Red Velvet Cake

The Red Velvet Cake of your dreams – a deep red, melt-in-your-mouth cake with a slight hint of chocolate and vanilla. Frost with either silky vanilla cream cheese frosting or traditional boiled milk frosting. 

Why you’ll love this red velvet cake

  • It’s actually super simple and fairly quick to make but always impressive.
  • The cake is made using the reverse creaming method and uses cake flour for an extra tender crumb.
  • The color is more subtle and doesn’t change the flavor of the cake or stain your mouth.
  • Two frosting options for those that are cream cheese die hards or swear by traditional boiled milk.  
  • The cake recipe is very forgiving and allows for many substitutions and dietary restrictions. 

My personal thoughts on red velvet 

I know people hate backstories on recipe blogs so forgive me for this but I need to explain my thoughts on red velvet to anyone who will listen lol. 

I don’t like red velvet. I never have and I probably never will. I don’t like color so therefore I really don’t like it in my food, I just find it repulsive (personal, don’t hate me lol and no offense to people who do use it). I use it subtly once in a while but not very often. 

I also think it tastes like wanna-be chocolate with cream cheese frosting so I prefer it with the boiled milk frosting and heavily flavored with vanilla beans.

I love cream cheese frosting but I prefer the tanginess balanced with warm and cozy spices like in my carrot cake, pumpkin roll cake, banana cupcakes, pumpkin bread, etc. or with strawberries like my strawberry vanilla cake and strawberry cupcakes

What is red velvet? 

In the past, there was no such thing as “cake flour” or “pastry flour”. Cakes were more dense and bread-like than they are nowadays but the addition of a little cocoa powder and vinegar lightens up the crumb and makes it more tender. 

Cocoa powder is high in fat and has no gluten so replacing some of the flour with cocoa will make the crumb more tender and less tough. Natural cocoa is a light brown color with a reddish hue. It is by no means “red”, it just has a red undertone but it is still brown. 

Acid also makes a crumb more tender because it inhibits the development of gluten (which is a protein that can make the crumb tough). So oftentimes you’ll see people use buttermilk or vinegar to lower the pH of red velvet cake. 

Acid also inhibits browning so if you have a batter with a lower pH and you add a little natural cocoa powder, you’ll end up with a very tender, slightly reddish brown cake that melts in your mouth. THAT is red velvet. 

Being the humans that we are, we have to take things to the next level with an entire bottle of food coloring so here we are. 

Ingredients & Substitutions

  • Flour: I use all purpose flour in most of my recipes and I HIGHLY recommend using a digital scale, as flour (and cocoa) is so often over measured. 
  • Baking Soda: I used just baking soda here. The baking soda reacts with the buttermilk slightly increasing the pH so there is some browning. I personally liked it this way.
    • I also tested this cake with 1 Tablespoon of baking POWDER and it works well. The main difference being that it’s even more tender but also much more pale in color (both thanks to the pH). So I felt like with the baking powder, you’d need to add more food coloring or you’ll get a pinkish cake.
  • Sugar: I used granulated sugar in the cake and the cake and I don’t recommend cutting any out as it affects the texture and the flavor of the cake.
    • For the cream cheese frosting, you’ll need powdered sugar.  
  • Cocoa Powder: natural cocoa powder is what originally gave the cake its red velvet name. I’ve tested this cake with both natural and dutch processed cocoa and both work fine. Natural cocoa will produce its own natural red hue but it’s the cake is overall lighter in color and flavor, whereas dutch gives a slightly darker more intense color and flavor. I used just two Tbsp for a subtle cocoa flavor.
    • Make sure you’re not using any kind of sweetened cocoa powder. 
  • Butter: I like to use salted butter in my cakes but you can also use unsalted butter. Dairy free butter also works well.
    • I use unsalted butter in the buttercream. 
  • Oil: I recommend using a neutral oil like sunflower, vegetable or canola oil. 
  • Eggs: make sure to use room temperature, large eggs.
    • Pop them in hot water for a few minutes if they’re cold.
  • Vinegar: I used apple cider vinegar to lower the pH of the cake. This helps reduce the browning, allowing the red to shine. It also really helps make the cake more tender. 
  • Buttermilk: I generally just use half milk and half sour cream in my recipes but for red velvet I switched to buttermilk to give it more of that classic red velvet, acidic flavor.
    • You can also use half sour cream and half milk but I would add an extra teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to it. 
    • Or use just milk and add 2 extra teaspoons of apple cider vinegar. 
  • Vanilla: Since there’s only a subtle hint of cocoa flavor in this, make sure to use a good quality pure vanilla extract.
  • Cream Cheese: ALWAYS use full fat cream cheese for baking, preferably the philadelphia brand. Don’t ever use low-fat in a recipe unless it specifically calls for it. Also make sure it’s room temperature when mixing with the butter for the frosting.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Start by making the custard for the buttercream so it has time to cool. Cook the sugar with the flour and milk until it’s thick like custard. Cover and set it aside to cool. 

