Classic Red Velvet Cake! Tender rich red cake layers with a hint of chocolate paired with a tangy cream cheese frosting.
I realize the ridiculousness of giving you a Red Velvet Cake on Valentine’s Day. I had intended to get it to you well before Valentine’s Day so, you know, you could actually make it for the day, but a few recipe failures pushed me back a bit. I didn’t want to rush something out that wasn’t up to my standards just so I could get it out in time. I hope you’ll appreciate that and find another occasion to make this Red Velvet Cake sometime soon!
Red Velvet Cake is another classic cake recipe that has been requested over and over, but I never really understood the appeal. It’s just a mild chocolate cake with a ton of red food coloring, isn’t it?
What is Red Velvet Cake?
I love learning the history behind timeless recipes like this, to find out how they originated, how they became popular, and how they have changed over the years. Of course, I feel the need to share that with you, so sit back for another quick history lesson — or skip ahead to How To Make Red Velvet Cake.
Originally, back in the 1800’s, the color of Red Velvet Cake was due to non-Dutched anthocyanin-rich cocoa, which reacted with the vinegar and buttermilk in the recipe to create a rich red/maroon color. These days, even standard cocoa powder from the grocery store has gone through some level of Dutch processing, which strips some of the acid and prevents the color change from happening (at least to the extent that it used to). To compensate, recipes these days use a LOT of red coloring (usually in liquid form) to get that bright or rich red color.
The cake’s rise to popularity actually came about during the Great Depression. A company called Adams Extract created the Red Velvet Cake recipe we know today as a marketing tactic, in hopes of boosting sales in a difficult time. Their recipe uses shortening (which is cheaper than butter), Adams butter flavouring, Adams vanilla, and of course, Adams red food coloring. Adams gave out the Red Velvet Cake recipe for free on recipe cards at grocery stores, and it quickly became a hit in households all across the country.
Fellow Canadians will appreciate this: apparently the red velvet cake was a staple at the Eaton’s department stores in the 40’s and 50’s. Except that they claimed the recipe to be their own. Poor form, Eaton’s! You can read more about it here.
If you’ve been following Liv for Cake for a while now, you know that I prefer to stick with natural flavours and colors as much as possible. I have the occasional bright cake where the flavours just call for a pop of color, but I try to utilize natural colorants like freeze-dried powder to give some of the coloring.
Making a Red Velvet Cake was never high on my radar because of this. I actually do have a red velvet cake that I made a couple years ago, but the focus of the cake was more on the decorative frosting technique, and I just happened to think that a red cake would look well paired with it. I’ve tweaked and improved that recipe in hopes of darkening the cake more with cocoa powder than with coloring. I succeeded… somewhat.
The reality is, if you want a deep red color you just need to add artificial coloring to it. I know some people have used beets to try and achieve the red color, but that just didn’t appeal to me (even though I love beets).
How to Make Red Velvet Cake
Making this red velvet cake is fairly straightforward — except in my kitchen, where things tend to go wrong 90% of the time.
I was in a bit of a rush (common these days) and my butter wasn’t quite room temperature yet. I decided to cube it and try to beat it anyhow, in hopes that the friction would warm it up. Well, what it actually did was totally break my KitchenAid paddle.
This is actually the second time this has happened, for this exact same reason. Apparently I don’t learn from my mistakes. It’s because I have the memory of a goldfish, and I just didn’t remember until it happened again.
The paddle I use automatically scrapes the bowl for me (which is a HUGE time saver), but it’s plastic, and clearly fragile. KitchenAid makes a metal one with a scraper, but it’s not available for my model. Why this isn’t available for all models is beyond me, and why on earth is it not standard? Who wants to scrape the bowl? Ever??
I had no choice now. I tossed out the butter I had in the bowl in case there were any plastic fragments in it, and resorted to using my stock paddle and scraping the bowl by hand.
My plastic scraper paddle has made me so lazy. I did a terrible job of manually scraping the bowl, even though I did it like 4-5 times throughout the process (huge pain in the butt). When I was pouring the cake batter into the tins, there were visible sections of unincorporated butter and sugar (lol). Needless to say, this showed in my baked layers, and one of them sagged a bit on one side.
Do better than I do, people!
Anyhow, as I was saying, making this Red Velvet Cake is pretty simple — cream your butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time, etc. The key thing is that you want to add your cocoa powder and red coloring before you start adding your flour. If you attempt to color your batter at the very end, once all the ingredients are added, you will most likely overmix your batter, resulting in a less than perfect dense (and sometimes fragile) cake.
