Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Make this classic moist red velvet cake for your next celebration! So eye-catching and delicious, with a subtle cocoa and creamy buttermilk flavor. Made with less than half the food coloring of other recipes. Plus, it’s the easiest cake you could ever bake from scratch!
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 compliments all the flavors in the cake in the most delicious way!
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 IS RED VELVET CAKE MADE FROM?
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 natural acids in the buttermilk and vinegar to create the red color. But nowadays, we just use a splash food coloring.
WHY IS THIS RED VELVET LAYER CAKE SO 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!
WHAT KIND OF FILLING OR TOPPING SHOULD I USE ON RED VELVET CAKE?
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, but if you’re looking for something a little different, here are a few good options:
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- American-Style Buttercream
- Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Whipped Cream Frosting
Cream cheese frosting tends to be a little less pipe-able/stable to work with, so I recommend any of the above if you’re looking for something that will really hold its shape well.
The whipped cream frosting is currently found within my Black Forest Cake recipe card, but I’ll be breaking that out as a post of its own soon! It’s got a little cream cheese added for stability, but the flavor is subtle. If you choose to use it, fill and frost the cake as soon as it’s whipped up, and keep it in the fridge until ready to serve. It should last a couple of days without weeping or deflating.
And I would recommend the same with the classic cream cheese frosting. It’s best when kept cold!
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:
- King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour
- Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
- Cup4Cup Multi-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour
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 RED VELVET CAKE 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’re 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 cream cheese icing can also be made a few days ahead and kept in the refrigerator. You’ll just want to fluff it back up again with your mixer before spreading it on.
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!
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- Place the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Place the buttermilk, oil, egg whites, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in a large measuring cup, and stir together.
- Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and stir together until smooth (about 90 seconds to 2 minutes).
- Divide the batter equally between the three prepared pans.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
- Cool completely, then fill and frost with cream cheese frosting.
- Place the butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl, and beat until smooth.
- Add the powdered sugar, and mix until incorporated.
- Stir in the vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, then turn the mixer up to medium high speed and whip until fluffy.
*If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute by stirring 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 or 9-inch diameter cake pans. The cake layers may bake up slightly thinner, and the bake times may need to be adjusted.
For the cupcake version, click here: Red Velvet Cupcakes.