An American classic, red velvet cake is known for its eye-catching coloring and unique flavor profile. While velvet cakes date back to the 1800s, the emergence of red velvet is unclear. The Waldorf-Astoria in New York claims to have created it in the 1930s, though many Southern bakers suggest it has earlier origins.
Bringing together the flavors of vanilla, buttermilk, vinegar and cocoa, this recipe for classic red velvet cake delivers a taste that's sweet and tangy with a mild chocolate flavor, and a texture that's dense, yet moist and fluffy with a soft, velvety crumble.
For the cake:
For the cream cheese frosting:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease three 9-inch round cake pans with butter, dust with flour and tap to remove any excess. This will prevent your cake from sticking to the pan for easy removal.
Pro tip: Flour can leave white dust on the surface of your cake. To avoid this, you can substitute cocoa. Not only will help to maintain the cake's rich, red coloring, it will give your dessert an extra hint of chocolatey flavor.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until combined. Set aside.
Pro tip: Cake flour is much lighter than regular flour, which helps to create red velvet's signature texture. If you don't have cake flour, you can use all-purpose flour. Sift together 2 and 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour with 1/3 cup of cornstarch, and measure 3 cups from this mixture.
Use a handheld mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to combine your eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Mix on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
Pro tip: If you don't have buttermilk, you can make your own substitute at home using regular milk and lemon juice or vinegar. Stir in one tablespoon of your chosen acid with the milk, and let stand for five minutes. This will cause the milk to curdle slightly, becoming thicker and clumpy.
Add the dry mixture to your wet ingredients in 2-3 additions, mixing on low speed. Once combined, add the food coloring and mix on medium speed until the color is uniform and the batter is smooth - about 2 minutes.
Pro tip: For a natural alternative to red food coloring, you can substitute beet juice into the recipe, tablespoon for tablespoon.
Divide the batter evenly among your three prepared cake pans – about 3 cups per pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pans from the oven and set on wire racks until cool.
Pro tip: Before icing your cake, wrap the layers in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will keep the layers firm and easier to ice.
Using a handheld mixer or stand mixer, beat together the butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and continue mixing. Beat in powdered sugar one cup at a time on low speed, then increase the speed to high and beat until you achieve a smooth texture, about 3 minutes.
Pro tip: If the frosting is too sweet for your taste, add a pinch of salt to balance the sugar level.
Use a large serrated knife to slice a thin layer off the tops of each cake, so you have a flat, even surface. This will ensure the layers sit properly when stacking. Place your first layer on a serving plate and evenly spread a layer of frosting across the top. Repeat this for the second layer. Add the top layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top of the cake. You can extend the frosting to the sides of the cake or leave them bare to show off its vibrant red coloring.
Pro tip: Save the crumbs from the cake tops and sprinkle on top for an easy garnish.
Refrigerate your cake for 30-60 minutes before serving to help it holds its shape while cutting. Slice, serve, and enjoy! The recipe should make roughly 16 servings.
Pro tip: In the unlikely event, there are leftovers, cover the remaining cake tightly and store in your refrigerator for up to five days.
Now that you've mastered the traditional red velvet cake, here are some ideas that put a unique spin on this classic dessert:
Lemon: For an extra burst of flavor, add one tablespoon of lemon juice to your frosting.
Chocolate chips: Fold in 1-2 cups of miniature chocolate chips to your frosting for an extra dose of chocolately flavor and an unexpected element of crunch.
Fresh berries: Scatter fresh raspberries and blueberries between each level of your cake and lightly press into frosting. Add any remaining berries to the top of your cake for decoration.