Three Layer Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
This Red Velvet Cake Recipe creates a dramatic three-layer cake that’s moist, tender and covered in cream cheese buttercream frosting.
This Red Velvet Cake Recipe is a long time coming. A little over a year ago, I made a batch of red velvet cupcakes for a friend who really loves red velvet cake. And, they were good…. enough. My friend loved them. (Or so she said.)
But, the cake tasted too much like red-tinted chocolate cake. And, they didn’t have that super-tender crumb that should be associated with any cake with worthy of having “velvet” in the title. So, several experimental layers later, and….
This is my idea of the perfect Red Velvet Cake.
So, let’s talk about what makes this red velvet cake recipe work for me. First of all, red velvet cake is, well… red. I know there’s a group of bakers (and eaters) who abhor the use of any kind of artificial food coloring. I get it. Artificial colors and flavors are really not so good for us. I don’t like using them and feel that for the most part, they should be avoided.
But, here’s the thing… If you’re looking for health food, the several pounds of butter and sugar this cake contains is really more of an issue than the food coloring. Let’s be real.
If you’re looking for a healthy dessert, might I interest you in these Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars, which are low sugar, gluten free, whole grain bars of healthy deliciousness. Or, perhaps you’d like to try this Blueberry Crisp, sweetened with honey and maple syrup and topped with flax seed, almonds and oats. Yummy, wholesome, home baked, every day desserts that are healthy, nourishing and delicious. I’m a fan.
I’m also a fan of exceptional, extraordinary indulgence.
And that’s what this Red Velvet Cake Recipe is al about. It’s a cake for birthdays and anniversaries. For retirement, promotion, housewarming and dinner parties. It’s a cake especially made for those times when everyone is going to eat too much, possibly drink to much, and enjoy the hell out of themselves.
So, yeah. There’s some artificial red coloring in there.
In my experience, getting a gorgeously red Red Velvet Cake is not that easy.
This cake is red – but not shockingly so. It’s a gorgeous deep brick color rather than in-your-face fire engine red. That’s because I like a touch more cocoa powder than many red velvet cake recipes call for.
I’ve also added a dash of instant espresso powder, which can’t be identified in the finished cake, but adds depth and complexity to the chocolate and vanilla flavors. Both of these ingredients certainly affect the color. But there’s another factor at play here…
Lots and lots of recipes simply call for “food coloring”. But not all food coloring will actually turn your cake red. Trust me.
A lot of things can interfere with the color of red velvet cake, some of which also affect the flavor.
Which, yes – I want my red velvet cake to be red. But mostly, I want it to taste good. Also, these days, most of the red food coloring available in grocery stores will not actually turn your red velvet cake batter red.
Food coloring gels made by Wilton or Sugarflair generally produce good results and can be found at cake decorating or craft stores. But, I found the best luck with LorAnn Oils Red Velvet Emulsion. It enhances the flavor and combines with the cocoa and espresso powder to create a beautifully rich, deep red color.
A few other things to know about this Red Velvet Cake Recipe…
This recipe produces a very tall three layer cake. I LOVE the drama of it. I mean… this is a RED layer cake covered in cream cheese buttercream. This cake is a drama queen. Embrace it.
To get those nice thick layers, I used round cake pans that are 3-inches deep. I have not tested this recipe with cake pans that are only 2 inches deep, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them if that’s what you have. It’s possible that you’ll have some leftover batter, and if you do, lucky you! You now have the perfect excuse to bake a few red velvet cupcakes. (Because we all know that little individual serving size cupcakes have basically no calories. Duh.)
Buttermilk is a must – but it’s easy to make if you don’t have it on hand.
Buttermilk is key to a super moist red velvet cake with a complex flavor. If you have it on hand, great. If not, it’s super easy to make: Simply measure 1 1/2 cups of milk (the amount of buttermilk this recipe calls for) and replace two tablespoons of the milk with vinegar. Stir and let sit at room temperature for about 1 minute. Ta-da! Buttermilk.
Most red velvet cake recipes use oil instead of butter. Oil makes for a super moist cake, but at the expense of flavor. This recipe uses a combination of both, proving that sometimes you really can have the best of both worlds.
