Did you know that the traditional red velvet cake was only ‘red’ because of the chemical reaction between cocoa powder and buttermilk?
These days, red velvet cake is a vivid red colour with the addition of food colouring.
This soft, rich and moist cake is my absolute favourite special-occasion cake. It looks impressive but is ridiculously simple. All you need to do is whisk the wet and dry ingredients together!
I top this cake with a smooth cream cheese frosting and decorate the top and sides with crumbled cake offcuts. It always impresses and feeds a fair crowd. Enjoy!
Top Tips & FAQs
- Do I have to use buttermilk? In short, yes. Buttermilk substitutes (such as milk combined with vinegar or lemon juice) don’t work as well in this recipe and will produce a drier cake. You should be able to find buttermilk at most major supermarkets (in the US, UK and AUS) or in specialty/organic food shops.
- What type of red food colouring should I use? I use a high quality liquid food colouring. This dissolves easily into the batter and produces a vivid red colour even after baking. If you only have access to gel food colour, make sure it is high-quality and start by only using 1 tablespoon (then add more as needed).
- Baking soda or baking powder? Red velvet cakes use baking SODA as a raising agent. This gives the cake its distinctive tangy flavour. In a pinch, you can substitute 1 tsp of baking soda with 3 tsp of baking powder for this recipe.
- Why does this recipe use both oil AND butter? Oil keeps the cake moist and soft, while butter gives the cake a beautiful rich flavour.
- Why is my batter runny? This batter is fairly thin (and that is okay!). Make sure your spring-form pan is tightly sealed so the batter does not leak out. Do NOT bake this cake sitting on top of a cookie tray or it will not bake evenly.
- Why is my cake dry/dense/sunken?
- You are measuring your dry ingredients incorrectly: to measure dry ingredients such as flour, measure spoonfuls of flour into a measuring cup until it is heaped (do not pack down), then sweep off the excess with a flat-bladed butter knife.
- You overcooked the cakes: make sure to follow the recommended temperature guidelines and cooking times. These cakes do not tend to brown all across the surface so you must test your cakes with a skewer – it should be clean when inserted and removed from the centre of the cake, or just have a few moist clinging crumbs.
- Your baking soda is expired: check the expiry date of your baking soda. Expired baking soda is a VERY common cause of sunken or dense cakes.
For the Red Velvet Cakes
- 2 ¼ cups plain / all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup corn starch / cornflour
- 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking soda / bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup canola oil (or any other flavourless vegetable or cooking oil)
- 125g (½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 ½ cups caster / superfine sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1 cup buttermilk (substitutes do not work well for this recipe)
- 1 tbsp vanilla essence OR 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp red liquid food colouring OR 1 tbsp high-quality gel food colouring
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- 125 g (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 250 g (1 cup) block of cream cheese, at room temperature
- 4 cups icing / powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp vanilla essence OR 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Red Velvet Cakes
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F (fan-forced/convection) or 180°C/355°F (standard). Grease and line TWO pans measuring 20 cm (8 inch) with baking paper.
- In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, corn starch, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk until well combined.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together the oil and the cooled butter until well combined. Add sugar, eggs, vinegar, buttermilk, vanilla and food colouring. Whisk until well combined.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined (a few lumps are okay - don't overbeat).
- Evenly distribute the batter between the two prepared tins. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tins before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer (or using a hand mixer), beat together the butter and cream cheese until thick, pale and creamy (about 3-4 mins).
- Add the icing sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until very pale and thick (about 5 minutes). Add more icing sugar or lemon juice to adjust consistency as needed.
- If the cakes are very domed, level the top of each cake with a serrated knife.
- Place one cake on a large, flat plate. Top with one quarter of the cream cheese frosting and spread the frosting evenly over the cake.
- Flip the second cake upside down onto the first. Top with half of the remaining frosting, spreading the frosting from the centre towards the edges of the cake.
- Use the remaining frosting to cover the sides of the cake. Use a flat (palette) knife to smooth out the top and sides.
- Crumble up the offcuts of the cake and sprinkle along the sides and top of the cake, if desired.
- Refrigerate for 1-2 hours or until frosting is firm. Keep the cake refrigerated until ready to serve.
- Keep the frosted cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To freeze the unfrosted cakes: wrap cooked cakes individually in clingfilm and place in zip-loc or freezer bags. Keep frozen for up to 6 months. Defrost for 6 hours or overnight at room temperature and frost as normal.
Substitutions & Tips
- Baking soda vs baking powder: baking soda is more potent than baking powder and has a somewhat tangy taste. Baking soda will help give red velvet cake its essential slightly tangy flavour. In a pinch, you can substitute 1 tsp of baking soda with 3 tsp baking powder.
- Canola oil: use any flavourless vegetable or cooking oil. Do not use coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, or any other strongly flavoured oils.
- Buttermilk: most recipes allow you to substitute buttermilk for a combo of milk and vinegar. However I do NOT recommend substituting buttermilk for milk in this recipe. It is an essential ingredient for a rich and tangy red velvet cake.
- White vinegar: substitute with an equal amount of apple cider vinegar, brown vinegar, malt vinegar, etc. Do NOT use balsamic vinegar.
- Baking your cakes evenly: my oven fits two cake tins on one rack. I recommend baking both tins in one rack and rotating at around the 25 minute mark. You can also bake one cake after the other to ensure very even cooking.
Nutrition Information:Serving Size: 1/12th of the Cake with Frosting
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 775Total Fat: 44.1gSaturated Fat: 16.5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 7.8gCholesterol: 97.5mgSodium: 336.4mgCarbohydrates: 91.9gFiber: 1gSugar: 69.4gProtein: 5.7g