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.
Nutritional values provided are an estimate and will vary depending on the brands used. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, I recommend grabbing your favorite brands and plugging those ingredients into an online nutritional calculator.
If making this cake a day ahead, how do you recommend storing it? Refrigerator or in a cake container on the counter? Thanks!
I typically store in the fridge due to the cream cheese.
I plan to make this in the next day or two! I wholeheartedly agree that Ermine Frpsting is by FAR the best choice for RV cake! Your recipe calls for an extra egg + 1/2 C oil compared to my Mom’s old recipe. I’m anxious to see the difference!
Hope you’ll enjoy the cake!
My apologies for the disjointed comment … I was looking at two different recipes, and got them confused. I’ll be making your recipe in a few minutes! (But, with Ermine frosting! LOL!)
No worries! Hope you enjoy it!
It was FABULOUS!!! My only change was that I did not use red food coloring. I substituted 2 oz hazelnut coffee instead. Pretty yummy! 🙂
So glad to hear you enjoyed it!
I loved how moist it was
Glad you enjoyed it!
I want to make a 2 layer RV cake using 9 inch cake pans. Will this recipe make decent size layers or will they be thin? If they will be thin, what adjustments will I need to make to the recipe to make the layers the appropriate thickness?
They should still be fine – a little thinner, but not too thin – in my opinion.
This cake was amazing. Thank you for sharing the recipe with everyone.
So glad y’all enjoyed it!
I have made a lot of red velvet cakes over the years, and a rich colored and moist cake is a must. You had me until you got to the icing. For me, cream cheese icing is too heavy and overpowereing for the delicate flavor of a red velvet cake. I much prefer the original icing for a red velvet cake–Irmine Icing. It’s light and not overly sweet.
Hi Stacey, I was wondering if this recipe could be made in my Nordic Ware mini Bundt pans and would I need to make any adjustments besides the time. Thank you for all your time and effort
I’m sure that it could, but being that I’ve not tested it that way, I can’t say for sure what the cook time would be.
I made this for my 7 year old great nieces birthday. Everyone said it was the best red velvet cake they have ever had. The frosting was a lot of work to get creamy and smooth; however, it was well worth it! cudos to you for this recipe!!
My first time making red velvet and I was a nervous wreck. If was perfect and her birthday cake was a huge success.
Thanks so much, Diane! I’m so glad to hear it turned out great for you!
This is the same as my granny’s. She cut from a local newspaper many many years ago. A family favorite.
My very first Red Velvet cake, and it came out PERFECT. I was so proud of myself. The biggest plus, my husband was very impressed. I don’t care for the reviews that says..” I made it just as directed, but, I changed…” whatever. THEN YOU DIDNT MAKE IT AS DIRECTED. Try the recipe.. As directed. Its perfect.
Thanks so much, Dorothy! I’m so glad to hear it turned out great for you!
Can I use all purpose flour in the place of cake flour? If so, what is the measurement of the flour?
I wouldn’t reccomend it as they’re quite different. With that being said, if you’re substituting all-purpose flour for cake flour, you’ll want to use 2 tablespoons less AP flour per cup of cake flour, and add 2 tablespoons of corn starch per cup.
I found this recipe and made it last Christmas instead of my grandmother’s recipe. It was to die for! The best I’ve ever made. Super moist and delicious.
I’m so glad to hear it turned out great for you!
I love this recipe, for my first time making red velvet cake I did a good job thanks to this recipe.
Fantastic! I’m so glad to hear that it turned out great for you!
I used a little lemon juice in frosting. Okay I’ll
I made this cake today. It really does take red velvet cake to the next level. Mine looks exactly as pictured. This will be my go to recipe from now on.
I am so glad that you loved it!
It been ages since I made this cake my 39 got a birthday in Sept I will make not let her know try it out
Hope you love it!
This might be a silly question based on the name, but what if I don’t have red food coloring? Will the cake still be amazing without it? What color of cake will I end up with? Thanks!
Yes, it will still taste great! It will be a very light color of chocolate.
I like to substitute 2 oz of coffee for the food coloring. YUM! 🙂
That sounds great!
I am not a nut fanatic, so If I leave off the pecans in the icing, do I still use the same amount of the remaining ingredients? Or should I substitute more of something else?
Also can I use dark chocolate/cocoa powder for the cake?
No other ingredients need to be added in icing to compensate for the pecans. Using the cocoa powder/dark chocolate should work fine.
Your coconut cake was such a fantastic hit, I’m now trying this red velvet recipe. Looks awesome!!! Quick question… does the cake need to be refrigerated after it’s frosted since it contains cream cheese? I’m making it a day ahead of company. Thank you!
Hey Susan! The cake is good at room temp if it’s going to be eaten within a day or two, but will need to be refrigerated if it lasts longer. Hope you enjoy it as much as the coconut cake!
