would work the same with blue & a touch of violet colouring instead of red? 

  9. I made this cake over the weekend for a birthday celebration and it was a hit!!!!  I love working with your recipes. I always direct them to your website for the fabulous recipes. Thank you!

  10. Hi Sally, 

    I almost gave up baking, until I came across your blog. Every recipe that I’ve tried so far has been such a huge success. The flavors are fantastic! Red velvet cupcakes are my favorite so far, even the cinnomon rolls…never had better! I now end up recommending your site to all my friends. Great going!! 

  11. Thank you SO much for giving full instructions for preparing the cake AND how to store it!!!! So so so so so helpful!!!!! I’m making this for my mother in law’s birthday. It’s both of our faves! It’s in the oven now! Can’t wait to taste it tomorrow night!! 

  12. Hi Sally, thanks so much for such an awesome recipe! I made it last night at the request of my daughter for her 20th birthday. It was so moist and flavorful, I’ll definitely be making it again. One word of caution though, I would definitely recommend against spraying the pans with cooking spray. I’ve used parchment paper for years, but thought I’d go ahead with the cooking spray this time because it was late and I felt lazy. Big mistake. The three layers came out of the pans in several pieces, with a good chunk of it remaining stuck to the bottom of each pan. It was all I could do not to throw them against the wall! 🙁 But I wrapped them up and decided to get a good night’s sleep and come back to it in the morning. In the end, I pieced them together as best as I could, and the frosting and crumbs hid the worst of it. It was not pretty, but everyone agreed that it tasted really great, and that’s what really matters, right? So I thought I might save someone else from the frustration and just say that you can’t go wrong with parchement paper, as long as you don’t forget to peel it off before frosting the layers! That’s another problem in itself. Yikes! Thanks again for the awesome recipe!

  13. Dear Sally,

    I’m currently living in Germany and I have never seen “Brick” style cream cheese is there any other way to do the frosting with regular philadelphia cream cheese spread?

  14. Hi there,

    I have never been a huge fan of red velvet cakes, until I tried this recipe tonight!
    It is for a 21st cake tomorrow and it smells delicious! Not going to lie I just tried some of the off cuts and it is so moist and fluffy – will definitely be using this one in the future!

  15. I made this cake for my supper club. It was a big hit & every one had to take an extra piece home with them.  I appreciate all the extra notes you included in the recipe, they were very helpful.

  16. Can I make the batter, divide it into three portions, pour it into the pan and bake it while the other two portions wait? Or is it impossible because of baking soda?
    Thank you so much for your recipes, they never let me down! х

  17. Hi Sally… fantastic recipe, I made this for my daughters 1st birthday sans food dye – and it was exceptional and quite simple as well. I wanted to know though this time around a couple things:
    1. What cream cheese did you use?
    2. Can I make the frosting 2 days prior and the cake a day before and assemble it the day before?

    Thank you!

  18. Lovely cake but the icing quantities seem a little off.  The icing came out so runny and I had far too much of it. I had to add a lot more icing sugar and refrigerate it before I could use it on the cake (without it running off the sides.) 

  19. Hi Sally,
    If I were to make a sheet cake (13×9), do I just pour all the batter into the pan and bake? Approximately how long do I bake before I start testing it with a toothpick!
    Thank you so much in advance!

  20. HI All,

    The recepie s seemed to be Wooooow. I’m planning to try it next weekend but I ve question before, did any one tried with with the ( all purpose flour and corn flour mixture)??? 

    Please I need the reply as soon as possible as I Do wanna try this awesome recipe…

    1. Hi Sara!
      Yes I did, you can view my comment below since I did quite a couple of things different. The all-purpose flour+corn flour combination is a perfect substitute for cake flour. I’ve never bought cake flour, that’s what I do every time I need it for cakes or pastries. Sally is someone to be trusted completely when it comes to everything in the kitchen haha. Hope it turns out as awesome as mine did

  21. Hi, question about the egg whites. Most recipes that have you folding in egg whites specify to beat them to soft or firm peaks, but you are saying just whisk them until foamy? Are you still able to fold them in that way? Thanks!

  22. Oh Sally, I absolutely adore this recipe. I’d only tried red velvet once before and this was my first time making it so I was quite hesitant but having tried your recipes before, I knew I could trust it without thinking twice. I love the technique of folding in the egg whites, you know it’ll definitely be light and fluffy. Also I wanted to add, for others who may be interested as well, I did a few things differently due to not having all the ingredients and materials on hand. I didn’t have cocoa powder so I made do however I could. I ground 1/3 cup of 60% cocoa chocolate and whisked it into my dry ingredients. Since the cocoa butter in chocolate takes away from the chocolaty flavor, I added quite a bit more. I can’t say its a substitute because if you don’t melt it in(as I didn’t) the chocolate specs will be evident. But it gave a great end result and that’s all that matters to me. Also, I didn’t have gel food coloring so I substituted it with 2 tsps food coloring in powder form and it gave it a lovely red color. Oh and I baked this in a round ceramic baking dish and made a batch of cupcakes. I used your tips to make the cake flour and buttermilk myself. Thank you for the lovely recipe, the detailed explanations, and your all-around lovely personality.

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