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Classic Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Mention the words “red velvet cake” and southerners begin to swoon. We’re so addicted to this cake we can’t imagine life without it. If you’re a fan of this rich cocoa-infused delicacy, you’re going to love this post. I’m about to offer you a “from scratch” version that’s simply irresistible. 

What Makes a Cake Velvet? 

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

A velvet cake is a super-soft, velvety cake, moist and tender.  These cakes were popularized during the victorian era when cocoa was first added to cakes to break down the coarseness of the flour. They were considered a luxury item. 

I love turning a simple cake into a velvet cake. (Velvet cakes are the best!)

To make a cake “velvet” you’ve got to add one very special ingredient: buttermilk. Yes, buttermilk. 

Why Bake with Buttermilk?

I can still remember the first time I took a simple boxed cake mix and turned it into a pink velvet cake by adding buttermilk. The result was out of this world.

But. . .why? What makes buttermilk so special?

Buttermilk is an different from ordinary milk in that it’s fermented with good-for-you bacteria. This fermentation process gives it a tartness, an acidity. This acidity tenderizes the cake and gives it that velvety texture.

But that’s not the only special ingredient a “velvet” cake has. Let’s look at a few more.

Other Components of Red Velvet Cake

Vinegar, which is also an acid, gives this cake a tart flavor, one that merges beautifully with the luscious cream cheese frosting. It also helps with lightening the texture.

And then there’s the cocoa powder. As I mentioned above, it helps break down the coarseness of the flour.

Cocoa powder also sets red velvet cake apart from many other forms of chocolate cake, which are made with baking chocolate, melted down and added to the batter.

My version of the red velvet cake uses one other “tender” ingredient–cake flour. You don’t have to use cake flour in yours but I’m all for anything that lightens a cake and gives it an airy texture.

History of Red Velvet Cake

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Let’s talk about the chemical reaction that initially gave this cake its luscious color (and therefore its name). When vinegar was merged with early forms of dutch cocoa powder it put off an amber (or crimson) color. 

Then, sometimes prior to WWII the way cocoa was processed changed and it no longer turned red when merged with vinegar. At that point bakers took to adding red food coloring to the batter. 

New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria claims to be the birthplace of the Red Velvet Cake.   It was popularized during the WWII era when food was rationed and bakers used boiled beet juice to enhance the color of their cakes. (Eek.) 

The Adams Extract Company had a way to fix that. They came up with red food coloring (as well as extracts/flavorings) which meant that home cooks could now create these delicacies in their own kitchens. 

In 1943 “The Joy of Cooking” debuted and featured a red velvet cake recipe. The book’s author—one Irma S Rombauer—claimed that she didn’t care for the cake mix but felt compelled to add it to the book, anyway. 

This popular cake recipe spread through the U.S. like a wildfire!

The Infamous Armadillo Cake

I can’t mention red velvet cake without bringing up that infamous scene in Steel Magnolias. You know the one. The one with the infamous armadillo cake. 

Yep. That sucker was a red velvet cake. (Of course it was!) Some folks turn their noses up at the south’s infatuation with red velvet but I’m a fan. I always have been. 

It is, after all, a moist chocolate cake with the smooth richness found only in a true velvet cake. 

I’m not sure why so many folks turn their noses up at this southern favorite. If it was good enough for Julia Roberts it’s good enough for me. 

Now that I’ve taken you on a little trek down memory lane it’s time to talk through the ingredients for this luscious cake. You’ll find a full printable recipe card at the bottom of this post but here’s a quick peek at what you’ll need. No doubt you’ve already got most of these in your pantry or fridge.

Southern Red Velvet Cake Ingredients

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

For the Cake:

  • cake flour (Swans Down or other)
  • granulated sugar
  • vegetable oil
  • room temperature butter
  • large eggs, room temperature
  • room temperature buttermilk (well shaken)
  • vanilla extract
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • cocoa powder
  • red gel food coloring
  • white vinegar

For the Frosting:

  • room temperature cream cheese
  • room temperature butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
  • powdered sugar
  • milk or heavy cream to thin (as wanted)

Note: If you don’t have buttermilk you can make your own by adding a teaspoon or lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of whole milk. (That’s an easy buttermilk substitute!)