This is true for all cakes that use the creaming method, so I always recommend coloring before adding the flour and milk.
You want to add the coloring in right after your eggs and keep adding it until it’s a deep shade of red. This took about 1/2 to 2/3rds of a 0.75oz bottle of Americolor Super Red color gel. I didn’t measure it, I just kept adding until I had what looked like the right color.
You can use liquid red food coloring if you prefer — you’ll need anywhere from 1-2oz of this. But I like that the color gels are more concentrated and you use less of them. The Americolor ones also are better at not leaving a strange after-taste like some food coloring does.
A quick note about the crumble on top. I made this because I wanted something to decorate the top with, and I didn’t just want to use cake crumbs. Plus I never have any since my cake layers bake up flat every time.
The crumble was a HUGE pain in the butt to make. I attempted to make it from scratch, but after 5 total fails, I gave up and opted for cake mix. After 5 more attempts I finally had something close to what I had envisioned.
I had planned to use this between the cake layers for some crunch, but I didn’t love the flavour of it, so I just used it on the top as a decorative element. It is completely optional!
What Does Red Velvet Cake Taste Like?
Red velvet cake has a subtle chocolate flavour and a slight tang from the buttermilk. Mine has a bit more of that chocolate coming through, because I thought it was silly to have only a tablespoon or two in a recipe.
The cake on its own, though yummy, is not one of my favourites. Is that a weird thing to say about my own recipe? I mean, it’s good, but there are just better cakes out there. I’ve never been a huge red velvet fan though, so take that with a grain of salt.
What truly makes the red velvet cake, I think, is the combination of the cake with the cream cheese frosting. It is truly a unique and delicious flavour pairing. A piece or two of this cake may have quickly disappeared shortly after I took the pictures.
If you’re a Red Velvet fan, I hope you will love my tweaked version of this classic cake recipe!
Looking for more Red Velvet Desserts?
- Red Velvet Cookie Cups
- Red Velvet Cream Cheese Swirl Cookies
- Red Velvet Cupcakes
- Red Velvet Cookie Dough Bars
- Red Velvet Cake Balls
- Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
Tips for making this Red Velvet Cake Recipe
- The recipe as-is will work in either two 8″ or three 6″ pans. The layers will be thicker than in the recipe above (three 8″ pans) though, so you’ll need to increase the baking time.
- To make cupcakes, all you need to do is reduce the baking time — start checking at 15mins or so.
- I used Americolor Super red to color the cake layers because it is concentrated and does not leave an after-taste. If you want to use liquid coloring, you’ll need to use about 1-2 oz.
- The frosting recipe below makes enough to fully frost the cake. If you only want enough to do a naked cake like I did, use 2/3rds of the recipe.
- The crumble is optional, see post for details. I did it solely for aesthetics.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, check out my Flat Top Cakes post!
Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cake:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder regular, non-Dutch
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1 cup buttermilk room temperature
- 1 tsp super red color gel
Red Velvet Crumble (optional):
- 1 cup Red Velvet Cake mix
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter melted
- super red color gel
Red Velvet Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 8" cake rounds and line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well combined. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on med-high until well combined (about 3mins). Add oil and beat another 2 mins until pale and fluffy.
- Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time fully incorporating after each addition.
- Add vanilla, vinegar, cocoa powder, and enough red color gel to reach your desired color. I used a little more than half of a 0.75oz bottle of Americolor Super Red.
- Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk). Fully incorporating after each addition.
- Bake for 25-30mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack.
Red Velvet Crumble (optional):
- Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Add enough color gel to the melted butter so that it's a deep red color.
- Place cake mix into a medium bowl. Add some or the butter and stir with a spatula. Add more butter until the cake mix starts to clump. Do not add too much!! It's easier to add liquid if it's too dry, but if you add too much butter you have to start over.
- Spread on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for approx. 10 mins. Cool completely. Break crumble apart if needed.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Beat butter until pale and fluffy (2 mins). Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Beat in cream cheese. Add vanilla and beat until fluffy.
- Place one layer of cake onto a serving plate or cake stand. Top with about 1 cup frosting and spread evenly. Repeat with next layer.
- Place final cake layer on top and crumb coat the cake. Add 1 cup of buttercream to the very top and smooth until it hangs over the sides. Do a swirl on the top with a large offset spatula and then use an icing smoother to smooth the sides and create a lip on the top with the frosting.
- Sprinkle some red velvet crumble around the top if desired.