Make this classic moist red velvet cake for your next celebration! Easy to make, with less than half the food coloring of other recipes.

Moist triple-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberries.

There is just something so festive about red velvet cake!

I mean, all layer cakes in general just scream “party” to me. My Simply Perfect Chocolate Cake, Carrot Cake, and Tiramisu Cake always get tons of ooh’s and ahh’s, and never fail to make any celebration that much happier and more memorable.

But red velvet cake is special. It’s so eye-catching, and every time I make it, that first bite takes my breath away.

It’s so moist, and the subtle cocoa and buttermilk flavors are so old-fashioned and comforting! I’ve heard a lot of people say that red velvet cake just tastes like plain cake tinted red, but that is not the case with this recipe at all. This red velvet cake tastes so rich!

The cocoa flavor really shines, and there’s a subtle tang from the buttermilk. The cream cheese frosting plays off of that and adds sweetness. It complements all the flavors in the cake in the most delicious way!

Southern-style red velvet layer cake with homemade cream cheese icing.

THE ORIGIN OF RED VELVET CAKE

Red velvet cake has been around for a long time. Southern bakers have been making it since the 1800’s. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York claims to have invented it, but since that time it has become hugely popular in the US and around the world.

It’s perfect for any occasion, but I especially love to serve it for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and patriotic holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. That bright red color is such a show-stopper!

WHAT FLAVOR IS RED VELVET CAKE?

Red velvet is an oil-based cake that gets its unique flavor from buttermilk, a touch of cocoa, and vinegar. It may sound like a crazy combination, but it’s surprisingly delicious!

The buttermilk gives this layer cake a soft, creamy quality, and it’s amazing how much chocolate flavor just two tablespoons of cocoa powder can bring. Vinegar enhances the subtle tanginess of the buttermilk, but it also reacts with the baking soda to help the cake to rise tall and fluffy.

It’s also thought that at one time the natural alkyds in the cocoa powder would chemically react with the acidity in the buttermilk and vinegar to create the red color. But nowadays, we just use a splash food coloring.

WHAT MAKES THIS RED VELVET CAKE RECIPE SPECIAL?

This recipe bakes up incredibly moist and delicate, but unlike many other recipes, it’s not the slightest bit oily. There’s enough oil to keep it moist, and plenty of buttermilk for richness.

It also contains about a third of the food coloring of most other red velvet recipes. I just can’t imagine why anything would need more than a tablespoon of red dye. A little bit goes a long way, and this cake looks vibrantly red, with less than half the artificial color.

Plus, red velvet cake is one of the easiest things you’ll ever bake from scratch. It comes together almost like a quick bread: stir the dry ingredients together, stir the liquid ingredients together, combine them, and bake. So simple, quick, and easy!

Best old-fashioned red velvet cake from scratch.

WHAT KIND OF FILLING OR TOPPING TO USE?

There are lots of ways to adorn a red velvet cake, but my favorite by far is cream cheese icing. The way the cake and frosting flavors combine is just heavenly.

For this layer cake recipe, I chose a traditional cream cheese frosting. You can read lots more about it here: Cream Cheese Frosting.

But if you’re looking for something a little different, here are a few good options:

You can also cover this red velvet cake with fondant! It’s perfect for that, and the bright white is gorgeous against the brilliant red cake.

CAN RED VELVET CAKE BE MADE GLUTEN-FREE?

Yes! If you’d like to make a gluten-free red velvet layer cake, just substitute the all-purpose flour for a gluten-free flour blend. Look for one that subs 1 for 1 (in other words, 1 cup of gluten-free flour is equivalent to 1 cup of all-purpose flour). Here are some good options:

And if you’re looking for a cupcake version, I’ve got you covered! Be sure to check out my Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe!

CAN THIS BE MADE AHEAD?

Totally! As a matter of fact, I think it’s best that way.

Any time I make a layer cake, I always bake the layers at least a day before I plan to fill and frost them. Once they’ve cooled, wrap them up tightly in plastic wrap and keep them refrigerated. They’ll stay good for several days to a week.

You can also freeze them. I often slip the wrapped cakes into a zip-top bag, just for added protection from freezer burn and funny freezer odors. They should last at least 2 weeks in the freezer, maybe even longer!

The cake layers are easiest to frost when they’re cold. They’re less crumbly that way. Sometimes I’ll even frost them frozen and that makes the job so easy!

I hope you’ll make this red velvet cake for your next celebration! It’s sure to impress, with both its stunning good looks and rich, delicious flavor!

Easy classic red velvet cake for Christmas, Valentine's Day, wedding, Fourth of July, or Memorial Day.

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5 from 3 votes
Moist triple-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and fresh strawberries.
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Cooling Time:
2 hrs
Total Time
1 hr
 

Make this classic moist red velvet cake for your next celebration! So easy to make, with less than half the food coloring of other recipes.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: red velvet, red velvet cake, red velvet cake recipe, what is red velvet cake
Servings: 10
Calories: 920 kcal
Ingredients
For the Red Velvet Cake:
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
Instructions
To Make the Red Velvet Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, mist three 6-inch round cake pans** with non-stick spray, and line with circles cut from parchment.

  2. Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. Place the buttermilk, oil, egg whites, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in a large measuring cup, and stir together.
  4. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and stir together until smooth (about 90 seconds to 2 minutes).
  5. Divide the batter equally between the three prepared pans.
  6. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean (approximately 30 to 35 minutes).

  7. Cool completely, then fill and frost with cream cheese frosting.
To Make the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  1. Place the butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium-low speed until smooth. 

  2. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, and add about half the powdered sugar.

  3. Stir in the powdered sugar until combined, then scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl again, and add the remaining powdered sugar and the salt.

  4. Stir together until combined, then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and whip until the frosting is fluffy and stiff.  (Be careful not to over-whip, or it could become runny.  As soon as the frosting looks stiff, turn off the mixer and use the frosting immediately.)

Recipe Video

Recipe Notes

*If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute with plain, unsweetened yogurt, plain unsweetened Greek yogurt, or sour cream.  Or, stir 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 1/2 cups of regular milk. Allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes, or until thickened and slightly curdled.

**This layer cake can also be baked in two 8-inch diameter cake pans, two 9-inch diameter cake pans, or a 9x13 baking pan. The cake layers may bake up slightly thinner, and the bake times may need to be adjusted.  You'll know your cakes are done baking when a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

For the cupcake version, click here: Red Velvet Cupcakes.

Nutrition Facts
Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Amount Per Serving
Calories 920 Calories from Fat 450
% Daily Value*
Fat 50g77%
Saturated Fat 19g119%
Cholesterol 78mg26%
Sodium 497mg22%
Potassium 144mg4%
Carbohydrates 114g38%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 88g98%
Protein 7g14%
Vitamin A 931IU19%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 75mg8%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.