This is the best red velvet cake recipe! It has an ultra-moist and velvety texture with a tangy cream cheese frosting that rivals any bakery version. Serve it for Valentine's Day, birthday parties, and beyond!
I worked as a pastry chef for over six years and never liked any red velvet cakes. They were always dry, bland, or way too sweet. But like my red velvet brownies, I needed to make my own- I'm proud to say this moist red velvet cake is the BEST!
It has a bright red color, subtle chocolate flavor, and super moist and velvety texture. I love slathering it with my favorite tangy cream cheese frosting. This is the best red velvet cake to celebrate any special occasion!
What is Red Velvet Cake?
- Mild cocoa flavor: Just a touch of cocoa powder gives it its classic chocolate flavor.
- Super moist and velvety soft texture: Every bite melts in your mouth and sticks to your fork in the best way!
- Tangy flavor: Adding buttermilk and cultured butter adds a depth of tanginess- a key component of classic red velvet cake!
- Cream cheese icing: Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting is a classic pairing for a good reason! Its smooth and creamy texture pairs perfectly with the cake's soft crumb.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
White vinegar: A seemingly odd ingredient, it plays a key role in achieving a traditional red velvet flavor. The acidity activates the baking soda and tenderizes the gluten, resulting in a super moist and tender crumb.
Sour cream: My favorite addition to all of my cake recipes! Sour cream is rich, tangy, and full of extra fat making this a rich and tender red velvet cake.
Unsweetened cocoa powder: Natural cocoa powder adds a hint of chocolate flavor and interacts with the vinegar. The small amount gives the cake another depth of flavor without overpowering the buttery vanilla flavor. Avoid using Dutch-processed cocoa for this recipe!
Cream cheese: The base of the cream cheese icing! Use brick-style cream cheese, not whipped cream cheese or anything in a tub.
Cultured butter: For a rich and buttery flavor! Substitute it with any sweet cream European butter for best results. Kerrygold is my favorite brand.
Buttermilk: The extra fat and acid in the buttermilk reacts with the baking soda and contributes to the cake's moist texture.
Red food coloring: I highly recommend using gel food coloring and not liquid for a super bold red color.
Find the full list of ingredients, measurements, and instructions in the recipe card below!
How to Make Red Velvet Cake
Step 1: Cream the butter, sugar, and oil. In a stand mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and oil until light and fluffy. (Image 1 below)
Step 2: Mix in the eggs. Mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bottom of the bowl between additions. (Image 2 below)
Step 3: Mix in the wet ingredients. Mix in the sour cream, vanilla extract, vinegar, and red food coloring. (Image 3 below)
Step 4: Alternate wet and dry ingredients. Mix in ⅓ of the dry ingredients, then ½ of the buttermilk, alternating wet and dries, ending on dry. (Image 4 above)
Step 5: Mix in the hot coffee. Stream the hot coffee into the cake batter, mixing until just combined. (Image 5 below)
Step 6: Bake the cake layers. Evenly distribute the red velvet cake batter into three 8-inch cake pans. (Image 6 below) Then bake!
Step 7: Cool the layers. Let the cake pans cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing them from the pans. (Image 7 above)
Step 8: Trim the cake. Use a serrated knife to trim a thin layer off the top of the cake layers. Crumble the cake crumbs for decorating the top of the cake! (Image 8 above)
Step 9: Frost with cream cheese buttercream. Assemble the red velvet cake by alternating cake layers and cream cheese frosting. (Image 9 above) You can also use vanilla buttercream or chocolate buttercream!
Step 10: Decorate the cake. Use the rest of the buttercream to cover the tops and sides of the red velvet cake. Use a spatula to create texture on the sides and decorate with sprinkles, or the reserved cake crumbs. (Image 10 above)
Storage and Freezing
Storage: Store leftover cake slices or the assembled cake in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days. The cake can be kept at room temperature for 1-2 days but is best kept in the fridge.
Freezer: You can freeze the cake whole or as slices individually wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 month. Let the cake defrost in the fridge overnight or at room temperature before serving!
