A complaint I hear often about red velvet cakes is that they are dry.  One culprit is using a box cake mix.  I recommend making this cake from scratch as it may become your favorite cake.  A homemade red velvet cake is moist, faint of cocoa flavor, and vibrantly gorgeous. Frost it with cream cheese frosting (again homemade) and you will have a superstar dessert.

I use liquid red food coloring from the grocery store. My go-to is McCormick red food color.  You can absolutely use natural beet dye and there are many wonderful recipes available online.  I recommend the recipe by MTN Top Bakery.

This recipe is from my all-time, favorite cookbook “Family Baking Book” by America’s Test Kitchen. Whether you are a beginner baker or talented pro this cookbook is a winner.

Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Serves 8 to 10

2 tablespoons natural cocoa powder (plus more for dusting the pan). Do not sub Dutch-processed cocoa as the rise and color of the cake will be affected.

2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/8 tsp table salt

1 cup buttermilk, room temperature

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp (1 ounce) red food coloring

12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 oz) sugar

Cream cheese frosting (recipe follows)

  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch cake pans, then dust with cocoa powder and line bottoms with parchment paper. Dusting with cocoa powder versus white flour will prevent the finished cake from having a white film on it.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, eggs, vinegar, and vanilla together. In a small bowl, mix 2 tbsp. of the cocoa and red food coloring together to make a smooth paste.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Reduce mixer to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Beat in the cocoa mixture until the batter is uniform.
  4. Give the batter a final stir with the rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly combined. Scrape batter into prepared pans. Bake cake until toothpick inserted comes out clean with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Rotate pans once during baking.
  5. Remove pans from oven, gently flip cake layers onto a cooling rack. Cool for 2 hours.
  6. Line edges of a cake platter with strips of parchment paper to keep the platter clean while assembling and frosting the cake. Place one layer onto the platter. Spread one cup of the frosting over the tip. Place next cake layer on top and frost with remaining frosting. Remove parchment strips. Cake can be assembled a day ahead if covered tightly with a cake saver and refrigerated.

Cream Cheese Frosting

It is important that the cream cheese and butter are completely softened before mixing. If not, your frosting with be lumpy.

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, completely softened

1 1/4 sticks butter, completely softened

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups (8 oz) confectioners’ sugar

  1. Beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth, 2-4 minutes.
  2. Reduce the mixer to the lowest speed and add confectioners’ sugar. Beat on medium-high until smooth, 4-6 minutes.