I’m very excited to share this recipe for Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting with you today, but first, I have something to say that may shock you…
I’m not a huge fan of red velvet.
I know it’s tremendously popular. But most red velvet type desserts that I’ve tasted have always been bland, dry, or sickeningly sweet. Plus, there can never be enough chocolate in my book so the tease of cocoa in red velvet cake kind of angers me if I’m being honest!
I’m happy to say I created a fabulous recipe that even I enjoy eating. This doesn’t mean I plan on giving up my chocolate cake anytime soon, but now I have a go-to red velvet cake recipe.
How to Make Red Velvet Cake
What is Red Velvet Cake? Is Red Velvet Cake Just a Chocolate Cake with Red Food Coloring?
Red Velvet Cake is a popular dish in the Southern United States. Although traditional recipes vary from modern ones, it’s now typically made with a small amount of cocoa powder, buttermilk, vinegar, and red food coloring as staple ingredients. Its name references both its color as well as its soft, velvety smooth texture. It’s not really a chocolate cake, but simply has a hint of chocolate flavor.
Best Red Velvet Cake Baking Tip: Use ROOM TEMPERATURE Ingredients!
With the exception of the hot coffee / hot water, you really want to make sure your eggs and buttermilk are brought completely to room temperature. This will help to form a uniform and cohesive batter and cake.
Why Use Hot Coffee or Hot Water in a Cake Recipe?
Just like in my Best Chocolate Cake recipe, this Red Velvet Cake uses hot coffee as a staple ingredient. If you don’t have coffee, you can just use hot water. The coffee does help to enhance that hint of chocolate flavor, and the heat of the liquid helps to ‘bloom’ the cocoa, bringing out its full flavor.
What if I Don’t Have Buttermilk?
Buttermilk works best in this recipe to provide a rich and tender cake. It is traditional (along with the vinegar too!). You can learn more about the science of buttermilk in my Buttermilk 101 article here. I would not recommend using a buttermilk substitute. If you must, use whole milk instead but note the cake’s final taste and texture will be different.
What Kind of Food Coloring is Best for Red Velvet Cake?
I would highly recommend using gel food coloring for red velvet cake and not liquid or ‘natural’ food coloring. You’ll need at least 3 teaspoons, possibly more depending on the brand, so don’t buy just one small bottle (0.75 oz). Opt for a larger bottle or buy two smaller ones. I like Americolor or Chefmaster gel food coloring.
Overview Instructions of How to Make Red Velvet Cake:
Make the Red Velvet Cake Batter:
- Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment rounds, spraying parchment and sides of pans generously with nonstick cooking spray.
- Whisk together the hot coffee and cocoa powder, setting aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in a separate medium bowl the dry ingredients of the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, vegetable oil, and melted butter. Add in eggs and egg yolk, whisking until well combined. Add buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring, and whisk to combine.
- Whisk in the vinegar and coffee mixture. Sift the flour mixture in thirds into the wet ingredients, folding until incorporated.
- Pour the batter evenly between your prepared pans. Tap the bottoms against the counter several times.
- Bake at 325°F for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Place the cake pans on a cooling rack. Once cool to the touch, run a thin knife around the edges to loosen the cake, and invert onto the cooling racks. Cool completely.
Make the Cream Cheese Icing:
- Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until light, creamy, and smooth.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure no clumps remain.
- Add vanilla and beat until combined.
- Gradually add in the confectioners’ sugar on low speed and beat until the buttercream frosting is fluffy.
- Lay one of the cake layers flat-side up on a cake plate or pedestal.
- Use about a third of the frosting to fill the bottom cake layer, then top with the second cake layer and repeat. Place the final cake layer flat-side up. Use the rest of the frosting to ice the sides and top of the cake, using an offset spatula to smooth the icing.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve!
What Kind of Baking Pans to Use for Red Velvet Cake?
Use three 8-inch cake pans for this recipe. My favorite brand of cake pan is Fat Daddio’s, they bake evenly and wash up easily. Don’t use darkly coated nonstick cake pans or you may end up with dry or overbaked cake edges.
Can I Use 9-inch Cake Pans Instead?
Although this recipe was specifically designed for 8-inch cake pans, you may be able to bake in two 9-inch cake pans. Fill each 3/4 full and increase the baking time by about 5 to 10 minutes because there will be more batter in each pan.
How to Prevent Red Velvet Cake from Sticking:
Be sure to line each cake pan with parchment rounds. I like these ones which have tabs to easily pull out the baked cake layers. Spray the sides of the pans and the parchment generously with nonstick cooking spray.
What Kind of Frosting is Best with Red Velvet Cake?
