The BEST Red Velvet Cake
This recipe for classic red velvet cake is made completely from scratch and features a tangy cream cheese frosting. Make this cake for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and birthdays!
If you’ve been making red velvet cake from a box until now, wait until you try the from scratch version. Only then will you understand why “velvet” is in the recipe name!
You see, it’s called “red velvet” both because of the cake’s signature crimson color, but also because of its velvety texture. The combination of natural cocoa powder, vinegar, and buttermilk in the batter creates a unique texture that no other cake has.
This crowd favorite cake might be bolder in appearance than your average layer cake, but it’s incredibly easy to prepare and requires no special ingredients or complicated prep work.
Enjoy this homemade red velvet cake any time of year — Valentine’s Day is the obvious choice, but this also makes a wonderful Christmas, birthday, or “just because” cake!
What Flavor Is Red Velvet Cake?
Red velvet cake isn’t just a prettier version of chocolate cake. Yes, there’s cocoa powder in the batter, but the overall flavor profile isn’t chocolatey.
If a cake is labeled as “red velvet,” that means it will have a mild cocoa flavor, but will also taste buttery and have vanilla undertones. The cake itself is also lightly tangy, which is complemented nicely by the cream cheese frosting.
Ingredients for This Recipe
The trick to achieving the signature color and texture of a red velvet cake is to use the right ingredients. A detailed ingredient list can be found in the recipe card below, but let’s quickly review the main things you’ll need to make this recipe:
- Cake Flour: I suggest using cake flour because it has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, which creates a softer, lighter cake. When it comes to cake flour, two of my favorite brands are Pillsbury Softasilk and Swans Down. If you don’t have any on hand, you can use my cake flour substitute.
- Cocoa Powder: There’s 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder in this cake. The cake isn’t super chocolatey, but it has a hint of chocolate that you expect in a red velvet cake.
- Butter & Oil: The oil helps to keep the cake incredibly moist while the butter adds a rich, buttery flavor.
- Buttermilk: The buttermilk reacts with the baking soda to create a soft, tender crumb. If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can make your own using my homemade buttermilk substitute.
- Vinegar: You’ll need 1 teaspoon of distilled white vinegar.
- Red Food Coloring: You’ll need one 1-ounce bottle of liquid red food coloring to make this recipe. I typically use McCormick red food coloring.
How to Make Red Velvet Cake
Despite its bold color, red velvet is one of the easiest layer cakes to prepare. Here’s an overview of the baking process:
- Prep the cake pans: Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
- Sift together the dry ingredients: Whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Then, sift the ingredients to ensure there are no clumps.
- Mix together the wet ingredients: I suggest creaming the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl for about 4 to 5 minutes. Creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy incorporates more air into your cake batter, creating a softer and lighter cake. Once the butter and sugar are ready, mix in the eggs one at a time. Then, stir in the oil, red food coloring, vanilla, and vinegar. Don’t add the buttermilk just yet!
- Alternate adding the dry ingredients with the buttermilk: To the wet ingredients, you’ll need to add the dry ingredients in three increments, alternating with the buttermilk. Make sure to start and end with the dry ingredients and mix in each addition just until combined.
- Bake: Divide the cake batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake layers cool in the pans for 15 minutes before inverting onto a wire cooling rack.
- Make the cream cheese frosting: I like to use a stand mixer to do this, but a hand mixer works just fine too! Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the butter and mix for an additional minute. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and mix until well combined.
- Assemble the layer cake: I recommend leveling the tops of each cake layer using a cake leveler or a knife. From there, it’s just a matter of spreading frosting over the first layer, placing the second layer on top, and then frosting the top and sides of the cake. An offset spatula makes easy work of this!
Additional Frosting Options
I used my favorite cream cheese frosting for this cake and increased the amount to have enough to frost it. If you want to try another frosting, my vanilla buttercream frosting or ermine frosting would be delicious too.
Can This Recipe Be Used to Make Cupcakes?
Yes! This recipe will make about 30 to 32 cupcakes and take 15 to 18 minutes to bake. If you prefer less cupcakes, you can try my red velvet cupcake recipe instead. It’s very similar to this recipe, but scaled down to make 16 cupcakes.
- Be sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature before getting started.
- Make sure to sift the dry ingredients to remove any lumps of cocoa powder. This will also help to keep the cake soft and light!
- If you want to make it easier to get the cake layers out of your pans I suggest using parchment paper. I use these parchment liners from Wilton and LOVE them.
- Alternate mixing the dry ingredients in three additions with the buttermilk, this will help to prevent over mixing the cake batter.
More Red Velvet Desserts You’ll Love!
Red Velvet Cake
For the red velvet cake:
- 2 ⅔ cups cake flour (spooned & leveled) (295 grams)
- ¼ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (22 grams)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened (115 grams)
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (350 grams)
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil (120 ml)
- 1 (1-ounce) bottle liquid red food color
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
- 1 ⅓ cups buttermilk at room temperature (320 ml)
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 12 ounces brick-style cream cheese softened (340 grams)
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened (175 grams)
- 3 cups powdered sugar (360 grams)
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- To make the red velvet cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray two 9-inch cake pans well with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper, and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Then, sift the dry ingredients to remove any lumps of cocoa powder. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs and mix until fully combined, then mix in the oil, red food coloring, vanilla extract, and vinegar, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Mix in the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Make sure to mix in each addition until just combined and be careful not to over mix the batter.
- Evenly distribute the cake batter between the two prepared cake pans and spread the batter around into one even layer. Tap the pans on the counter 2 to 3 times to remove any air bubbles from the cakes.
- Bake for 28 to 32 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Carefully remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool in the pans for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, carefully remove the cakes from the cake pans and place on the wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the cream cheese frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the butter and mix for about 30 seconds to 1 minute until well combined and smooth.
- Mix in the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue mixing until fully combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- To assemble the cake: Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler. Place one of the cake layers on a cake stand or plate, top with a layer of frosting, and smooth it out into one even layer. Place the second layer on top, then use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake.