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Red Velvet Cake

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Makes one 9-inch cake.

  • by from DamGood Sweet

Red velvet cake is a dessert that everyone oohs and aahs over—it’s tall, dark, and handsome, with deep crimson cake layers and a thick coating of cream cheese frosting above, around, and between. This red velvet cake recipe excerpted from David Guas and Raquel Pelzel's DamGoodSweet, is about as southern as a cake can be, but their version veers a bit from tradition.

Browse our special collections for more impressive layer cakes and recipes perfect for Valentine's Day or your Mardi Gras celebration.

For the cake
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) plus 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 (1-lb.) box light brown sugar (about 2-1/4 cups)
  • 3 Tbs. red food coloring
  • 2-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-3/4 cups buttermilk
For the frosting
  • 1-1/4 lb. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2-1/2 sticks (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 (2-lb.) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7-1/4 cups)
To make the cake

Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with 1 Tbs. of butter each. Add 2 Tbs. of the flour to each pan and shake the pans to coat the bottom and sides. Tap out the excess flour and set the pans aside.

Sift the remaining 3 cups of flour with the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) cream the remaining butter with the brown sugar, food coloring, and vanilla on low to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition and using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat, finishing with the final third of the dry mix. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans, spreading it out as evenly as possible.

Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and the center of the cake resists slight pressure, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then run a paring knife around the edges of each pan to release the cake from the sides; invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Cool for 1 hour, and then wrap each cake in plastic wrap for at least a few hours.

To make the frosting

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) on low speed to combine. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add a few cups of the confectioners’ sugar, incorporating it into the cream cheese mixture on low speed until combined. Repeat with the remaining sugar, adding it to the mixer in two additions. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.

To assemble the cake

Unwrap the cake layers. Slice off the rounded top 1/8 inch of each cake and place the trimmed-away portion in the bowl of a food processor. Slice each cake in half horizontally (you’ll end up with 4 layers), working over a baking sheet to catch any crumb. Add the crumbs to the food processor and pulse until fine.

Place one cake layer on a cake round or large plate (make sure that the diameter of the plate is at least 1 inch larger than the cake). Use an offset spatula to evenly spread a heaping 3/4 cup of frosting on the first cake layer. Repeat with the remaining three cake layers, ending with a bottom half of a cake on top, browned-side up (so you don’t get cake crumbs in the frosting). Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake (the sides don’t have to look perfect—you’re going to cover them with cake crumbs anyway). Gently press a handful of the reserved crumbs into the side of the cake until all of the sides are evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Make Ahead Tips

You can make the cake layers up to 3 days in advance. The filled and frosted cake keeps for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Let it stand at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Variations

Red velvet cupcakes: Follow the recipe on the facing page, making a half-batch of the batter (unless you have two 12-cup muffin tins, in which case you can make a full-size batch) and decreasing the baking powder to 1 tsp. Bake until the cupcakes are domes and resist slight pressure, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely before frosting with a half batch of the cream cheese frosting.

Photo: Ellen Silverman



This was fantastic! I made it for Valentine's Day and shared it with several of my family members. Everyone LOVED it and told me it was better than a bakery cake. It was a nice balance of dense red velvet (which I prefer) and moist cake. I made the cake part the day before and assembled it the morning of the day I served it. I actually think this tasted better the second day. This will be one of my go-to special occasion cakes.

Really great red velvet. As to the complaint about the frosting not being original, I prefer cream cheese frosting so that's what I always use.

My 11 year old daughter made this cake for my birthday last November. I sliced the cakes for her but she pretty well did the rest herself. Major hit! Super presentation and delicious!

I am disappointed to see that the icing is not the original. True red velvet cake comes with a cooked vanilla icing. Also, I bought fine cooking's 1994-2012 magazine archive on DVD and was very surprises not to find any red velvet cake reference in it (I searched for "red velvet" in the search engine, and it led to zero results). I think it is long due for 2013! With info on the true origins and variations on icing. Originally the red color came from beet juice - healthier than red food coloring.

My daughter requested red velvet cake for her birthday, so I went on a quest for the recipe that looked like it would turn out the best and ended up here. This cake was delicious and moist and there was plenty of icing. It was a huge hit with everyone young and old and, even though it was huge, it was polished off really quickly by a crowd that's not typically too into sweets. I will definitely make it again, but won't do the crumbs on the side next time -- the cake was too moist and they were sort of like chunks. It doesn't need it -- it's great looking without the crumbs.

Perfect. Read many online recipes and chose this one. Humongo hit with young and old alike. Made it at the request for 80 year old's birthday party. Questioned my sanity in making it for the first time for 30 guests. (made two (4 layer) cakes) One 70 year old old me it was the best cake she had ever had in her life, and said, "seriously". The only change I made was to chop 56% Valrona cholcolate into chips and press into the side frosting, rather than red left over cake. Really pumped up the chocolate taste, as well as texture. Huge hit, will make again and again for appeal and taste. Frosting was spot on--even a little left over.

Excellent cake but I took off one star because I think that baking recipes should be given by weights of ingredients. If the writer wants to include measurements by volume additionally, that is fine, but for those who love to bake, having measurements by weight gives us a more uniform result and is much quicker in assembling ingredients and uses fewer bowls and measuring cups, spoons, etc. It really is the way to go.

