This easy recipe for classic Red Velvet Cake delivers three light and fluffy layers of beautiful red cake, lightly flavored with chocolate, and decorated with generous swirls of cream cheese frosting.
Soft and Moist Red Velvet Cake from Scratch!
Are you a fan of cake? I totally am. Cake is, as I recently told a friend of mine, my destiny! From plain little loaf cakes to stunning cake creations at big events, if there’s cake for it, then I’m there for it. Cake = life.
One of my favorite classic cake recipes is red velvet. With its deep red layers and generous dollops of ultra-creamy frosting, this beautiful cake is both gorgeous and scrumptious! Red velvet cake is perfect for making at Christmas, on Valentine’s Day, or for a special birthday.
This is the kind of cake that would make anyone feel special and loved!
What Makes a Cake Red Velvet?
Red velvet cake is an old-fashioned Southern dessert, a light chocolatey cake with a creamy, tangy quality similar to cheesecake. Red velvet cake has a tender, moist, and fluffy texture, which goes perfectly with the decadent cream cheese frosting you’ll usually find slathered all over it!
But, one of the most unique and special things about red velvet cake is its color. Originally, this cake had a reddish color due to a chemical reaction from the cocoa powder, vinegar, and buttermilk in the recipe. These days, most recipes enhance that color with red food coloring, to create a truly stunning look.
The Ingredients List
To make this cake, you’ll need a few basic pantry ingredients, like vinegar, flour, oil, and vanilla. Here’s the complete list, in detail:
For the Cake
- Flour: Use plain flour, not self-rising flour or whole-wheat flour.
- Cocoa Powder: Regular cocoa powder gives this cake its light, chocolatey flavor.
- Baking Soda: Make sure to use baking soda, not baking powder, to give this cake a nice rise and lightness.
- Eggs: If possible, set the eggs out to come to room temperature 15 minutes or so before you bake.
- Milk: Milk gives the cake a light, moist crumb.
- Oil: While you might be tempted to use butter, go for the oil in this recipe. It helps the cake turn out light and fluffy!
- Vinegar: White vinegar is an important ingredient in red velvet cake! It adds the characteristic buttermilk-style tang, and adds lightness.
- Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract gives the best flavor.
- Sugar: I use regular granulated sugar in this recipe.
- Red Food Coloring: Gel food coloring is great, but regular food coloring is fine, too.
For the Frosting
- Cream Cheese: The cream cheese should be softened to room temperature.
- Butter: Soften the butter to room temperature, also.
- Whipping Cream: Heavy whipping cream is best for this frosting recipe.
- Vanilla: Again, pure vanilla extract is best.
- Salt: If you use salted butter, you may want to omit or reduce the added salt here.
- Powdered Sugar: Powdered sugar makes the frosting light, fluffy, and sweet.
Let’s Make Red Velvet Cake!
The process for making this cake is divided into three basic parts: making the cake layers, making the frosting, and then assembling the complete cake. Here’s how you do it:
Bake the Cake Layers
- Prep the Oven and Cake Pans. Before you start baking, preheat your oven to 350°F. Next, grease three 8-inch cake pans with baking spray, butter, or oil, and then line them with parchment paper, cut to fit.
- Combine the Dry Ingredients. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl, and set aside.
- Combine the Wet Ingredients. In another large bowl, add the eggs, milk, vegetable oil, white vinegar, and vanilla extract, and whisk them together until thoroughly combined. Add the sugar, and whisk again until the sugar has dissolved.
- Combine the Wet and Dry Ingredients. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients, and slowly whisk them in until the batter is just combined. Be careful not to overmix, or you will end up with a dense and gummy cake!
- Stir in the Food Coloring. Finally, add the food coloring to the batter, and mix gently until the batter is an even, dark red color.
- Bake. Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans. You can do this with a ladle, adding one ladle at a time to each pan. Bake for around 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the time for even baking.
- Cool the Cake Layers. When the cake layers are done, take them out of the oven and cool them in their pans for 10 minutes. Then carefully invert the cakes onto a wire cooling rack and let them finish cooling completely.
Make the Frosting
- Beat Together the Cream Cheese, Butter, Whipping Cream, and Flavorings. In a large bowl or a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and heavy whipping cream until smooth. Then add the vanilla and the salt, and mix again until well-incorporated.
- Add the Powdered Sugar. Next, mix in the powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Use a slow speed on your mixer, so the powdered sugar doesn’t fly out of the bowl.
