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.
I’ve made this twice now for birthdays. It was a hit both times. I leave out the red food coloring and just call it a velvet style cake. It stays moist and with the cake flour is light and airy. It tastes good cold as well as room temp. I have a question about storage. If I bake the night before, how should I store the cake unfrosted? In the fridge or at room temperature?
Hi, Sara! Either way is fine, but I personally like to refrigerate the cake layers until I’m ready to frost them.
Perfect recipe , I tried this and it came out perfect but what can I used homemade cream cheese
Thanks for sharing such an awesome recipe. It was my first time baking cakes and I baked a red velvet cake for my nephew. It came out lovely.
I have tried this cake today. Unfortunately when I made butter milk it didn’t make a curd initially but later on it did turn into curd in 3/4th cup.
Moreover, I find frosting of cake to be difficult when I am decorating it. Since making the sponge is easy. Can you teach us about different frosting.
Hi, Fatima! You may have let the buttermilk mixture sit too long, it really only needs to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Did you happen to use cream cheese that’s in a tub instead of a brick/block of cream cheese? If so, that can cause the frosting to be soft and difficult to work with. I do have several other frosting recipes on my site, you can find them all here.
I want to try baking this today but only have all purpose flour at home, can I use it in place of Cake flour
I’d recommend using cake flour. I have a post here on how to make it with all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
Hi there, wondering if you’ve tried this with gluten free flour? If so how does it turn out?
You could possibly use a gluten-free cake flour substitute, but I haven’t personally tried it with this recipe.
Thanks for the info, just finished my baking lesson last month, can’t wait to use your skills, soo can use cake flour instead all purpose flour for vanilla and chocolate cake???
I’ve made your red velvet cupcakes––they are simply PERFECTION so I thought to make this cake for a friend. I have a question, please. My cake tins are 8″ round, not 9″. Can I still use them? Does it change the baking time? Please advise how best to adjust the recipe or bake time for my 8″ round tins? Thanks so much!
Hi! I tried the same thing with 8″ pans, it yielded 3 cakes and the baking time was same. Hope this helps!
Yes, that’s fine! As long as your pans are deep enough, you can do two layers, but you will need to increase the baking time. Or you could do three 8-inch layers and the baking time will be about the same.
Thanks, Danielle! You’re my favourite source for baking inspiration, advice, and wonderful recipes…! (If you have a recommendation how MUCH I should increase the baking time for 2 8″ tins, PLMK?)
The cake turned out perfect both the times! How many cupcakes does this recipe yield?
It should yield about 30 to 32 cupcakes. If you want less, you can use my red velvet cupcake recipe here.
This recipe is simply excellent; as are Danielle’s red velvet cupcakes. I can’t recommend them enough–the cake is moist and light, and the icing is perfection. (I used 8″ cake pans with no issues and didn’t need to bake longer than the suggested time for 9″ pans.)
So glad you loved the cake, Susan! I apologize for not getting to your question sooner on the 8-inch pans. I’m glad they worked out great for you!
Very fluffy easy to follow directions
Made this for the first attempt at a red velvet cake and I must say I loved it followed directions as written I used a little less vinegar than I was supposed to did not pick the teaspoon forgot my glasses the was the only oopsy but I will put this in my recipe box to use again thank uou
Made this cake and it was amazing except for one thing. My frosting was way too liquid rather like-a glaze. What could be the reason for it? I followed exact same method in frosting but it turned out too thin. I used caster sugar it.
How do I fix this issue next time I make it?
If you used caster sugar, that’s probably why it was so runny. You need to use powdered sugar, also known as icing sugar or confectioners sugar. I also recommend using brick-style cream cheese. If you use cream cheese that’s in a tub, it can turn out runny as well.
Hi, I am wondering if its possible to store the frosting overnight in the fridge before frosting the cake?
Yes, that’s fine! You will need to let the frosting come back to room temperature before you frost the cake.
What should I add/change when baking at high altitude?
Hi, Jake! I’m not familiar with high altitude baking, but some readers have found this guide helpful.
I can’t get buttermilk where I am – is there a substitute?
Hi, Gabriella! I have a homemade buttermilk substitute here that you can use.
I’m red velvet obsessed and this recipe is my new favorite! Wondering if I could make it in a sheet cake instead of layers or 13×9?
Yes, absolutely! You will just need to adjust the baking time.
I accidentally didn’t scrape the bottom so some unmixed butter was on the top while baking. Do you think it will still taste good?
As long as it was a small amount, it shouldn’t affect it too much.
I would like to try this recipe . I just have a question on the cocoa powder …. I only have dark cocoa powder which tends to give a strong taste when baking a chocolate cake . How much of it can I use for this red velvet cake recipe ?
Without testing it, it’s hard to say how much you would need to use. If you adjust the amount of cocoa powder in the recipe, you’d likely need to make adjustments to other ingredients too.
I only have salted butter. Would that be OK. Or should I cut back on adding the salt, if so how much salt should I add????
You can use salted butter and just reduce the salt to 1/4 teaspoon.
I made this cake over the weekend and got soooo many compliments. Everyone who tried it said this is the best red velvet they’ve ever had! I completely agree. It was so moist and rich!
Hi! Is red gel food coloring ok substiute for red liquid coloring? If so, any change in amount used or still 1 oz? Thank you!
You can use gel food coloring, but you probably won’t need as much. I would start with 1 tablespoon and add more as needed.
I made this for my son, following the recipe. It was DELICIOUS!
If I wanted to cut the cocoa powder in half (to get a brighter red), would I increase the cake flour by 2 tbsp?
I haven’t tested it, but I probably would to compensate for the cocoa powder.
Hello, is there a way to make the frosting thicker? It’s delicious but too runny. Or maybe doing something wrong
You could try adding a little extra powdered sugar or even some cornstarch. If it’s still too thin to spread, you can refrigerate it for 30 to 40 minutes and see if that helps. Did you make sure to use a block of cream cheese too? If you used cream cheese spread, that will cause the frosting to turn out runny.
I baked this red velvet cake for my daughter birthday and it is by far the best homemade recipe. It is very moist and delicious, the cake was gone in 3 days. It is Delicious cold and room temperature. It just melt in your mouth. I just need to work on the icing, I think I stirred/mixed it too long. Do you have a strawberry cake recipe from scratch or can this recipe be used as a strawberry cake recipe? If so, what do I substitute, take away or add?
So glad you enjoyed the cake, Cynthia! I do have a homemade strawberry cake recipe here.
Thanks for sharing your recipes. I forgot to mention, when I baked your red velvet cake, I used the chocolate chips in the recipe which made it so much more delicious. I will bake again an keep this recipe on file. Can I baked the red velvet in a Bundt cake pan.
Yes, you can! I’m not sure on baking time, but I would guess 50 to 65 minutes.
I made this a couple weeks ago and my family loved it. My sister in law asked me if I could make this again for her sons birthday, but she requested for me add chocolate chips. Is that even possible?
I haven’t tested it myself, but I think that you could. The batter is thicker, so I don’t think that they would sink to the bottom.
For how many portions is this cake
You can usually get about 8 to 12 slices, depending on how large you slice them.
Is this recipe suitable for a bundt? If not, can you share a modified recipe to make red velvet bundt cake? Thank you.
Yes, it would work for a 10 to 12 cup bundt pan. You will just need to increase the baking time.