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 my fair share of cakes and the name holds up, this truly is THE BEST red velvet cake!
How much of the red food coloring do you use? Thank you!
I used a 1-ounce bottle (2 tablespoons), it’s listed in the recipe.
Thanks, I just wanted to make sure it was the whole bottle.
Instead of liquid food coloring can I use gel?
Yes, I would start with 2 teaspoons of gel food coloring and add more as needed.
1. On a scale of 1-10 how chocolatey does this recipe taste?
2. If just a hint of chocolate, has anyone ever made this recipe with extra cocoa powder to make it more chocolatey? I noticed in the tips above, she commented on how it isn’t super chocolatey— I don’t want super chocolatey, but I do want chocolatey! I am making this cake for my husband and his family here in France and they’ve never had a red velvet cake before, so I want it to be perfect!
It has a light chocolate flavor, you can taste it, but it’s not too overpowering. You may be able to swap out another tablespoon or two of flour with more cocoa powder, but I haven’t tried it.
i made this for my dads birthday last year and it tasted just like his late grandmas. thank you so much for this recipe, it’s a family favorite <3
Please I would lik to ask
Using d buttermilk substitute already containing vinegar
Do I still add the extra teaspoon vinegar into recipe?
Yes, if you make the buttermilk substitute with vinegar you still want to add the teaspoon of vinegar in the recipe.
Hi! Might be a dumb question, I want to make a one layer cake in a heart shaped cake pan I got at Michaels. Do I just cut the recipe in half?
It depends on the size of your pan, but you would probably need to cut it in half.
Can a third tier be made from this recipe, or would the ingredient amounts need adjusted?
You could bake the full recipe in three 8-inch round pans for 25 to 30 minutes. If you want three 9-inch layers, I’d recommend increasing the recipe by half. You would need to increase the amount of frosting as well.
Hey I wanted to know if this cake would work with 6 inch pans and if we would need to divide the recipe in half or how many pans it takes to use all the batter.
Yes, it would work with 6-inch pans. You’d probably need to divide the batter between four 6-inch pans, but you can cut the recipe in half if you just want two layers.
Update: dividing the recipe in have worked, great for a two tier six inch cake
Hello, I want to make this recipe using Valentine shaped baking pans that are three inches deep. The batter capacity equals 6 3/8 cups.
Should I double your recipe to have two layers?
I’m honestly not sure how much batter you would need for those pans. You can double the recipe and use any extra batter to make cupcakes though.
Thanks Danielle, I was thinking the same with the extra batter. How long should I cook the cupcakes?
The cupcakes will take 15 to 18 minutes, I would only fill each liner 2/3 of the way full.
Thanks for all of your recipes. Can I bake the cake in 7” cake tin, and for how long?
Thanks and keep up the good work.
It would be too much for one 7-inch pan. You could probably divide the batter between three 7-inch pans and use any leftover batter to make cupcakes. I’m not sure on baking time, but it should be around 30 minutes give or take a few minutes.
Is there nutritional info for this cake? ☺
Hi, Emily! I’m not sure about the nutritional information, but you can plug everything into an online calculator to get an estimate.
I made this recipe tonight with my daughter for our family Valentines Day Dessert. Everyone loved it. I loved it mahalo for sharing this recipe!
How much batter does this recipe yield?
Do you mean how many cups of batter? I haven’t measured it, so I’m not quite sure.
Hello, what can I substitute for vinegar? If I use gel colouring, how much should I add? Any other natural substitutes for color?
I recommend using vinegar, but you can use another type like apple cider. I would start with 2 teaspoons of gel food coloring and add more if needed. For a natural alternative, you may be able to use beet powder but I haven’t personally tried it.
Hi, can this redvelvet recipe work for fondant covering? Say bottom tier. Thanks.
I haven’t tried it, but I think it would be fine. It may be better to use my buttercream frosting under the fondant instead of the cream cheese frosting.
