How to Make Red Velvet Cake From Scratch

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Start to finish: 1 hour Servings: 8 to 10 slices Difficulty level: Beginner

Red velvet cake presents beautifully with its contrast of deep, red cake and creamy white frosting. The traditional ingredients for this richly flavored, moist cake include chocolate or cocoa powder, milk, vinegar and red food coloring, says Cream cheese frosting and sour cream added to the cake batter create an unexpected contrast of flavors and the velvety texture. Although you can use boxed cake mix and canned frosting as short cuts, this recipe, inspired by a Soul Food and Southern Cooking recipe, is for made-from-scratch cake and frosting.



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1-ounce bottle red food coloring


  • 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1-pound box powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and move the rack to the middle of the oven.

Remove the eggs and milk from the refrigerator and set them aside so they are room temperature when added to the cake batter. This technique helps create a smoother cake texture, says

Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by coating the inside of the pans with oil and flour. Shake and tilt the pans while hitting the sides to spread the flour and remove extra flour.

Add the dry ingredients -- flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt -- to a mixing bowl and sift. Use two bowls to sift, pouring the dry ingredients through the sifter from one bowl to the other two or three times to mix thoroughly.

Add the buttermilk and vinegar to the empty mixing bowl and beat on a low speed until mixed.

Add one egg to the liquid ingredients and use a fork or whisk to mix; repeat with the remaining two eggs.

Mix the sour cream and vanilla extract in with the liquid ingredients using a mixer or a large spoon.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl, about half at a time, with the sifted dry ingredients and use a large spoon to mix the ingredients. If you prefer, use the mixer on a low setting for a few seconds and finish mixing with the spoon, scraping the sides of the bowl to get all of the ingredients.

Sprinkle the red food coloring over the cake batter and mix the ingredients with a large spoon until the cake batter has a uniform color throughout. Again, if preferred, use the mixer on a low setting for a few seconds and finish the mixing with the spoon.

Pour equal amounts of the cake batter into the cake pans and place the pans on a rack in the middle of the oven.

Bake the cake for 30 minutes or until toothpicks inserted in the cakes come out clean.

Remove the cake pans from the oven and set the pans on racks, allowing the cake to cool in the pans for 15 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Place the softened cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl and use a mixer set to medium to beat the ingredients until the mixture is creamy.

Add the vanilla extract and beat until mixed in thoroughly.

Add 1 cup of powdered sugar to the bowl and beat the ingredients until smooth. Repeat with ½ to 1 cup of the remaining powdered sugar at a time until the entire box is thoroughly mixed with the cream cheese and butter into a light, creamy, lump-free frosting.

Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of water if the frosting becomes too thick; use less powdered sugar if you prefer.

Apply the cream cheese icing between the completely cooled cake layers and to the tops and sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 15 minutes before serving.


  • Substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup of oil or butter for the sour cream.

  • Use a different type of frosting. Buttercream, sour cream and chocolate frostings are alternatives to the cream cheese frosting.

  • Add chopped pecans or walnuts to the cream cheese frosting or add a hint German chocolate cake with coconut and chopped nuts added to the frosting.

  • Make red velvet cupcakes using muffin tins and serve them plain or with frosting.

  • If you prefer not to use red food coloring, use an ingredient like red wine or beets that provides natural coloring. Big Bake provides a recipe using ½ cup pureed beets.

Tips and Suggestions

  • A dense, heavy, dry cake can result from overmixing the cake batter, especially flour and eggs, says Southern Living.

  • Sour cream, cooking oil or butter help keep the cake moist. Whichever you use, too little can cause a dry cake. Sugar also helps keep the cake moist, but too little can cause drying. However, too much flour or baking soda also affects the cake's moistness, Southern Living says. Another tip for moist cake is to test for doneness at 25 minutes to avoid dryness from over-baking.

  • If the cake batter is too dry or thick, add another ¼ cup or sour cream or a ¼ cup of melted butter.

  • Set the cream cheese and butter out well in advance to soften so they are easier to cream. If necessary, soften both just a little in the microwave.

  • Refrigerate cream cheese frosting until you are ready to frost the cake.

  • When removing the cake from the pans, run a butter knife around the inside edge of the cake pans to loosen the cakes. Turn the pans over, place your hand on top of the cake and allow the cake to fall gently from the pan.

  • Red velvet cake is a chocolate cake with a deep red color, so experiment with different types coloring agents and chocolate, like melted bakers chocolate.