- Adjust the Consistency. If you find that your frosting is too thick, you can thin it out by adding one extra tablespoon of heavy cream at a time. If the frosting is too thin, beat in two to four tablespoons of powdered sugar at a time. When the consistency is right, cover the frosting and set it aside until you’re ready to frost the cake.
Assemble the Cake
- Level the Cake Layers. Before you add frosting, trim off any dome-shaped part of the cake layers, using a serrated knife or a cake leveling tool. If you wish, you can save the scraps and crumble them for decorating the sides of the cake.
- Place the Layers and Frost Them. Next, spread a small amount of icing on your cake stand, to help the cake stick to the stand and not move while you frost it. Place one layer on the stand, and spread an even layer of cream cheese over the top. Add another layer of cake and frosting, and then the last layer of cake and frosting.
- Frost the Sides of the Cake. Finally, spread a thin coat of frosting on the sides of the cake, and smooth it down using a bench scraper or other flat tool. Add another layer of frosting, if desired, to make it thicker around the sides, or leave it scraped thin.
- Decorate the Cake. If you like, you can pipe a frosting border along the edge of the cake, using the rest of the frosting.
Tips for Success
I hope you’re feeling inspired to try making this classic dessert! It’s so special, and so beautiful – especially when you include these helpful tips for success!
- Fluffy and Fantastic: Use cake flour instead of regular flour for an even lighter cake.
- Don’t Over-Beat: Beating cake batter too much can cause it to hold too much air, and then deflate in the oven. Depending on the cake, it may also over-activate the gluten.
- Don’t Skip the Vinegar: Although it may sound strange, don’t be shy about the vinegar in this recipe. It is crucial both for the rise of the cake, and its signature cheesecake-like tang.
Red Velvet Cake Variations
In addition to tips and hints, take a look at these easy recipe variations! Make this cake your way, and enjoy!
- Cake Pan Options: You can use this same recipe to make two 9-inch layers, one 13×9 sheet cake, or 24 standard cupcakes.
- Coffee and Cream: Substitute half of the milk with strong coffee, and the other half with heavy cream, for a deliciously dark and creamy chocolate flavor.
- Decoration Ideas: This showy cake can be decorated in all kinds of ways! From a “skirt” of cake crumbs or finely chopped nuts, to a scattering of your favorite sprinkles, to elegant chocolate shavings and curls, you can’t go wrong!
How to Store This Cake
- To store, place the cake in a domed cake plate, preferably airtight.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Can I Freeze Red Velvet Cake?
- Definitely! I recommend freezing the cake layers unfrosted, each one wrapped tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of foil. They’ll keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.
- Thaw for several hours or overnight at room temperature, and then frost.
Red Velvet Cake
For the Cake:
For the Frosting:
- 16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 cups powdered sugar
Prepare the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 3 cake pans (8-inch), line with parchment paper, and set aside.
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In another large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, vegetable oil, white vinegar, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.
- Add sugar to the wet ingredients and whisk until the sugar has dissolved.
- Add in the sifted dry ingredients. Slowly whisk or fold until the mixture is just combined. Be careful not to overmix, as this could lead to a dense and gummy cake.
- Add the food coloring and mix until the batter is an even, dark red color.
- Divide the batter evenly into the three cake pans.
- Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the bake time.
- Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pans for 10 minutes.
- Carefully flip the cakes out of the pans onto a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.
Prepare the frosting:
- In a bowl or stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and heavy whipping cream until smooth.
- Add in the vanilla and salt and mix until incorporated.
- Mix in the powdered sugar one cup at a time at a slow speed.
- If the frosting is too thick, add in 1 tablespoon of heavy cream at a time. If it is too thin, add in 2 to 4 tablespoons of powdered sugar at a time.
- Cover and set aside until ready to use.
Assemble the cake:
- Using a serrated knife or a cake leveling tool, trim and level the tops of the cakes. You can reserve the scraps of cake to crumble and decorate the cake with after frosting.
- Add a bit of icing to the cake stand to help the cake stick to the stand and not move.
- Spread an even layer of cream cheese frosting between each layer of cake.
- Spread a thin coat of frosting on the sides and top of the cake. Smooth it using a bench scraper. Add another layer of frosting, if desired.
- Optionally, pipe a frosting border along the edge of the cake.
- Cut and serve.
- To store, place the cake in a domed cake plate.
- Keep in the refrigerator for 3 days.