Additional Note: If you don’t have coloring gel you can use a bottle of traditional red food coloring. You’ll need more of it. How much depends on how deep you want the red to be.

How to Make this Classic Red Velvet Cake

This is the best red velvet cake recipe I’ve tried in ages!

Ready to make this southern favorite? Great! It’s a simple process, one you’re really going to enjoy.

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Make the Cake:

Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. (I used a couple of 9-inch pans but next time I’ll go with 8-inch.)

Cream combine butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. You can do this with an electric mixer if you like. I used a stand mixer with paddle attachment.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add eggs and mix well.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add oil and continue to mix on low speed. (Batter will be very thin so it might splatter.)

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

In a separate bowl whisk cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder together.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

It’s time to merge the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients! Here’s how you do it:

Add half of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture, along with half of the buttermilk. Mix well.

Add the final half of the dry ingredients, along with the rest of the buttermilk. Mix until incorporated but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to overactive the gluten strands in the flour. (Less is more!)

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add coloring gel (to get to your desired color). Remember, cake will darken as it bakes.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add the cake batter to your prepared pans. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl to get every last drop!

Place in a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from the edges of the pan and springs back to the touch.

Remove pans from oven and place on wire cooling rack.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

When you can handle the pans, turn the cakes out onto the wire rack.

Make the Tangy Cream Cheese Frosting:

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

While cakes are baking and cooling make your frosting. Place room temperature cream cheese in a mixing bowl and whip at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add butter and continue to mix.

Work in the powdered sugar, mixing until fully incorporated. Thin down with a bit of milk if you like. You want your frosting to be “gloopy” (my special word)–not soupy but not as thick as regular frosting.

Let’s Build a Cake!

Once the cakes are fully cooled level the tops (if necessary), reserving the leftover cake to turn to crumbs for decorating.

Place one of the cake layers on the cake board. Frost it.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add the second layer and frost that one, as well.

Place your top cake bottom-side up so the cake has a level top. Liberally frost the cake with the rest of the icing.

Turn the leftover cake to crumbs using your fingers. Place it in a ring around the top layer to decorate. You can also put a little around the bottom of the cake if you like.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Chill the cake for a while before cutting. The cream cheese frosting is better once it’s firmed up a little bit.

Slice and serve! This cake is great with a big glass of milk or a cup of tea or coffee.

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cake will stay good up to a week. You can freeze this cake tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to two months.

What to Expect from this Traditional Red Velvet Cake

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

First of all. . .yum! I loved that light, tender crumb. Talk about flaky!

And can we just pause for a moment to pay homage to cream cheese frosting? Is there anything finer than that mergence of tart frosting with the sweet cocoa cake? (I think not!)

I particularly love the multi-layered effect. The more cream cheese frosting, the better!

Variations on this Recipe

Classic Red Velvet Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

There aren’t many ways to add to a red velvet cake, honestly. But I did think of a couple of things that might be worth trying next time:

Chocolate ganache between the layers. After you add the cream cheese frosting, add a thin layer of chocolate ganache. If you don’t want to make your own (which is so easy, by the way. . .just merge equal parts chocolate chips and heavy whipping cream) you can always buy a jar of hot fudge from the store. I often do this. Just heat it for 30-seconds in the microwave, stir, cool to room temperature, and spoon onto the cake.

Mini chocolate chips: Instead of decorating the outside of the cake with cake crumbs feel free to use miniature chocolate chips, instead.

Heart-shaped pan: You can easily turn this cake into a Valentine’s Day Cake by baking it in heart-shaped pans. Nothing says love like a red velvet cake, y’all!

Red Velvet Cupcakes: You can definitely use this recipe to make red velvet cupcakes. You might opt for all purpose flour in place of cake flour to add more density.

Turn this recipe into sandwich cookies by eliminating the oil and cutting back to two eggs instead of three. Scoop batter onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.

Other Chocolate Goodies from Out of the Box Baking

The Best Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake: If you’re looking for a rich, moist cake, loaded with flavor, you’ve come to the right place. This Old Fashioned Chocolate Mayonnaise cake is a southern favorite guaranteed to please everyone on your guest list. And this yummy recipe takes things a step further, adding a rich chocolate frosting with mayonnaise in it, as well!

