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

697 Comments

    1. Hi Janet! Buttermilk is a type of milk that’s fermented. You can make your own version with milk and vinegar, but using actual buttermilk is best!

  1. Hi Sally,

    I thought of using this recipe to make cupcakes.Could you please let me know whether is it possible to make the cream cheese frosting for the cuppies with 4 ounces of cream cheese, if so please let me know the measurements I need to use if I was to use 4 ounces of cream cheese for the cupcake .

    Thankyou

    1. Hi Divvi! You can divide this batter up to make cupcakes. (I also have a red velvet cupcakes recipe, too.) You can also reduce down the frosting where you only use 4 ounces of cream cheese. The other ingredients would need to be reduced to about 2 Tbsp of butter, a little over 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar, a splash of cream or milk and a splash of vanilla extract.

    2. Hi. Im a li’l bit confused about the measurements, it says 3 cups (345g)? Because on what i’ve searched, 1 cup = 250g, so it is suppose to be 3 cups = 750g?

      1. Hi Gwen! 1 cup of cake flour weights about 115g. The same volume of ingredients could weigh different amounts. For example, 1 cup of sugar weighs more than 1 cup of flour.

      2. This was the most amazing red velvet cake I have ever had! My family and guests loved it! I know your cakes are always perfect. I will even try a new one for company! No need to worry!
        Thank you!

  2. Hi Sally!

    I’m thinking about making this as a gender reveal cake, only blue or pink instead of red! If I do pink, should I omit the cocoa powder? Thank you!

    1. Hi Katherine! Omitting the cocoa is up to you– but the color will definitely stand out more without the cocoa. Would you rather make a vanilla cake instead and tint that?

      1. Hi, Sally. Thank you for your wonderful recipes and tips!
        If I omit the cocoa, should I add more cake flour?

  3. Hi Sally, I’ve been making your recipes for a few months now and absolutely loving them! Thanks for the deliciously perfected recipes! I’ve been recommending your site to my fellow bakers. I’m wanting to make this cake with the beet powder. However, when I was looking online about how to use it in the recipe, I read that the leavening ingredients react with the beets and prevent the cake from turning red. And that they give it a beer flavor. Is this true? If not, how do I use the powder in the recipe to get the gorgeous red color in your pictures? Thanks.

    1. Hi Lydia! Readers who have used beet powder in this recipe haven’t reported back with any beet flavor. There’s so much sugar and butter that I wouldn’t think you’d taste beets at all! I’m unsure of the best amount of beet powder to use to get this exact color, but use enough until you are pleased with the color of the batter. I hope this helps a bit!

      1. Thanks Sally. I made the cake with about 1 to 2 tsp beet powder mixed with 2 to 3 tsp water. The batter looked reddish purple, though not as deep a color as yours because I was unsure if the beets would flavor the cake. Couldn’t taste the beets at all! However, the baked cake was not at all red but just a light brown color. Flavor was great though!

  4. Also am looking at turning this into cupcakes… what’s the cook time and temperature for cupcakes with this recipe?

  5. Hi Sally,
    Can I use this recipe and measurements with 4 6’ inch round cake pans?
    Do you know how long the baking time would be?

  6. Hi Sally, I’ve read the instructions and it looks great! I have a question though- if I need the cake to be covered with sugar dough (fondant) and do not want it to be in the refrigerator for more that 24 hours- can I still use the same cream as in your instructions?
    Thank you

  7. Hi Sally, can I ask if cake flour is the same as plain flour? I’m in the UK and we don’t have cake flour. Thank you

    1. Hi Helen, Cake flour is much lighter than all-purpose and the perfect base for a light, soft-crumbed cake texture! If you can’t get it where you live see recipe note #2 for how to make your own!

  8. Hi Sally,
    Can I use this recipe and measurements with three 6’ inch round cake pans?
    how long the baking time would be?

    1. I haven’t tested the bake time for 3 6-inch pans but you can certainly do it! Do not fill the pans more than 2/3 full and if you have extra batter you can make a few extra cupcakes to freeze and enjoy later 🙂

    2. This recipe looks really nice and I want to try it. Could I substitute the buttermilk with something though? Just curious.

  9. I love this recipe!!! I used to make it from your first publish of it, but couldnt get it red enough (was using supermarket colouring) I paired it with an oreo cream cheese frosting and it was divine!!!

