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Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Decorated with Red and White Stripes

This is my favorite Red Velvet Cake recipe!  The soft and tender chocolate cake combined with a sweet and tangy cream cheese frosting will make for an amazing cake Every. Single. Time.  

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Why is it Called a “Red Velvet” Cake?

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Decorated with Red and White Stripes

According to the Sunflower Baking Company, the history of Red Velvet Cake started during the Victorian era (i.e., the 1800s) when cocoa was added to make “luxury cakes.”  These cakes started to be called “velvet” cakes because they had a smooth and soft texture (just like velvet fabric). 

There are a few reasons for the soft texture of the cake.  The first is that the added cocoa powder helps break down the coarse flour and thus soften the texture.  The second is the chemical reaction that occurs when acidic ingredients (e.g., natural (not Dutch-processed) cocoa powder, buttermilk, and vinegar) are combined with baking soda (an alkaline ingredient).  This chemical reaction creates carbon dioxide gas, which in turn helps to lighten and aerate the cake. 

Traditionally, the red color of the cake came naturally from the chemical reaction with the cocoa powder to create a maroon color.  Over the years, red food coloring has been added to intensify the red color that is familiar today.  

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Red Velvet Cake, especially within the United States and the south, this article in Southern Living is really interesting.

What is the Best Frosting for Red Velvet Cake?

Red Velvet Cake is practically synonymous with Cream Cheese Frosting.  Almost every recipe you see online and in cookbooks pair the cake with cream cheese frosting.  And there’s a reason for that.  They just taste so good together!  The tang from the frosting offsets the sweetness of the cake and it’s a match made in heaven.

Gel vs Liquid Food Coloring

While the chemical reaction between the cocoa powder, baking soda, and acid in the buttermilk naturally gives the cake a dark reddish or maroon color, to get the red in this recipe we are using some red food coloring.  In the past, I made this cake using liquid food coloring and it needed a TON to get the deep red color associated with red velvet cake.  Not only does adding that much food coloring make people’s tongues red when eating the cake, some red dyes can impart a bitter flavor when used in large quantities. 

I didn’t want to add a huge amount of food coloring to the cake, so I modified the recipe to use gel food coloring instead.  Gel food coloring is concentrated coloring that achieves a deeper and more saturated color versus liquid food coloring.  While it is easier to find liquid food coloring at the grocery store in the baking aisle, you can typically find gel food coloring at craft stores (like Michaels), supermarkets (e.g., Walmart), or online. 

Tips to Make Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Decorated with Red and White Stripes
  • Use red gel food coloring over liquid food coloring.  The color is more concentrated so you can add less to the recipe.
  • If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a substitute that works just as well.  Add one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (or vinegar) to a liquid measuring cup and pour in one cup of milk (whole milk is best because it has a higher fat percentage).  Stir the mixture and let sit for at least 5 minutes.  The acid in the lemon juice will start to curdle the milk and it will thicken as it sits. 
  • Don’t leave out the apple cider vinegar.  If you’re like me and HATE the smell of it, know that you can’t taste or smell the vinegar in the finished cake (even though you’ll be able to smell it before it bakes).  The vinegar is a necessary component in the chemical reaction that gives the cake it’s “velvety” texture.
  • If you want to decorate the outside of the cake, save yourself time and stress by using my Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream.  Cream cheese frosting tends to be sticky, which makes it difficult to get smooth cakes and it’s typically softer than buttercream so piped swirls will wilt over time.  If you aren’t interested in a highly decorated cake and would prefer a more homemade look with spatula swirls, then I suggest just using cream cheese frosting over the entire cake.  Regardless of the frosting you choose for the outside, keep the cream cheese frosting filling.  It tastes fantastic!
  • Get your cakes into the oven as quickly as possible after the baking soda and vinegar mixture is added to the batter.  If you wait too long, the chemical reaction will finish before baking and your cakes won’t rise well. 

Ingredients For Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting

Equipment

Preheating and Preparing Cake Pans

Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F/180°C with the oven rack in the middle. 

Prepare the cake pans by greasing the bottom and sides and then dusting with flour.  Add a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan to ensure the cake comes out without sticking to the pan.

Making the Red Velvet Cake

Begin by sifting the cake flour into a medium bowl and set aside.

Creaming butter and sugar for Red Velvet Cake

Next, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl for 2-3 minutes at medium-high speed using a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. 

Making Red Velvet Cake Batter

Add in the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition until the eggs are fully incorporated.

In a small mixing bowl whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa powder, water, and vanilla extract.  Then add the mixture to the batter and mix thoroughly.

Add salt to the measuring cup with buttermilk and stir to combine.

Making Red Velvet Cake Batter

Add cake flour and buttermilk to the batter in three alternating additions, mixing after each addition until just combined.  Do not overmix the batter.

Stir apple cider vinegar into the baking soda and then add it to the batter and mix well.

Red Velvet Cake batter in cake pans

Scoop the batter into the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely. 

Making the Cream Cheese Frosting

While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.

Beat butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium speed until smooth and combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. 

Pour in vanilla and salt and mix to combine.

Making Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting - Adding powdered sugar

Add sifted powdered sugar in 3 additions and mix well at medium-low speed after each addition until the powdered sugar is completely incorporated.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Increase the speed to high and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy. 

Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap touching the surface so the frosting doesn’t crust. 

How to Store Cream Cheese Frosting

Because Cream Cheese Frosting has dairy in it, it can stay at room temperature for a maximum of 4 hours before needing to be refrigerated.  Store frosting in an airtight container in the fridge.  When using the frosting after refrigeration, I like to allow the frosting to come to room temperature and then re-beat it to ensure a light texture. 

Assembling the Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Use a long, serrated knife to cut the domed portion off each cake layer. 

Using an offset spatula, spread a small amount of frosting in the middle of the cake board to act as glue and place the flat side of one layer on top of the board.  Smooth a generous amount of cream cheese frosting over the top and finish stacking by adding the last cake layer upside down so the cake has sharp corners and a flat top. 

In the pictures, I was making a 6″ cake which is why I had a different number of cake layers. To make a 6″ cake, you would just multiple all of the ingredient amounts by 0.75 (i.e., make a 3/4 recipe) and divide the cake batter between three 6-inch (15cm) cake pans. I had 4 layers because I made a full recipe.

At this point, I switched to Vanilla Buttercream since it’s easier to get smooth sides, but you can continue using cream cheese frosting if you would prefer. 

Frost the sides and top of the cake with a small amount of frosting to trap the cake crumbs.  This is called the crumb coat.  It’s ok if this layer has a lot of crumbs in it.  That’s the crumb coat’s purpose.  Use a cake turntable to make it easier to ice the cake. Place the cake in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until the frosting has hardened or crusted.

Decorating the Cake

Making red and white stripes on Red Velvet Cake

Using a cleaned offset spatula, frost the sides and top of the cake using the frosting of your choice.  Use a cake comb to make a red and white striped cake.  Finish the design by piping ridged dollops of icing around the top border of the cake.  

Storing the Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting Decorated with Red and White Stripes

You can store undecorated cake layers by wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the fridge for 5-7 days.  This is especially helpful if you are going to stack the cakes because they are a lot easier to cut and stack when cold. 

You can also freeze undecorated cake layers by wrapping them in plastic wrap, placing in a resealable freezer bag, and keeping in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Let the cake thaw before stacking and decorating.

After the cake is decorated, keep the cake in an airtight container (e.g., a covered cake plate) for 5-7 days.  If the cake has cream cheese frosting, keep the cake in the refrigerator.  If you used only buttercream, the cake can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge.

Looking for More Cake?

Did you make this recipe?

I’d love to know how it turned out!  Please let me know by leaving your thoughts below.  Or snap a photo and share it on Pinterest or Instagram (@windycitybaker). 

Notes:

  1. This recipe was adapted from the “Red Velvet Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting” recipe in The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel. 

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Prep Time40 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Servings: 16 slices

Equipment

  • Digital scale (or dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cups, and measuring spoons)
  • Stand mixer with paddle attachment for cake and whisk attachment for frosting (or a hand mixer with a large bowl)
  • Two 9-inch (23cm) round cake pans
  • Parchment paper circles
  • Sifter
  • Mixing bowls
  • Silicone spatula
  • Whisk
  • Toothpick (or cake tester)
  • Offset spatula
  • 10” Cake board if displaying on the board or a decorative cake stand
  • Turntable

Ingredients

Ingredients For Red Velvet Cake

  • 3⅓ cups (410g) cake flour
  • 3 Tbsp (15g) natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks, 165g) unsalted butter, softened
  • cups (440g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large (147g) eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp (6g) red gel food coloring
  • 5 Tbsp (81g) Water
  • tsp (6g) vanilla extract
  • tsp (9g) salt
  • cups (320g) buttermilk
  • tsp (12g) apple cider vinegar
  • tsp (7g) baking soda

Ingredients for Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 oz (227g) brick of cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup or 1 stick (113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ tsp (1.5g) salt
  • 2 tsp (8.5g) vanilla extract
  • cups (454g) powdered sugar, sifted

Instructions

Preheating and Preparing Cake Pans

  • Begin by preheating the oven to 350°F/180°C with the oven rack in the middle.
  • Prepare cake pans by greasing the bottom and sides and then dusting with flour. Add a piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan to ensure the cake comes out without sticking to the pan.

Making the Red Velvet Cake

  • Begin by sifting the cake flour into a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Next, cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl for 2-3 minutes at medium-high speed using a paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition until the eggs are fully incorporated.
  • In a small mixing bowl whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa powder, water, and vanilla extract. Then add the mixture to the batter and mix thoroughly.
  • Add salt to the measuring cup with buttermilk and stir to combine.
  • Add cake flour and buttermilk to the batter in three alternating additions, mixing after each addition until just combined. Do not overmix the batter.
  • Stir apple cider vinegar into the baking soda and then add it to the batter and mix well.
  • Scoop the batter into the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert the cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Making the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting.
  • Beat butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment at medium speed until smooth and combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  • Pour in vanilla and salt and mix to combine.
  • Add sifted powdered sugar in 3 additions and mix well at medium-low speed after each addition until the powdered sugar is completely incorporated.
  • Increase the speed to high and beat for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
  • Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap touching the surface so the frosting doesn’t crust.

How to Store Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Because Cream Cheese Frosting has dairy in it, it can stay at room temperature for a maximum of 4 hours before needing to be refrigerated. Store frosting in an airtight container in the fridge. When using the frosting after refrigeration, I like to allow the frosting to come to room temperature and then re-beat it to ensure a light texture.

Assembling the Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Use a long, serrated knife to cut the domed portion off each cake layer.
  • Using an offset spatula, spread a small amount of frosting in the middle of the cake board to act as glue and place the flat side of one layer on top of the board. Smooth a generous amount of cream cheese frosting over the top and add another cake layer. Add another generous layer of cream cheese frosting and finish stacking by adding the last cake layer upside down so the cake has sharp corners and a flat top.
  • At this point, I switched to Vanilla Buttercream since it’s easier to get smooth sides, but you can continue using cream cheese frosting if you would prefer.
  • Frost the sides and top of the cake with a small amount of frosting to trap the cake crumbs. This is called the crumb coat. It’s ok if this layer has a lot of crumbs in it. That’s the crumb coat’s purpose. Use a cake turntable to make it easier to ice the cake.
  • Place the cake in the fridge for about 30 minutes or until the frosting has hardened or crusted.

Decorating the Cake

  • Using a cleaned offset spatula, frost the sides and top of the cake using the frosting of your choice. Use a cake comb to make a red and white striped cake. Finish the design by piping ridged dollops of icing around the top border of the cake.

Storing the Red Velvet Cake

  • You can store undecorated cake layers by wrapping them in plastic wrap and placing in the fridge for 5-7 days. This is especially helpful if you are going to stack the cakes because they are a lot easier to cut and stack when cold.
  • You can also freeze undecorated cake layers by wrapping them in plastic wrap, placing in a resealable freezer bag, and keeping in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let the cake thaw before stacking and decorating.
  • After the cake is decorated, keep the cake in an airtight container (e.g., a covered cake plate) for 5-7 days. If the cake has cream cheese frosting, keep the cake in the refrigerator. If you used only buttercream, the cake can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge.

Notes

This recipe was adapted from the “Red Velvet Cake with Creamy Vanilla Frosting” recipe in The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel.

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