This homemade Red Velvet Cake recipe makes a moist, tender, and oh, so velvety soft bright red cake. It is buttery with a subtle cocoa flavor and topped with our irresistibly smooth Cream Cheese Frosting. This cake is perfect for any holiday or special occasion and is the most requested cake recipe on our site.
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We love making cakes and the bright red color of Red Velvet Cake makes it the perfect choice for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, rehearsal dinners, weddings, 4th of July, and Christmas (or any occasion because it’s delicious!). Watch the video tutorial and see just how easy it is to make this bakery-quality Red Velvet Cake recipe. It’s sure to impress! Here’s why you’ll love it:
- Easy to make with basic ingredients, you don’t even need cake flour
- Buttery soft with a tangy buttermilk flavor, and paired with a sweet, but not too sweet frosting
- Bright in color, which is especially appealing for Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and birthdays
- Easy to customize the toppings to fit any occasion
Red Velvet Cake Video
Watch Natasha make Red Velvet Cake from scratch. This is the best red velvet cake recipe! The red cake batter rises beautifully making it perfect for a two or three-tiered cake, you don’t even need to trim the layers.
What is Red Velvet Cake?
The exact origin of Red Velvet Cake is somewhat debatable. Did it start at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, in the South during the 1920s when Adam’s Extract Company was promoting their new food coloring, or was it during the food rationing of World War II when people creatively used beet juice to dye their cakes red? Whatever its roots may be, we are glad this beloved classic American recipe is here to stay.
Red Velvet Cake is known for its signature red or red-brown colored cake layers and soft texture that is… well, velvety. Many ask if Red Velvet Cake is just Vanilla Cake with red food coloring, and the short answer is no. Red velvet cakes have common ingredients like cocoa powder, buttermilk, vinegar, butter, and flour that create a moist and fluffy cake with a hint of chocolate flavor, perfectly sweetened with the tangy cream cheese frosting.
Ingredients for Red Velvet Cake
The red color in this cake starts with a natural reaction of 3 key ingredients (white vinegar, cocoa powder, and buttermilk) so you don’t have to rely on a ton of food coloring. If you choose not to use it, your cake will still taste exactly the same.
- Cocoa Powder (not Dutch process) – adds a hint of cocoa to the distinctive flavor profile of red velvet cake flavor
- Vinegar – activates baking soda and adds extra acid to help maintain the red color in baking
- Buttermilk – adds moisture and flavor, and keeps the cake light and fluffy
- Baking Soda – reacts with the acidic ingredients, producing carbon dioxide which helps the cake rise, resulting in a moist and tender texture
- Vanilla – We use our homemade Vanilla Extract for the best flavor
- Butter and Vegetable Oil – add flavor and moisture to the cake to form a soft crumb
- Flour, Eggs, Sugar, Salt – cake-baking basics that give structure to the crumb
- Red Gel Food Coloring – We recommend using a gel vs. liquid. Gel is more concentrated, so you will need less of it and it won’t water down your batter or frosting
For the Best Cream Cheese Frosting
Follow our Cream Cheese Frosting recipe to make the best cream cheese frosting or use a premade frosting in a pinch. I promise you, the homemade frosting is so simple, that you will never go back to storebought frosting again. It’s the same one we use on our Carrot Cake. You will need:
- Cream Cheese – block style, softened and cubed for the classic cream cheese frosting flavor
- Butter – unsalted and softened
- Powdered Sugar, Vanilla, Salt – for flavor
How to Make Red Velvet Cake
- Prepare – Preheat oven to 350°F, grease two 9-inch round cake pans with butter, and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
- Dry Ingredients – Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Wet Ingredients – With a hand mixer or using a standing mixer, cream together softened butter and sugar for a few minutes. Mix in eggs, adding them one at a time and mixing well to incorporate between each addition. Beat in vanilla extract until blended. Gradually add oil and mix on medium speed. In a small bowl, gently whisk together vinegar and buttermilk and then mix it into the batter on medium speed until incorporated.
- Combine – Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients all at once and mix on medium speed just until well blended, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- Tint – Add 1/2 teaspoon of red gel food coloring and mix just until blended.
- Divide and Bake – Pour batter evenly between prepared pans and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let rest in cake pans for 20 minutes then invert onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely to room temp before frosting. This batter rises very evenly but if for some reason your layers are not flat, use a serrated knife to gently trim off the excess so that your layers will be level when you stack them.