Double Dark Chocolate Espresso Muffins: You love chocolate. You love coffee. You love muffins. These amazing, gooey Double Dark Chocolate Espresso Muffins merge all three of those things into one delicious bite! You’ll swoon, I promise!

Ooey-Gooey Chocolate Chip Blondies: Have you ever had a hankering for something sweet but couldn’t quite put your finger on what you really wanted? These chocolate chip blondies are perfect for days like that! Not quite a cookie, not quite a brownie, not quite a cookie bar. Gooey, chewy, and crisp on the edges. . .they are (in a word) perfect.

That’s it for this recipe, y’all. I hope you have a blessed day. Thanks for stopping by!

See this recipe at

Full Plate Thursday 

Weekend Potluck

Busy Monday

Classic Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Classic Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: 12
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • Southern Red Velvet Cake Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • 3 cups cake flour (Swans Down or other)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup room temperature butter
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup room temperature buttermilk (well shaken)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • several drops of red coloring gel
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • For the Frosting:
  • 1 block (8 oz) room temperature cream cheese
  • 2 sticks butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • Note: If you don't have buttermilk you can make your own by adding a teaspoon or lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of whole milk.
  • Additional Note: If you don't have coloring gel you can use a bottle of traditional red food coloring. You'll need more of it. How much depends on how deep you want the red to be.

Instructions

    How to Make this Classic Red Velvet Cake
    Ready to make this southern favorite? Great! It's a simple process, one you're really going to enjoy.
    Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
    Make the Cake:
    Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. (I used a couple of 9-inch pans but next time I'll go with 8-inch.)
    Cream combine butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. You can do this with an electric mixer if you like. I used a stand mixer with paddle attachment.
    Add eggs and mix well. Add oil and continue to mix on low speed. (Batter will be very thin so it might splatter.)
    In a separate bowl whisk cake flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder together.
    It's time to merge the dry ingredients with the wet! Here's how you do it:
    Add half of the dry ingredients to the sugar mixture, along with half of the buttermilk. Mix well.
    Add the final half of the dry ingredients, along with the rest of the buttermilk. Mix until incorporated but don't overdo it. You don't want to overactive the gluten strands in the flour. (Less is more!)

    Add coloring gel (to get to your desired color). Remember, cake will darken as it bakes.
    Add the cake batter to your prepared pans.
    Place in a preheated 350-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes or until cake pulls away from the edges of the pan and springs back to the touch.
    Remove pans from oven and place on wire cooling rack.
    When you can handle the pans, turn the cakes out onto the wire rack.
    Make the Frosting:
    While cakes are baking and cooling make your frosting. Place room temperature cream cheese in a mixing bowl and whip until light and fluffy. Add butter and continue to mix.
    Work in the powdered sugar, mixing until fully incorporated. Thin down with a bit of milk if you like. You want your frosting to be "gloopy" (my special word)--not soupy but not as thick as regular frosting.
    Let's Build a Cake!
    Once the cakes are fully cooled level the tops (if necessary), reserving the leftover cake to turn to crumbs for decorating.
    Place one of the cake layers on the cake board. Frost it.
    Add the second layer and frost that one, as well.
    Place your top cake bottom-side up so the cake has a level top. Liberally frost the cake with the rest of the icing.
    Turn the leftover cake to crumbs using your fingers. Place it in a ring around the top layer to decorate. You can also put a little around the bottom of the cake if you like.
    Chill the cake for a while before cutting. The cream cheese frosting is better once it's firmed up a little bit.
    Slice and serve! This cake is great with a big glass of milk or a cup of tea or coffee.
    Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Cake will stay good up to a week. You can freeze this cake tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to two months.

Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts  - Out of the Box Baking

Saturday 19th of November 2022

[…] Classic Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting: Mention the words “red velvet cake” and southerners begin to swoon. We’re so addicted to this cake we can’t imagine life without it. If you’re a fan of this rich cocoa-infused delicacy, you’re going to love this post. I’m about to offer you a “from scratch” version that’s simply irresistible. It’s delightful any time of year but especially perfect for Thanksgiving! […]

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