Excellent! I used a different cream cheese icing recipe so can't comment on the frosting; but the cake was wonderful. One other note: do *not* skimp on the amount of red food colouring. I followed the advice of some reviewers and used less than the recipe called for. The resulting cake was too brown--not the rich red that a true red velvet cake should be!

Y'all, red velvet cake is supposed to be a little tacky. If you're hung up on the red food coloring, why are you looking up this recipe to begin with? I thought this cake was perfectly moist and everyone who ate it thoroughly enjoyed it. I prefer the extra chocolate in this recipe, but do wonder why it specified dutch processed.

If you are not even going to try a recipe, shut up and don't waste our time giving it a rating! You are worse than those who change every aspect of a recipe and then post how bad it is. Please just go away.

Made this cake for a big birthday party and it got amazing reviews. I overheard someone say that they it was the best cake they had ever had. I chose to coat the cake in coconut instead and it turned our really nicely.

Amazing. And I would never dream of making this cake without the food colouring.

Fabulous! The cake is rich & moist. The icing is superb. Mine didn't have that fabulous red colour - turned out to be more of an auburn - even with using the 3 tablespoons of red food colouring. Next time, I may use 4 tablespoons of red food colouring just to be sure. Well worth the effort and perfect for Valentine's Day.

At first we thought it dry, but after more consideration, it is dense, therefore, will add cake flour next try. Despite, it has great flavor.

Beautiful, moist cake and fluffy, wonderfully textured frosting = the best red velvet cake I've ever made! This recipe calls for a greater amount of cocoa than most red velvet cakes do, and that's part of what makes it special - it gives an ordinarily rather boring cake some flavor and character. The frosting recipe is by far the best cream cheese frosting I've ever tried; this will definitely be my go-to recipe for both the cake and the frosting.

I made this for an Olympic party and drew the olympic rings on the top & shaped strawberries into our Canadian Maple leaf and it wowed the crowd!I find most red velvet cake recipes to be quite bland but this one had a great flavor. I only had one of those tear drop shaped food coloring bottles on hand (maybe 1 tbsp) and the color was fine. I think 3 TBSP might be a bit much. The cake was moist & delicious. A bit fussy to make but definately worth the effort!

The best Red Velvet Cake recipe I have ever used. It is moist and dense and the frosting is perfect texture and sweet but not sugary sweet. It makes an easy 16 servings as it is so rich. Someone had posted that they don't understand the need for the food dye in the recipe. It's a RED Velvet Cake. It's not a brown or black or yellow or white or purple cake. That's why. Jeez, think presentation. Also, adding the food dye does nothing to the flavor but offers a sense of richness and decadence the other colors just don't offer. And, just for the record, if you haven't tried the recipe there really isn't a need for you to criticize using the dye (of which I used 4 tbsp of bakers concentrated gel to get a full rich blood red color.

I am going to bake this cake for my husband's birthday in March. I think it sounds grand and there is nothing wrong with using red food coloring. Many years ago there was a problm, but today it is perfectly safe and I use it.

Red velvet has been frosted with both the cooked icing and the cream cheese icing for years. It's really fabulous either way! The red food colorings on the market today are all safe for consuming.

I'm going to try this recipe and use beet juice as colouring. I hope it works!!!

My mother made Red Velvet Cake (also called Waldorf Cake) for every birthday and Christmas, complete with the cooked frosting and red food coloring. I would not dream of making it any other way!

Cream cheese frosting isn't the correct frosting for this cake. I have been eating this cake since I was a kid, and traditionally this had a cooked frosting recipe that was made from regular sugar and butter, cream cheese frosting overpowers the subtle chocolate flavor of red velvet cake.

Okay I am making this cake this weekend. I understand to everyone out there not using chemicals. But you can skip the color - or better yet go with tradition and use the all natural food colorings out there. They are more expensive, need to be refrigerated but only use all vegetable dyes. It is safe and all natural.

Its a Red Velvet Cake! It HAS to be red! Don't give it a poor rating just because you dislike food colouring! If you don't like it... don't make it! And if you want to make it and the colouring is an issue, just skip the colour! It really shouldn't be such a big deal. I am going to be making this cake this weekend... I don't use food colouring a lot, but for a treat, I am looking forward to it! Oh... and not ALL food colourings are chemicals.

Previous reviewer should be aware red velvet cake has been around for many decades and is a part of southern tradition. It has always had red food coloring in it. Leave the food coloring out if you want to, but for goodness sake leave tradition alone for those of us who value it. Maybe you would like to campaign to leave apples out of apple pie?.....

This cake looks unappealing. The red looks like we are eating something concocted in a chemical lab. I expect better from Fine Cooking than the use of food color. Just because it's Valentines Day, doesnt mean our food has to be colored red!

I am an avid baker. I bake everything you can think of. What I wouldn't think of is putting food coloring in anything. I understand the cake is called a Red Velvet Cake, but it can be called the Brown Velvet Cake. Why would you add food coloring to all of the other fabulous ingredients? It makes no sense. The recipe sounds fabulous, just omit the chemical.

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