Tips for a Super Moist Cake
Use room temperature ingredients for a moist, evenly baked cake.
Avoid dark-coated cake pans: Dark-coated pans absorb and retain more heat, increasing the risk of over-browning and overbaking the cake layers!
Don't overmix the cake batter: Overmixing cake batter can lead to excessive gluten development, resulting in a dense and tough texture.
Use gel food coloring. The gel is more concentrated than liquid, so you won't need as much of it to achieve a bold red color.
I highly recommend using a gel and not liquid because it is super concentrated and you don't need to use as much of it!
While many recipes suggest using a homemade buttermilk mixture of milk and vinegar, it's missing the extra fat in real buttermilk! Instead, I recommend ½ cup of water mixed with 2 tablespoons of sour cream or Greek yogurt (it should equal ⅔ cup!)
Yes, fill the cupcake liners ¾ full with the red velvet cake batter. Bake them at 350 F/180 C for about 18-25 minutes. This recipe will make roughly 24 cupcakes!
Incorrectly measuring the ingredients or overbaking the cake layers will result in a dry cake.
Yes, you can bake the cake batter in two 9-inch cake pans. They will bake for roughly 25-30 minutes. I don't recommend using a smaller pan (like 6-inch) because there's too much batter!
Yes! The bake time will be longer, close to 30 minutes.
More Layer Cake Recipes
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Best Red Velvet Cake
Red Velvet Cake Batter
- 3 cups all-purpose flour *See notes below for measuring*
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 cup unsalted cultured butter room temperature
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- ½ cup sour cream room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar
- 2-3 teaspoons red gel food coloring
- ⅔ cup buttermilk room temperature
- ⅓ cup hot coffee or water
- Prepare the pans. Preheat the oven to 350 F/180 C. Line three 8-inch baking pans with parchment paper on the bottoms.
- Whisk together the dry ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Cream the butter and sugar. Cream the butter, sugar, and oil until light and fluffy, 5 minutes.1 cup unsalted cultured butter, 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar, ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- Mix in the wet ingredients. Mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl between additions. Then mix in the sour cream, vanilla extract, vinegar, and red food coloring.4 large eggs, ½ cup sour cream, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons white vinegar, 2-3 teaspoons red gel food coloring
- Alternate wet and dry ingredients. Mix in ⅓ of the dry ingredients, then half the buttermilk, alternating ingredients, ending on dry.⅔ cup buttermilk
- Mix in the hot coffee. With the mixer running on low speed, stream in the hot water or coffee and mix until just combined.⅓ cup hot coffee or water
- Bake the cake layers. Evenly distribute the red velvet cake batter into the prepared baking pans (515 grams in each). Bake in the preheated oven for 20- 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out covered in a few moist crumbs. Once baked, cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove the layers from the pans.
- Trim the cake tops. Use a serrated knife to trim a thin layer off the tops of the cake layers. Break up the cake crumbs with your hands until very crumbly. Set aside for decorating.
- Make the cream cheese frosting. Cream the butter until smooth. Mix in the cream cheese until combined. Then mix in the powdered sugar. Once combined, add the vanilla and cream. Beat on medium speed for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy (do not overbeat or it will start to look wet and curdled!).1 cup unsalted cultured butter, ½ cup unsalted butter, 8 oz full-fat cream cheese, 3 ½ cups powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons heavy cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- Assemble the cake. Assemble the cake by alternating cake layers and cream cheese frosting. Then spread a thin layer of frosting over the cake for the crumb coat. Chill the cake in the fridge for 20-30 minutes until set.
- Decorate the red velvet cake. Spread the rest of the buttercream to cover the sides and top of the cake, using a small offset spatula to swirl the sides if desired. Use the reserved cake crumbs to decorate the top of the cake. Enjoy!
- Store leftover cake slices or the assembled cake in an airtight container in the fridge for 5-7 days. They can be frozen for up to 1 month!Cake layers can be baked ahead of time, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and stored in the freezer before assembling.
The calorie information provided for the recipe is an estimate. The accuracy of the calories listed is not guaranteed.