Red Velvet Cake Recipe

This should work…at least in theory, so maybe let me try this before you do. A lot of creative balderdash surrounds the red velvet cake, from its origin myths to its chemistry to its odd little preparation rituals (making a paste of red food coloring and cocoa powder, etc.). There’ll be more on all that this week. For now all you need to know is that red velvet cake is nothing more than a buttermilk layer cake with a hint of chocolate and a whole lot of red food coloring. It goes like this:

6 large egg yolks
11 ounces (1 1/4 cups plus two tablespoons buttermilk)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ounces red food coloring
13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) cake flour, sifted
10 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Begin by preheating your oven to 350?F. Combine the yolks, vanilla, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the red food coloring and beat lightly to blend. Pour the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer, then sift the flour and the leavening together into the bowl. Add the cocoa powder and the salt. Turn the mixer on low and blend the dry ingredients for about one minute. Add the soft butter and the remaining nine ounces of buttermilk. Slowly raise the mixer speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes until the batter is smooth and uniform. Scrape down the bowl.

Now begin to add the yolk mixture. Pour in about 1/3 of it, beat the mixture at medium speed for 20 seconds, then thoroughly scrape the bowl, paying particular attention to the bottom by the dimple. Continue on in that fashion until the entire yolk mixture has been incorporated. Divide the mixture between the two pans. Bake for 25 minutes, then check the layers. If the middle seems slightly sunken and mushy to the touch, continue to bake for another 7-10 minutes.

When fully baked, place the layers, in the pan, on a wire rack to cool. After 15 minutes, turn them out onto the rack to cool completely, about another hour.

22 thoughts on “Red Velvet Cake Recipe”

  1. So… Joe? Why the food coloring? Will you be covering this? I haven’t even tried the Ben and Jerry’s Red Velvet Cake flavor because I was raised believing that food coloring = evil. (I somehow have overcome the sugar=evil philosophy I was also raised by.)

    Is there a reason to use it besides visual appeal?

  2. A little confused – what are we adding with the soft butter? I thought the vanilla was mixed in with the buttermilk and yolk mixture, but then you refer to the yolk mixture in the 2nd paragraph. So what is the vanilla mixture if its not the yolk mixture?

  3. Hmmmm, probably like you, I can “taste” (sort of) a recipe by reading it. This one is going into my “test and taste” file.

    I’ll get a better feeling for it when I convert to metric. I’ll probably have to sub out the buttermilk too.

    Thanks, Joe

    1. Hey Paul!

      I made it a buttermilk cake because it’s traditional. Somewhere it’s written that red velvet cakes have to have buttermilk. Dunno why…just a word to the wise. 😉

      – Joe

  4. Hello Mr. Joe,

    Your red velvet cake is lovely, but I’m yet to try it. I use Rose Levy Beranbaum red velvet cake recipe from the Roses Heavenly cake and if I want to “economize” i.e. reduce cost or not wasting egg yolks, I developed a my own egg yolk red velvet cake. I used her recipe from the Cake Bible…The Buttermilk Country Cake and I add to it 2tbsp of Red food coloring.

    The recipe is very good and yield a lovely tang undertone due to the buttermilk.

    I hope to try yours and see if I will fall in love with it.

    Red velvet cakes Rock!!!

    Oh I’m glad you didnt use vinegar. I hate it in



    1. Hey Wale! I have yet to test it so hold off until then. As I said, it should work…the critical word there being “should.” But I appreciate your confidence!

      – Joe

  5. I don’t like red velvet cake because later on I think I have internal bleeding . . .

    I really think people only like red velvet cake because of the cream cheese frosting. I guess people use other frostings for it as well, but I’ve only ever had it with the cream cheese kind. I think you could put cream cheese frosting on fossilized dinosaur dung and people would go crazy for it.

    1. I’ll try not to take it that far, Darren. I myself am not a fan of cream cheese frosting, but most love it. Maybe I should be examined.

      – Joe

    1. I’ll add that, Wale. It’s more like eight, but this recipe makes two layers.

      Still that’s a lot.

      – Joe

      1. 8tbsp…that too much. I think its better at 2tp, since you have cocoa powder.

        I’m just fascinated about the method of mixing that you employed.

        Not the usual creaming.

        1. Hi Wale! It’s the one bowl (also called 2-stage) method that Rose Levy Beranbaum is known for.

          I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it turns out!

          – Joe

  6. About 20 years ago, before Red Velvet became trendy, a dear friend from Georgia shared her recipe with me. (The vinegar part has always confused me and I am glad you are going to try it without. I also use less than 2 oz. of food coloring because I can taste the chemical flavor and don’t care for it.) Anyway, her recipe was frosted with a cooked milk frosting (Heritage Frosting) and that was my first experience with it. Mighty tasty! Then she called for pressing finely chopped walnuts into the sides of the frosted cake. Birthday Cake Special!

  7. There is mention above of RVC with vinegar.
    The recipe I use includes vinegar. There is a good reason, though.
    Leavining in my cake comes from a vinegar/baking soda mixture added as the very last step.
    A little tricky to work with but the result is worth it.

    Oh, and I divide the batter among three pans because it’s easier than splitting cake layers.


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