This is my 2nd red velvet cake. My 1st one was thick and dry, so i made up mind i would try it again. I tried your recipe and it was delicious. Oh, I’m new at baking cakes an i look forward to trying more of your recipes..
So glad to hear you enjoyed it!
Mmmmm, I made on real early this morning, and I am so amazes how the battle taste’s so delicious.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it!
Making this today! I need to melt the butter first or mixing it soften is okay? I got a little confused with the term “melted”. Thank you!
Yes, the butter will need to be melted. Hope you enjoy it!
Thank you so much for creating a most excellent recipe! Woo hoo! This was the first red velvet cake I’d ever made (I make a lotta cakes!) and it was for our office Holiday party. Everyone loved it especially the finicky cake critic (she said excellent crumb with no air tunnels). The only thing I will change going forward is the cake pans I used. The ones I used were darker brown non-stick and the edge of the cake was a bit hard (not the recipe’s fault) so I think it baked too quickly (but I had to make sure the center was done). So next time, I’ll use my silver-ish Wilton pans. Thank you so much, again!
Hi Andrea! This comment put a huge smile on my face. After tons of time developing this recipe, it’s one I’m so proud of and to hear that it got rave reviews make me so happy! I do love those silver Wilton pans and use them almost always with this.
Wondering if olive oil or macadamia nut oil could be used instead of vegetable oil or would it alter the flavor profile too much?
It will certainly have an effect on the flavor.
Have you ever made this cake as a 9×13 sheet cake? If so what is the baking time?
I love your recipes and make many of them over and over. Thank you for sharing them! Merry Christmas 🎄
I haven’t, but I’d guess it’d be about 30 to 35 minutes. Should work just fine otherwise. Hope you enjoy it! Merry Christmas!
Thank you so much for this recipe! Sounds very similar to my grandmother’s that I am trying to recreate. Had one question…since the cake flour I am using isn’t self rising so I need to add the baking powder or is the baking soda and vinegar sufficient? Thanks again!
There’s no need for additional leavening. The eggs, baking soda, and buttermilk is all you’ll need! Sure hope you’ll enjoy it!
You can make your own cake flour by starting with 2T cornstarch, then fill to 1 C with flour. Mix well, or sift.
Can you change this to make multi layers, like around 7-8?
You can. You can bake them as written and then slice them into more layers or bake thinner layers. The cook time will obviously be drastically different if you go that route.
Looking forward to trying this recipe. Do you think anything needs to be done differently to make them into cupcakes? BTW… tried the sweet potato pie recipe and it was PHENOMENAL. Your recipe was the first sweet potato pie recipe I have wrote down and saved in my recipe book.
I’m honored, LaToya! I think this should work just fine as cupcake without any adjustment. Hope you enjoy!
I AM MAKING FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS RED VELVET CAKE. SOOO HERE GOES. Someone I no is so involved with this type. I will let you know when I make it results. Thank you. JUDE
Hope it turns out great for you!
Finally successfully made a red velvet cake. Very moist and delicious.
Awesome, Deidre! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!
The rum cake recipe came out perfectly fine my family loved it for Christmas making another 1
Wonderful!! I’m glad y’all enjoyed it!!
Well I made my first Red Velvet cake. My mom used to make them at Christmas. This is my second year without her, so doing this in her memory. Thanks for sharing your recipe.
So, so glad to hear you enjoyed it. I’m so honored that you used my recipe to honor her memory!
Waldorf astoria red velvet is the crown jewel. It’s always shown with a roux based butter cream frosting, I’m sure you can find it online. Always been my fav
Yep. It’s called an ermine frosting! It’s super delicious, but a bit finicky.
I agree, the Waldorf has always been my go to RV. The icing is what makes it. It is a bear to get it just right but when you do it can’t be beat!
Awesome! My aunt adds a little almond extract to the batter and icing. Just a different twist. Love red velvet cake!! ????
I love almond so I’ve got to try that!
I will be using 1 Tbsp. vinegar to make the buttermilk— will I still need the vinegar in the cake batter? TY
I think it will be fine either way, but I think I’d add it.
I know some recipes calls for adding beaten egg whites. Can’t wait to make your cake Stacy. My son loves RV…and me too!!!
Hope y’all enjoy this version!
Diana E Lewis
I would love to see the original recipe. I have one that my Aunt taught me decades ago and it is quite different from the one presented here. I like to call it the “definitive” Red Velvet and it has received great praise!
I’ve been told its thee best RV!
I’ve tweaked the recipe as well or rather, I’ve tweaked the process and the result is outstanding! RV is my absolute favorite cake so I have personally tested it for years.
Here’s the link to the original recipe we’ve used in the past: https://southernbite.com/red-velvet-cake-and-the-kindness-of-a-stranger/