So over the course of the last few years, I’ve tweaked and changed, swapped and substituted, and come up with something that I think is dang near perfection. It’s light and tender, super moist, crazy flavorful with a bold red color, and it’s covered in a decadent cream cheese frosting that’s studded with toasted pecans. Do I have your attention?
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the fuss of layer cakes – give me a sheet cake any day! – but every now and then a special occasion warrants a special cake. And this is the one.
So let’s talk about what makes this cake so special…
We start with cake flour. I know, it’s not necessarily something that you have in the pantry, but it’s important. Cake flour is a very fine, low protein flour. It makes cakes super tender because the lack of protein helps prevent gluten formation which makes baked goods chewy. Gluten is a great thing in pizza crust, but not in cake. Se we use a low protein flour to keep it from developing. It’s pretty easy to get your hands on.
Next, let’s talk fat. This cake includes melted butter and vegetable oil. Butter adds great flavor but can often cause cakes to be denser and dry out a bit. Oil makes cakes super light and keeps them moist longer. So since we want our cake to be tender, light, moist, and flavorful, a combination of both butter and oil is what we need.
The cocoa in this is what gives red velvet cake its signature flavor. But it’s not enough to make it taste like a chocolate cake. It’s just somewhere between a vanilla and chocolate cake. If you’ve never had red velvet, I know that sounds crazy, but trust me… you’ve just got to try it.
So what’s with the vinegar? Seems like a crazy cake ingredient, right? Well, in this case, the addition of vinegar does two things. Many say that the vinegar reacts with the cocoa powder and turns it a reddish color. Some even say that’s where red velvet got its signature color. I can’t confirm those details, but I can say that it does enhance the color that we add to this cake in the way of red food coloring. It just gives the color a bit of a pop. The vinegar also provides a bit of acid that we need to activate the baking soda to get the lift we need for the cake to rise and be light and fluffy.
Speaking of acid, we’re going to add another one, too. Buttermilk. Buttermilk gives us more acid to activate the chemical reaction in the baking soda and also plays an important part in the flavor profile of the cake.
Now, I know there’s a lot of info in this post, but I truly believe that when we know how and why ingredients effect our recipe, we all become better cooks.
Regardless, I can tell you this is the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had. Yes, there’s some chemistry that goes into play here, but the best part is, I already did the hard work. You just get to enjoy the fruits of my labor! Y’all enjoy!
Perfect Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 (1-ounce) bottles red food coloring
For the frosting:
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease and flour 2 (8-inch) cake pans. In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, salt, cocoa powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
- Use a mixer to cream together the butter and sugar for about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the oil, vanilla, and vinegar and mix well. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again.
- Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, mixing well after each addition. Add the food coloring and mix on low until well combined.
- Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 28 to 32 minutes or until the cakes are just starting to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert them out of the pans and place them on cooling racks to cool completely.
For the frosting:
- To make the frosting, start by heating the oven to 350°F. Spread the chopped pecans on a baking pan and toast for 5 to 10 minutes or just until fragrant. Cool completely.
- Use a mixer to whip the butter and cream cheese together until completely smooth. Gradually add the powdered sugar, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix well.
- When ready to frost, you can mix the cooled pecans into the frosting before frosting the cake or frost the cake then use the pecans to sprinkle on the outside.