Rich and Vibrant Red Velvet Cake

Well, it’s not vanilla. It’s not chocolate. And it’s not devil’s food.

Vertical image of a slice of red cake with vanilla icing, with text in the center and bottom of the image.

It’s a unicorn amongst desserts.

Despite how obvious the color of red velvet cake is, there remains a shroud of mystery as to what exactly it is in terms of flavor.

Vertical image of a decorated dessert with white icing and red sprinkles.

Chocolate? Vanilla?

Neither, actually!

Vertical image of removing a slice of red velvet cake with white icing and sprinkles.

It’s in its own crazy category. Red velvet cake’s base is a dreamy, rich concoction that has sweetness, vanilla fragrance, a subtle tanginess, and a hint of chocolate flavor.

Vertical close-up image of a three-layered cake with white frosting in front of a white towel.

Before food coloring became popularized and affordable with passing of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, red velvet cake’s color originally was caused by Dutch-processed cocoa powder, the available cocoa powder available at the time. The highly pigmented cocoa gave the cake a rusty reddish tint, though certainly not as vibrant as the modern red food coloring. 

The dessert often has an acidic ingredient added to it, like buttermilk, vinegar, sour cream, or a combination of the three.

The acidity lends an amazing flavor that balances the sweetness, and augments the hue of the red food coloring.

Vertical front-view image of a slice of three-layered cake on a gray stand.

And with a delicate taste of both cocoa powder and vanilla, you get one of the most well-rounded desserts out there, as well as one of the most gorgeous.

Rich and vibrant, see this sweet world through red-colored glasses with my delectable recipe!

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Horizontal image of a slice of red velvet cake on a gray stand.

Rich and Vibrant Red Velvet Cake


  • Author: Nikki Cervone
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 12 servings 1x

Description

Red velvet cake is a rich and dreamy dessert with an unforgettably gorgeous bright color. Serve up a slice!


Scale

Ingredients

  • Cooking oil spray
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 cups frosting*

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of 3 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper, and spray the entire pan with a nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Combine the buttermilk, canola oil, red food coloring, and vanilla in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and salt at high speed. Add the eggs one at a time at medium-high speed, mixing fully after each egg. Scrape the bowl down and re-mix.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, alternate between adding the dry mixture and wet mixture until everything is incorporated, and a soft, thick batter forms.
  6. Divide evenly between the three prepared pans. Immediately bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean with a few crumbs sticking to it.
  7. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes before removing them, them allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.
  8. Once the cake rounds are completely cool, frost and decorate as you wish!

Notes

*Use your favorite flavor of icing – anything goes! For sweet inspiration, try Foodal’s recipes for vanilla buttercream or Swiss meringue buttercream.

  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Dessert

Keywords: cake, red velvet cake, buttermilk, red velvet, Valentine's Day

Cooking by the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line the bottom of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper, and spray the entire pan with a nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Looking for even thicker, fluffier layers? Use two 8-inch pans instead of three.

Measure out all of the ingredients. Be sure your unsalted butter, eggs, and buttermilk are all at room temperature – this helps the batter mix and combine more evenly.

Step 2 – Make the Batter

Horizontal image of a white bowl with red batter next to cocoa powder and eggs on a white towel.

With a sifter, sift together the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

Cake flour, in comparison to all-purpose flour, has a lower protein content. This means that the cake will be more delicate and soft. You can use an equal amount of all-purpose flour, if cake flour is not available. The cake will be just slightly chewier. Be sure to not overmix, to not develop any more gluten!

Combine the buttermilk, canola oil, red food coloring, and vanilla extract in a separate small bowl. Set aside.

Using a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the room temperature, unsalted butter and granulated sugar. Cream until the mixture looks thick and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and continue to mix until completely incorporated. Scrape the bowl down and briefly re-mix.

With the mixer on low speed, alternate between adding the dry mixture and wet mixture until everything is incorporated, and a soft, thick batter forms. The batter should look very smooth.

Not red enough for you? Go for an extra tablespoon of food dye to get a richer, brighter color.

Step 3 – Divide Batter Between Prepared Pans

Horizontal image of red batter in three pans on a white towel next to eggs and cocoa powder.

With a spatula, evenly divide the batter into the prepared pans. For a more accurate measurement, you can weigh the batter on a kitchen scale – each pan will have about 16-18 ounces of batter.

If you plan to check the weight when the batter is already in the pans, don’t forget to weigh the empty pan first and tare it to reset to zero so the pan itself won’t be included in the total!

Step 4 – Bake

Horizontal image of baked red velvet cake in pans on a cooling rack next to eggs and cocoa powder.

Immediately bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick comes out clean with a few crumbs sticking to it. 

Like any cake batter, you need to bake the cake batter as soon as you make it. Letting the batter stand for a longer period of time looses the leavening ability of the chemical leavening agents. And you need as much of that power as possible, since the crumb of a cake is super delicate!

If you are using 2 pans, the bake time will increase slightly, about 20-25 minutes. 

Do your best to not overbake. They can quickly become dry and crumbly, especially with a thinner batter divided between three pans.

Step 5 – Cool

Horizontal image of two freshly baked cakes on a cooling rack on a white towel.

Let them cool in the pans for 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges, and invert each pan to remove the cake. Dispose of the parchment paper on the bottom, and turn them right side up. Let them cool completely on cooling racks before decorating.

This part is important, since you don’t want your icing to melt, sliding off the cake and resulting in a runny mess. Nobody wants that! It’s worth the wait.

Step 6 – Decorate

Horizontal image of a partially decorated cake with white frosting.

Decorate as you wish! Need some help with this step? Read my article on basic cake decorating to learn the essentials. And you’ll need all the right tools for decorating, too!

Let chill and set in the refrigerator for about one hour before serving. Enjoy!

Frost As You Wish

While this cake isn’t technically vanilla or chocolate, it can certainly be paired with all the fun flavors of frosting.

Vertical top-down image of a slice of cake on a gray stand, next to two plates of half-eaten dessert.

Vanilla, chocolate, or cream cheese will all be perfect. Try my recipes for silky Swiss meringue buttercream, or thick and fluffy American-style buttercream.

What frosting will you choose? I love the contrast of a vanilla icing with the bright red crumb. Let me know what you decide! Rate the recipe, and leave a comment for me below.

Can’t get enough fluffy rounds of sweet, sweet goodness? Enjoy another big slice with more of our classic recipes:

Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

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About Nikki Cervone

Nikki Cervone is a hungry foodie living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she is not tearing through her city's best grub, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.

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