Step 2: Make the cake by whisking together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder and salt until they’re evenly distributed.

Step 3: Add the butter and oil one at a time and mix just until the dry ingredients are fully coated with the fats. Don’t over-mix.  

Step 4: Add the eggs, one at a time, with the mixer on low speed and mix just until the eggs are incorporated and the batter looks like paste.

Step 5: Dissolve the food coloring in the milk with the vanilla and vinegar and then stream it into the batter with the mixer on low speed (or do a little at a time, in 3-4 increments, if using a hand mixer). Mix just until it’s incorporated.

Step 6: Distribute the batter evenly among the four cake pans. You should get about 10-11 ounces in four 6 inch cake pans. 

Step 7: Bake for about 25-30 minutes. When the cake is done baking, it will release itself from the edge of the pan and spring back when you press on the center. Flip the cakes over onto a cooling rack or a tea towel right away. Allow them to cool to room temperature. 

Step 8: Finish making the buttercream by whipping the butter until it’s pale and fluffy. Add vanilla and the cooled custard in 3-4 increments and mix until it’s smooth.

Step 9: Layer the cake with the frosting and refrigerate until it feels sturdy, then frost the outside of the cake. 

How to color red velvet cake

Getting the perfect red velvet color can be difficult. A few of you asked me how I got this deep warm red color so I have a few tips for you. 

  • Make sure you are using gel food coloring like Americolor. Don’t use an oil based or water based because you’ll need way more to get an intense color. 
  • I only used 6 drops of Americolor Bright Red gel food color. So I squeezed the bottle just a second and whatever falls out is a drop. Don’t squeeze continuously. 
  • I mix the food coloring with WARM milk before adding it to the batter. Since this is the last ingredient being added to the recipe, make sure to mix the food coloring really well with the milk to dissolve it completely so you don’t over-mix it with the flour. 
  • Like I said before, using natural cocoa powder will naturally give it a more reddish hue, making it easier to color with less dye. 
  • I was SO tempted to skip the egg yolks in this recipe to avoid the yellow tint but egg yolks contribute so much to the texture so I left them, that’s why it’s such a warm red. 
  • Feel free to add a few more drops of food coloring for a more intense and bright red color. If your milk is brighter and more intensely red than mine, then your cake will be too. 

How to get a white frosting

There are frostings that are more yellow toned than others so I recommend sticking with either Ermine Buttercream (boiled milk frosting), Cream Cheese Frosting, American buttercream or Swiss meringue buttercream. The boiled milk frosting is in the recipe card below, and the others are linked. 

To help brighten the color:

  • make sure to whip the butter for 5-10 minutes, scraping the edge of the bowl every few minutes. This will significantly lighten the color of the butter. 
  • Using cheaper, low quality butter is much more pale in color than butters like Kerry Gold.
  • Using half or all shortening instead of butter will make the whitest color because there’s no yellow hue like butter.
  • Add vanilla beans to the buttercream – the black speckles will give it a cool toned perception but it’ll be speckled up close. 
  • Add a TINY drop of purple food coloring to cool down the hue.

*Cream cheese frosting is a little more difficult to frost cakes with. I find it easiest to freeze my cake layers before assembling so that the frosting sets quickly (see section on making ahead for how to freeze the layers). If you don’t freeze the layers, make sure to chill the cake at any point where it feels unsteady.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this dairy free?

You can use dairy free butter, dairy free milk/buttermilk to make any of my cakes. You can also use a dairy free cream cheese and butter to make the buttercream.  

Can I make this gluten-free?

All my cake recipes work well with a 1:1 gluten-free flour like Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour

Can I make this in a different size pan?

You can make this cake in:
Three (or more) round or square 6 inch baking pans – I used round (three layers, 14oz each, bake for 30-35 mintues).
Two round (or more) or square 8 inch baking pan – bake for about 30-40 minutes.
Two round or square 9 inch baking pan – bake for about 25 minutes.
One round or square 10 inch baking pan – bake for about 40-50 minutes, look for cues.
A 9×13 inch pan – bake for about 40-50 minutes, look for cues.
Cupcakes – Should make about 24 cupcakes, bake for 18 minutes.

How do I know when it’s done baking?

Just like all the rest of my cakes, I test if it’s done baking by pressing gently on the tallest part of the cake. The cake will spring back if it’s done baking. If it stays indented, give it a few minutes in the oven, before testing again. 
You can also insert a toothpick into the center of the cake (the tallest part) and make sure it comes out clean or with a few crumbs but without any batter on it. 

