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Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Red Velvet Cake
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Chef notes

This recipe doesn't add any unexpected extras or fancy new flavors. It's a traditional, straightforward red velvet cake that shows off the unbeatable flavors and textures of this iconic classic.

Swap option: If you can't find whole fat buttermilk, use 1/2 cup whole milk and 1/2 cup sour cream.


  • cups unbleached cake flour
  • 2 cups light brown sugar, gently packed
  • 1/4 cup natural (not Dutch process) cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • teaspoons fine sea salt (if using table salt, use only 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup neutral oil (like vegetable or canola)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 cup whole fat buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 (scant) ounce red gel dye (a heaping tablespoon)
Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 pound (two 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 18 ounces (4½ cups) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt


For the cake:


Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray three 9- or 8-inch round cake pans with baker's spray. Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment round. Set aside. Alternatively line a 3/4 sheet pan with parchment and spray with baker's spray. Set aside.


In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a liquid measure, add the buttermilk, vinegar, red dye and vanilla. Whisk together and set aside.


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and add the oil. Continue mixing until the oil is fully incorporated. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl again and add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until incorporated.


With the mixer running on low, add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, 1/3 of the flour, the remainder of the buttermilk, and then the remainder of the flour mixture. It's at this point, before the last bit of flour is completely incorporated, that you should check the shade of red to make sure it's to your liking. Add 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon more gel dye to enhance the color if you like. Mix until the batter just comes together.


Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Check the cakes by gently poking. If the cake springs back, it's done. If it feels set but you can still see the indent of your finger in the cake, it needs 5 minutes more. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool in the cake pans for 10 minutes then use a paring knife to release the cake from the sides if it hasn't already pulled away and turn out onto a cooling rack. Peel off the parchment paper and allow to cool completely before frosting. If baking in a sheet pan, pour all the batter in the prepared sheet pan and check the cake after 20-25 minutes of baking. The cake should pull away slightly from the edges of the pan.

For the cream cheese frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and add the butter, continue creaming until completely smooth. Add the vanilla and salt. Mix until combined. With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar a cup at a time. Once it's all added, turn the mixer to high and beat until smooth, light and fluffy. Refrigerate for 20 minutes before using (can make the night before and refrigerate overnight).

To assemble:


Place a small dollop of frosting onto your serving platter. Put a layer of cake on top of the frosting (this helps secure the cake).


Cut about 1/2 inch from the top of a piping bag (or a large plastic storage bag) and fill bag with frosting. Pipe the frosting onto the cake, starting in the middle, and spiraling out to make an even layer of frosting.


Top with the 2nd layer of cake and top with frosting as before. Add the last layer of cake and spiral the frosting on top again and then, starting at the bottom of the cake, pipe the remained of the frosting up the sides of the cake (this is easiest when using a turntable). Use an offset spatula to spread the frosting.