- Decorate – Make Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate.
To ensure even cake layers, use a kitchen scale when dividing the batter into prepared pans. This will ensure that your layers are the same size and bake at the same rate.
How to Assemble Red Velvet Cake
- Add a generous scoop of frosting to the first cake layer. Using a spatula, spread it out evenly and then stack the layers on top of each other, using the frosting to hold the top layer in place.
- Crumb coat with frosting to glue down the crumbs and seal in the moisture.
- Apply a top coat of frosting with an offset spatula to fully frost the top and sides of the cake if desired.
Use Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting between your cake layers to enhance the chocolate flavor of the hint of cocoa cake.
How to Decorate Red Velvet Cake
The signature red color of the cake layers is what Red Velvet Cake is famous for, so there is no need for elaborate decorations. After frosting:
- Apply red sprinkles around the top and bottom 1 1/2″ borders of the cake.
- Add red icing sugar in the same pattern to fill in some of the spaces.
- Add coconut or white chocolate shavings instead of sprinkles, patting it gently to secure it onto the sides. This adds a visually appealing texture to the outside while keeping the cake elegant and white.
- Reserve some frosting in a piping bag fitted with a large open star tip and refrigerate for a few minutes for easier piping then pipe frosting in puffs or rosettes around the top border of the cake.
This cake was originally served with ermine icing (a flour-based, depression-era, cooked frosting). More recently, it was replaced with Cream Cheese Frosting. If you are looking for a more stable frosting, you can use Buttercream, but traditionally, cream cheese frosting is used (and we think it tastes the best).
We do not recommend Dutch-processed cocoa because it is an alkalized cocoa powder and won’t react with baking soda. Stick with an acidic natural unsweetened cocoa powder like Hershey’s or Nestle (not Special Dark).
The cocoa in red velvet cake does technically make it a chocolate cake, but there are only 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder so it is much lighter and isn’t as chocolatey as a classic Chocolate Cake.
You could make Red Velvet Cupcakes if you adjust the baking time since they bake faster. Check for doneness around 17-20 minutes. You could also make Red Velvet cake pops.
Natural cocoa turns a dark brick red when it reacts with buttermilk and vinegar. Adding red food coloring makes the cake a more vibrant red.
If you limit food dyes in your diet, you can certainly omit the coloring without affecting the flavor at all, your cake will just be brown with a reddish hue, rather than bright red. You can use natural elements such as beetroot powder to tint your cake batter – start with 5 Tbs and mix, add one tablespoon at a time until you get your desired red color.
- To Refrigerate: Fully assemble and refrigerate this cake for up to 4 days.
- Freezing a Whole Cake: You can freeze a fully assembled cake in a cake box (cover the box with foil to prevent freezer burn) for up to two months.
- Freezing Cake Layers: Cool cake layers to room temperature then place plastic wrap or parchment paper between layers to prevent sticking. Wrap completely in plastic wrap and a layer of foil.
- To Thaw: Thaw a fully assembled cake or cake layers in the refrigerator overnight. If you thaw it on the counter, you will end up with soggy cake. Bring to room temperature for 2 hours before serving.
This bakery-quality Red Velvet Cake recipe is a show-stopper and it’s surprisingly easy to master right at home. Plus, you’ll fall in love with the Cream Cheese Frosting and want to use it on all of your cakes and cupcakes!
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Red Velvet Cake Recipe
Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in the center of the oven. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
Stir then sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 Tbsp cocoa powder, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt.
In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar for a few minutes until sugar is moistened and the mixture looks powdery like snow. Mix in two eggs, adding them one at a time, and beating well to incorporate between each addition. Beat in 2 tsp vanilla extract until blended. With the mixer on, gradually add 3/4 cup oil and mix on medium speed until well incorporated.
Stir 1 tsp vinegar into your 1 cup buttermilk, then mix it into the batter on medium speed until incorporated.
Add flour mixture all at once and mix on medium speed just until well blended and no streaks of flour remain, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Add 1/2 tsp red gel food coloring (add more to reach the desired color) and mix just until blended, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Divide batter evenly between prepared 9-inch pans and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Let rest in cake pans for 20 minutes then invert onto a wire cooling rack and let cool completely to room temp before assembling with Cream Cheese Frosting.