I have a new Bundt pan that I would like to use with this recipe. Are there any adjustments I need to make to use this type of pan?
You would just need to increase the baking time. I would guess it would take around 50 to 65 minutes.
What baking instructions you recommend for a bundt cake pan ?
I would keep the oven temperature the same, but increase the baking time. I’d guess 50 to 65 minutes for a bundt cake.
Can I make it in 2_ 8 inch vale pan
Yes, as long as your pans are deep enough that would be fine. You will need to increase the baking time.
Can I substitute the red food dye for pink or blue?
Yes, absolutely! You may need to use less food coloring depending on the color that you use though.
Looking forward to trying this recipe over the weekend. Is the buttermilk added to the wet ingredients and then added to the dry? I can’t find the wet ingredients being added only the buttermilk?
You mix together all of the wet ingredients, except for the buttermilk, in step 3. Then you alternate mixing the dry ingredients and buttermilk into the wet ingredients (step 4).
Would I need to double the recipe to make a 3 tier 10 inch cake? Thanks
I haven’t tried it, but I would probably double it for that.
This recipe is so great and easy. My friend and I had a midnight bake so we stored the cake out overnight before putting on the frosting to prevent melting. Try This!
An I use virgin olive oil instead of veg oil? If I make buttermilk with lemon juice and red milk, Do I still need to put white vinegar to cake mix also?
You can use olive oil, but keep in mind it will change the taste of the cake. I recommend using a neutral-flavored oil for this recipe. Yes, if you make a buttermilk substitute with lemon juice and regular milk you still need to add the vinegar.
Can i use whole milk instead of buttermilk
You need the acidity from the buttermilk to react with the baking soda in this recipe. If you have some lemon juice/vinegar, you could make your own buttermilk with whole milk. I have a post on how to do that here.
The absolute best red velvet cake I’ve ever eaten! I made this for my daughter’s 16th birthday and everyone in the family raved over it. I followed the instructions exactly as written and it came out perfectly. Thank you for such an amazing recipe!
Made this cake for my mom for Mother’s Day ~ it was DELISH. Everyone loved it and now my family said I’ll be the official family baker at holiday gatherings now haha. At first I was a little worried about adding the vinegar, but I followed the recipe exactly and it came out amazing! Thank you 🙂
The BEST Red Velvet cake ever! I made my own buttermilk per your recipe, and everyone raved about how moist this cake was, and not too sweet.
VERY important for ingredients to be at room temperature. My first attempt at buttermilk using colder milk was a disaster. 2nd attempt, room temperature was perfect. Thank you Danielle, you have a follower for life. Happy Baking!
Thank you, Sharyl! So glad the caked turned out perfect for you!
Hi, I made this cake. It tastes great! I have air bubbles and dense cake because I put the sugar with the dry ingredients. Dah, I know better. I mixed too much because the butter did not stick correctly. Anyway my question is I used my new convection bake oven and I over cooked it. Would you know what temperature and cooking time for convection ovens? Thanks for awesome instructions and delicious cake recipe.
If you’re using a convection oven, you will need to either reduce the oven temperature to 325°F or reducing the baking time by a few minutes.
Best recipe EVER for RED Velvet cake! Question, can 1/2 & 1/2 be used to make buttermilk for this recipe?
I think that would be fine as long as you mix it with some vinegar or lemon juice.
This is the only Red Velvet Cake I’ve made and I can’t imagine another recipe that could top it. I made it on my son’s request. Wrinkled my nose because Red Velvet cakes have seemed to me to be only be about red food coloring. First, this had the least red food coloring of all I could find and it was the perfect amount. Second, I realize with this recipe that the Red Velvet Cake really has a unique and delicate flavor. And it’s texture is simply the best! I don’t write many reviews but this cake, your recipe, has been a wonderful surprise. Thank you!
Thank you so much, Andrea! So happy you loved the recipe!