Cream cheese frosting is the classic choice for red velvet cake! Its tangy flavor complements the sweetness of the cake layers. If you’d prefer something more sturdy or want to make special cake decorations, opt for my Best Buttercream instead.
Favorite Tools for Layer Cakes:
Can I Make Red Velvet Cupcakes Instead?
Although this recipe was developed for cake layers, you can turn it into cupcakes in a pinch. Divide the batter among about 24 cupcake cavities, filling each 3/4 full, and bake for 17 to 20 minutes.
How to Make Cake Ahead of Time & How to Freeze Red Velvet Cake:
You can wrap unfrosted un-cut cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag or airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge (do not thaw at room temperature or you will end up with mushy cake).
How to Store Homemade Red Velvet Cake Recipe:
Cover with a cake keeper and store at room temperature for up to 6 hours, then refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Hi! Can i use alkalized cocoa powder for this recipe? thanks!
Hi Chris! We recommend using natural cocoa powder for this recipe as Dutch-process cocoa powder doesn’t react to baking soda. Learn more about the difference between the two cocoa powders here. I hope that helps! Can’t wait for you to give this recipe a try, it’s a favorite of mine! 🙂
I rarely leave comments on recipes and when I do, they are usually the best stuff I have tried. And this… oh my lordd. The cake is so..so..SOOOO MOIST! Oh my god. I have tried many red velvet recipes and this one takes the cake (no pun intented) seriously i have given up looking for the best red velvet recipe until i found yours. Thank you so much!! Xx
I didn’t have unsalted butter on hand so i used salted butter compound and still added the salt (i used iodized salt) followed the recipe to a T and didn’t have any issues.
Thrilled to hear this, Chris!!
For the food coloring, can you use Lorann brand? Thank you.
Hi Kristina! We haven’t tried this cake using that brand of food coloring, but just check your bottles to ensure they’re gel food coloring, and not liquid. The liquid style isn’t as concentrated and you’ll need a lot more to color your cake, which will alter the consistency of the cake. Check out more info on this (as well as links to Tessa’s recommended brands) in the pink tip box, above the recipe 🙂
when making the coffee, is it just a tsp of coffee granules and hot water added or more coffee?
Hi Crystal! The answer to your question will depend on the type of instant coffee or espresso you’re using – the package should direct you on this. You can just make the coffee as you normally would to drink and just use 1/2 cup total for the recipe. The hot coffee and cocoa powder will be mixed and allowed to sit to bloom for 5 minutes, before continuing with the recipe. Be sure to read the directions for the recipe before starting, and check out the pink tip box above the recipe for more info! Happy baking 🙂
I made this cake and converted another batch into 35 cupcakes for my son’s birthday party. This recipe is perfect! The cream cheese frosting is delicious with the right sweetness, and the cake sponge is soft and light. Wonderful! This will always be my go-to recipe for red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting! Highly recommend!
Could I make this in a regular cake pan?
Hi Ann! I’m not sure what you mean exactly by ‘regular cake pan’ – do you mean a sheet pan? Other readers have successfully made this recipe in a 9×13-inch pan, but we have not tested this ourselves. Let us know how it goes if you give this a try!
I should have been more specific. Yes a 9 x 13 pan. I made this cake for our daughter-in-law’s birthday and it was spectacular. Tender and delicious. Everyone loved it. Yours is the only recipe I will use for red velvet cake from now on!
So glad to hear that, Ann! 🙂
Has anyone tried making this as a Bundt cake?
Hi Will! Perhaps one of our other readers has tried this, but we have not tested this recipe in a bundt pan, so we cannot say for sure how that would work. Let us know if you give this a try 🙂
Delicious, moist cake perfectly complimented by the cream cheese frosting. Most recently we made this as cupcakes following the guidance in the blog post, worked out beautifully. Will definitely make this recipe again (many times I suspect)!
I have someone that has requested a red velvet sheet cake, I was wondering if I can cook this in a 9×13 pan?
Hi Shea! Other readers have successfully made this recipe in a 9×13-inch pan, but as we have not tested this ourselves, we cannot say exactly how long this will take to bake. Let us know how it goes if you give this a try 🙂
Absolutely delicious! The cake was ultra moist and baked beautifully! Usually when I make cakes/cupcakes I’m left with a ton of leftover frosting. This recipe called for the perfect amount! Definitely keeping this recipe for future bakes!
delisioso!!! 5 Star for sure. Followed to a T, and turned out perfect. Thanks for your recipe!
Hi, can the recipe be converted to cupcakes as well? If so, at waht temperature and time shod they be baked? Thanks!
Hi Lou! Yes, these can be made into cupcakes! Check out the the pink tip box, above the recipe, for all the info 🙂