What if I want to decorate the cake with frosting

You can double the recipe for the buttercream if you want to decorate the outside as well.

How to make ahead

To make the cake ahead of time you can make the cakes even a month in advance. When you remove them from the oven, let them cool for about half an hour and then wrap them individually  in plastic wrap. Then place them in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air. 

To make the buttercream ahead of time: I don’t prefer to make Ermine buttercream ahead of time as it can be temperature sensitive but it is possible. You can cover it and leave it at room temperature for 1-2 days or refrigerate or freeze it in an airtight bag or container for weeks. Make sure to bring it back to room temperature well before frosting the cake. 

Cream cheese frosting needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Bring it back to room temperature when ready to frost.

How to store finished cake

I usually just cover my cakes with a cake dome or place it in an airtight container and store it at room temperature for 1-2 days HOWEVER, if you frosted it with cream cheese frosting it’ll need to be stored in the fridge.

It’ll stay well covered in the fridge for 4-7 days but it dries out quicker than the freezer so I recommend freezing after 2-3 days. 

To freeze the whole cake, refrigerate it until it’s firm. Then wrap it in plastic wrap so it’s completely covered. Then wrap it in aluminum foil and freeze. 

To freeze slices, place the slices in an airtight container and then place the container in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air. 

Bring it back to room temperature by thawing at room temperature for a few hours before serving. 

Thanks so much for reading today’s post, if you have any questions just comment down below. Make sure to leave it in the comment section because I can’t answer in the rating section.

If you make this gorgeous red velvet cake, I’d love it if you left a star rating for me. If it’s less than five stars, please let me know why! 🙂

As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!

Love, B

Yield: 12-16 servings

Red Velvet Cake

slice of cake on a plate

The Red Velvet Cake of your dreams - a deep red, melt-in-your-mouth cake with a slight hint of chocolate and vanilla. Frost with either silky vanilla cream cheese frosting or traditional boiled milk frosting. 

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes

Ingredients

Red Cake

  • 2 1/4 cup (260g) cake flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 1/2 cups (300) granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp (10g) unsweetened cocoa powder, spooned and leveled (I used dutch cocoa)*
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (120g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120mL) vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup (8oz) buttermilk, warm
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • 6-8 drops red GEL food coloring**

Ermine Buttercream (Boiled Milk Frosting)

  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (20g) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 3/4 cup (180mL) milk
  • 1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • tiny pinch of salt

Instructions

Ermine Buttercream

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Whisk until they're well distributed.
  2. While whisking, slowly pour in the milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. 
  3. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir continuously (but not too aggressively) for 3-5 minutes.
  4. When the mixture thickens and begins to hold streaks, whisk quicker for about another 30-60 seconds. It should be thick like custard.
  5. Pour the mixture into a heat safe container, cover it and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Red Velvet Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (177C) and grease and line four 6 inch cake tins with baking spray and parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking baking, salt and sugar until they're evenly distributed (whisk well).
  3. Add the oil and butter to the dry ingredients and beat together until they're combined.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just a few seconds before adding the next.
  5. Warm up the buttermilk and add the vanilla, vinegar and food coloring to it. Mix until the food coloring is fully dissolved in the buttermilk.
  6. Add the buttermilk to the batter, mixing just until it's fully combined and smooth.
  7. Distribute evenly among the four cake pans, about 9 ounces in each, and bake for about 25 minutes or until the center springs back when you press on it.
  8. Flip over onto a tea towel and let them cool completely to room temperature.

Finish Buttercream

  1. Once the custard portion for the buttercream has cooled completely, place the butter into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Use a hand mixer or a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, to beat the butter at full speed for 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape the edge of the bowl every so often.
  3. When the butter is pale and fluffy, add the cooled custard in 3-4 increments, with the mixture running at medium-high speed. 
  4. Add the vanilla and mix until it's fully combined and smooth. 
  5. To remove any excess air for smooth piping, you can switch to a paddle attachment and mix on low speed for a few minutes *optional.
  6. Use an offset spatula to frost the cake. Decorate the cake how desired or just sprinkle with sparkling sugar like I did.

Notes

*You can also use unsweetened natural cocoa but you'll have a lighter color and flavor to the cake.

**You can use less or more food coloring if desired. I like it less potent (the color saturates in photos more so mine was slightly less bright red in person). When adding it to your milk, if it's more potent than mine then your cake will be too.

Read the blog post for details on how to use cream cheese frosting for this cake instead of the boiled milk frosting.

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  1. Hello 😊
    Can i leave the remaining batter outside whilst the other half of it is in the oven baking? As i only have two baking tins

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