You’ll also notice that this recipe calls for separating the eggs, beating the yolks into the butter, whipping the whites separately and then folding them into the cake batter as the last step. This is a fairly dense, rich cake, and I found that whipping the egg whites and folding them into the batter right before baking produced a more tender cake that rises evenly as it bakes.
A word about cake decoration.
As you may have noticed, this red velvet cake includes pink sprinkles and a heart on the top. Why? Because next week is Valentine’s Day. Awwwwwww… So, cute (and kind of tacky), I know. But there it is. YOU should decorate your red velvet cake however you like.
But if you like the idea of covering the top of the cake with sprinkles, save for a heart or any other shape, it’s super simple: Place a cookie cutter in the center of the cake, cover the rest of the surface of the cake with sprinkles before carefully removing the cookie cutter. Easy-peasy.
Here are some items I used to make this Red Velvet Cake Recipe:
A few of my other all-time favorite cake recipes:
- The Ultimate Chocolate Cake with Rum Custard and Almond Pralines
- The BEST Vanilla Cake Recipe
- Carrot Cake Recipe with Caramel Rum Sauce
- Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Italian Meringue Buttercream
For even more delicious cake recipes, follow my Cake Recipes board on Pinterest.
- 4½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp instant espresso powder
- 1½ cups buttermilk
- 1½ tbsp distilled white vinegar
- 4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 4 tbsp Red Velvet Emulsion
- 2½ tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1½ cups (12 oz.) butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 2½ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 5 large whole eggs, separated
- 3- 8 oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
- 6 sticks of butter - at room temperature
- 3½ - 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using vegetable shorting, grease the inside of three 8-inch by 3-inch round cake pans. Use the pan to trace 8-inch circles on a piece of parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place one in each pan to cover the bottom. Sprinkle some flour in the pans and shake it around to completely coat the sides.
- Add the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, salt and espresso powder to a medium size bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Stir the vinegar into the buttermilk. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, add the vanilla, Red Velvet Emulsion, and cocoa powder. Stir to form a thick paste. Set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy - abut 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolks and beat on medium-high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the vegetable oil and the cocoa powder mixture and beat on low for another 30 seconds to combine.
- Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in 4 additions, beginning and ending with the flour: ¼ of the flour, ⅓ of the buttermilk, ¼ of the flour, ⅓ of the buttermilk, ¼ of the flour, ⅓ of the buttermilk, ¼ of the flour. Beat on low after each addition just until the ingredients are combined - about 20 seconds.
- Using a whisk or electric beaters, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form; if you lift the whisk or beaters from the egg whites, soft peaks that barely hold their shape before folding over themselves should form. Gently fold egg whites into the batter with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Distribute batter evenly between your three prepared pans and bake all three at once for 55-65 minutes, until the cakes are pulling away from the sides of the pan slightly and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out without any batter on it.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and place on a wire rack. Let them cool in their pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto the wire rack and let cool completely before frosting and assembling.
- Beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-high until smooth and slightly fluffy - about 2 minutes.
- Add 3 cups of the powdered sugar along with the vanilla and salt. Beat on low until the powdered sugar is incorporated into the cream cheese and butter, then on medium for 1-2 minutes, until the buttercream is smooth. Add enough additional powdered sugar to achieve a spreadable consistency. You don't want the buttercream to be dry; however, you want to be able to spread it along the sides of the cake without it dripping or sliding. If you run a spoon through the center of the buttercream, it should hold it's shape.
- Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to use. If the buttercream has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before frosting your cake.
- Lay one cake layer on a serving dish and cove the top with a thin layer of buttercream - about ¼ - ½ inch thick. Lay another cake layer onto of the first and spread another layer of buttercream across the top. Top with the third cake layer.
- Frost the cake with a thin layer of buttercream in order to "glue" the layers together and contain any loose crumbs. This is called a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes - 1 hour to allow the crumb coat to harden and set.
- Using the remaining buttercream, frost the entire cake and decorate however you like. To create a heart on the top of the cake, as pictured, place a heart-shaped cookie cutter in the center of the cake. Coat the top of the cake with sprinkles, then gently remove the cookie cutter.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days.