Classic (And Decadent) Red Velvet Cake Recipe

Red velvet cake is an absolutely iconic cake that everyone should know how to make — there really are few cakes more popular or more memorable. Recipe developer Jennine Rye has created this recipe to help you make the most show-stopping version of this delicious classic. So, if you only have space for a few cake recipes in your life, this is one that you will definitely want to own.

Like all great legends, the origin of this cake is debated, and various establishments claim ownership over it's creation. What we do know for sure though, is that while we now rely on red food coloring to give the red velvet cake it's signature hue, originally the color came about due to the type of cocoa powder used, which contained high levels of anthocyanin. This, mixed with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk and vinegar, created the iconic red coloring that gave this cake it's name.

While some people confuse red velvet cake with chocolate cake, they are in fact very different and not just due to the color, according to Business Insider. While both cakes do contain cocoa powder, a red velvet cake includes a much smaller quantity and does not typically taste predominantly like chocolate. With the addition of buttermilk and cream cheese frosting, red velvet cake has it's own wonderfully unique flavor, and we are here for it!

Gather the ingredients for this red velvet cake

To make this classic red velvet cake, first you will need to gather the ingredients. You will need flour, baking powder, salt, butter, granulated sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, buttermilk, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda), and most importantly, good quality red food coloring. To make the cream cheese frosting you will additionally need cream cheese and powdered sugar. Once everything is assembled you will be ready to begin.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt

To start making the cake, you will want to preheat your oven and grease two cake pans. Then, combine the flour, the baking powder, and the salt in a bowl and whisk thoroughly. This is to make sure the baking powder is evenly distributed through the flour and will help the cake to rise evenly as it bakes.

Mix the cocoa powder, vanilla, and red food coloring

There are several different tricks and techniques to creating the red velvet cake's signature hue. First, we recommend using a gel based food dye over a water based food coloring, as gel based colors tend to be more concentrated and thus create a more intense shade of red. Then, to best incorporate the coloring you will want to mix the cocoa powder, the vanilla extract, and the red gel food coloring together with some hot water before adding it to the batter, to achieve that perfect, vibrant color.

Cream the sugar and butter then add the cocoa paste

For a great cake sponge it is important to properly cream the butter and the sugar together before adding the other ingredients. This creates little air pockets and helps to produce a lighter textured cake. So, for this recipe you will want to keep your electric whisk or stand mixer on high power and beat the butter and the sugar together until it is pale in color and has a fluffier consistency. This should take a few minutes, and then it is time to add the cocoa powder paste and mix it in. 

Add the flour and the buttermilk

Next, it is time to add the eggs to the bowl and mix them in. Once they have been thoroughly incorporated, you will want to alternate between adding the flour and the buttermilk until everything is combined. It is important not to over-mix the cake batter as this will result in a dense cake, so only mix the batter until the ingredients are just combined.

Add white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda

The final step to creating the sponges is to mix together the white vinegar and the bicarbonate of soda and then add it to the cake batter. This small but important addition helps the cake to rise.  

Then it is time to divide the mixture between the two greased cake pans and bake them in the oven for 25 minutes, until the sponges have risen and spring back to the touch. Once they come out of the oven, allow the cakes to sit for 10 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the cream cheese frosting

To create the cream cheese frosting for this red velvet cake, first add the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract to a clean bowl and mix until the ingredients are just combined. Then add a quarter of the powdered sugar. Turn the beaters on low to start with and then increase the speed as the sugar is incorporated, this way you will avoid being caught up in a sugary cloud of dust. Repeat this until all of the sugar has been mixed in and the frosting is smooth and silky.

Assemble the red velvet cake

The final step in this recipe is to assemble the cake. Trim the tops off of the cake sponges to make them even, reserving the cake scraps for decorations. Then, cut both sponges in half to create four discs. Layer the cake by placing down a sponge disc and then spreading a few tablespoons of frosting on top. Repeat this process until all of the sponge is stacked, then use the remaining cream cheese frosting to ice the sides of the cake, and pipe swirls on the top, if desired. Crumble up the reserved cake scraps and sprinkle them on top of the cake to finish the decorations, then serve straight away or store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Classic (And Decadent) Red Velvet Cake Recipe
5 from 47 ratings
Rich, classic, and undeniably decadent, this red velvet cake looks good and tastes even better.
Prep Time
Cook Time
slice of red velvet cake on plate
Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • 2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¾ cups butter, divided
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring gel
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, divided
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 pound of cream cheese
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F and grease two round 8-inch cake tins.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then set to one side.
  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 1 ¼ cups of butter along with the granulated sugar, and beat together for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is pale and creamy.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, the red food coloring, and 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract along with 4 tablespoons of hot water, until a paste is formed. Then, add this to the large bowl and mix into the creamed butter and sugar.
  5. Add the eggs to the mixture and beat until they are incorporated.
  6. Gradually add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, alternating between the two until both have been mixed into the cake batter.
  7. Finally, combine the white vinegar and the bicarbonate of soda and add this to the cake batter, mixing once more. Then, divide the batter between the two prepared cake tins and bake for 25 minutes, until the sponges are risen and springy to the touch.
  8. Remove the sponges from the oven and leave them to cool for 10 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. To make the cream cheese frosting, combine the cream cheese, the remaining ½ cup of butter, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in a large bowl or stand mixer and beat together until they are just combined.
  10. Slowly incorporate the powdered sugar, using a sieve to remove any lumps, a little bit at a time until it is all combined and the frosting is smooth and silky.
  11. To prepare the red velvet cake, use a knife or cake leveler to cut the tops off of the sponges making them level. Reserve the cake trimmings, and slice the sponges in half to make 4 discs.
  12. On a large plate or cake stand, place down a disc of cake, add 3 tablespoons of cream cheese frosting on top, and then spread it out in an even layer. Repeat this process with the remaining 3 cake layers. Spread any remaining cream cheese frosting around the top and sides of the cake. Crumble up the reserved cake trimmings to decorate the top with cake crumbs. Add decorative piping with a closed star shaped nozzle, if desired.
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