    1. I haven’t personally stacked this cake but I have heard from other readers who have used this recipe for a tired wedding cake and loved it!

  10. Hi Sally! I have a question, do you think the cake will still turn out good if I omit beating the egg whites separately and just beat the whole eggs in? Thank you in advance for your answer. I’m making this cake tonight for my family! 🙂

    1. Hi Olga, it won’t have the same soft texture that way. Beating the egg whites incorporates air and promises a velvet-rich texture!

      1. Thank you so much Sally! I ended up following your recipe and beating the egg whites by hand as I do not have a hand mixer My arm was hurting bad but omg was it worth it! Cakes turned out so rich, moist and fluffy! Recipe was good for 4 -6 inch pans. Thank you so much for the recipe and your answer! ❤️

  11. Hi Sally! I’ve got all the ingredients, but I only have sweetened cocoa powder. Can I still do the cake or should I go buy unsweetened instead?

    1. Hi Erika, I don’t recommend doubling it. Working with that much batter usually leads to under or over-mixing the batter which results in a dense cake. Instead make it twice!

  12. The best darn red velvet cake recipe EVER! I have tried many of red velvet recipes and this by far, hands down is the best I have ever baked. You’re right. The whipped egg whites is the secret to a light and fluffy texture. When I read that in the recipe, my eyes got soo big! I was like, this is the one, I just know it!
    Moist, yummy goodness. I used a cream cheese frosting recipe that requires heavy cream and granulated sugar instead of confectioners. The entire cake was like eating a cloud.
    This one is a keeper and the only recipe I will ever use from now on. I love all of the additional notes as well. Your recipes never fail. Thank you!

  13. Hi Sally,

    I am unable to find distilled white vinegar in our grocery stores. The closest they have is distilled malt vinegar – will this be okay ? or can I leave out the vinegar entirely ?

  14. Dear Sally,

    it says 2 Tablespoons/ 10 g cacoa. I saw that 1 Tablespoon is 10 g, when I put it into the batter, the bowl was on a scale then. So is it meant to be 20g/ 2 Tablespoons or 10g/ 1 Tablespoon (what I did)? I used measuring spoons.

    It worked out fine, though. I had no beet root powder, so I gratet 100g of beet root and put it into the batter. I thought: If you can do this with carrots, why not take beet roots? 😉 But it did not keep the colour. I later learned, that beet root cannot when heatened, whether fresh nor as powder…. But it was tasty, I did not taste it at all. The cake was a little bit sticky, even if the stick came out clean, when baked.

    I used wholemeal spelt flour, this was wonderful, too. I never change the amount of liquids, but some people do. It worked with this recipe again, too.

    For the frosting it might have been too sweet for my taste. So I reduced the amount of sugar to the half. I substitued it with 250 ml milk, cooked with 18g of corn starch, a pinch of salt, the amount of vanilla. I put in the sugar while hot. And later added the butter and the cream cheese. This is tricky, it only works when all has exactly the same temperature.

    It was a bit runny, but very, very yummy. I will definetly make this creamy frosting again. But with the double amount of corn starch, to make things easier when it come to decoration.

    Thank you! Kind regards.

  15. Dear Sally,
    I’m a long time baker. Yesterday my granddaughter requested red velvet cake for her birthday this coming weekend. This is my first time working with a red velvet cake. Your recipe seems the best I’ve found. Your instructions are well done and I enjoyed reading your comments to readers/users. Thank you for posting your recipes and I’ll let you know if this is a success.

  16. I wrote to you last night about making the red velvet cake recipe. It boiled over and made a mess. I tried and made the cake again only not beatying eggwhites to stiff peaks. I t was soft peaks. It baked to what it was supposed to look like. Thanks
    I really enjoy making your recipes .
    My father in law enjoys deserts and i like to bake,so I bake , take a couple of slices for us , then give the rest away to him or someone else.

  17. How many cups of batter does this recipe make? I am trying to figure out how many ingredients I need to bake an 11×14 sheet cake. Thank you !

    1. Hi Jaime! I wish I could help, but I’ve never measured the exact number of cups this batter yields. My guess is around 8-9 cups because the amount is similar to another 8 cup cake batter recipe in my repertoire.

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