Enjoy a tall slice of moist, fluffy red velvet cake this Christmas or Valentine’s Day.  With a few simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to make this famous Southern sweet treat completely from scratch.  It’s the perfect showstopping end to a holiday meal with family and friends!

Prep Time: 50 minutes
slice of red velvet cake on a plate
Cakes, Dessert

Southern Red Velvet Cake from Scratch

Have you ever tried a slice of red velvet cake, and were disappointed by a dry, dense texture?  Well, this is the recipe for you!  This red velvet cake is moist and fluffy, with a subtle hint of chocolate from the cocoa powder.  With all of the tips and tricks I’m sharing, you’ll be able to make a showstopping red velvet cake for your family to enjoy!

slice of red velvet cake on a plate with a fork

Is red velvet cake a Southern food?

Red velvet cake’s origins are from Victorian times, when bakers added cocoa powder, cornstarch, or almond flour to make their cakes soft.  The chemical reaction between the cocoa powder and the baking soda/buttermilk in red velvet cake does naturally color it a light red.  In the late 1930s or early 1940s, John Adams (owner of Texas-based Adams Extracts) decided to add red food coloring to the cake to boost sales of his dyes.  The cake grew in popularity, and by 1950 it was a popular dessert at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City.  Nowadays, this cake is popular in the South, especially for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.  I guess it’s a little bit Southern! 😊

holding a forkful of red velvet cake

Is red velvet cake just chocolate cake with food coloring?

No, red velvet cake and chocolate cake are different!  Red velvet cake is made with vinegar and buttermilk, which react with baking soda to make the cake rise.  The red color comes from the reaction between the cocoa powder and the acidic vinegar/buttermilk.  For a brighter shade of red, you can add red food coloring.  Unlike red velvet, most chocolate cakes are made with baking powder and don’t contain food coloring.  Read more about the differences between chocolate cake and red velvet cake here.

slice of red velvet cake on a plate with a fork

What are the ingredients in a red velvet cake?

  • Cake flour.  Why use cake flour for red velvet cake?  Well, cake flour contains less protein than all-purpose, yielding a softer and fluffier cake.
  • Baking soda. Also called bicarbonate of soda, this white powder reacts with the cocoa, vinegar, and buttermilk to make the cake rise.
  • Fine salt. Salt adds flavor, and helps cut the sweetness.  It’s important to use fine-grained table salt here, as coarse-grained kosher salt doesn’t mix as evenly into the batter.
  • Cocoa powder. It adds a hint of chocolate flavor to our red velvet cake, plus it helps make the cake red.
  • Unsalted butter. Many red velvet cake recipes use either butter or oil, but I used both in this recipe for the best results.  Butter adds a beautiful flavor that you can’t get from oil!
  • Caster sugar.   What is caster sugar?  It’s simply white sugar that’s more finely grained than granulated.  Not only does caster sugar mix more evenly into the batter, but it also creates a smoother-topped cake.  Make your own caster sugar by blending granulated sugar in a blender or food processor for about 10 seconds.
  • Light-tasting olive oil.  Oil is a crucial ingredient to make the cake moist and fluffy.  Since I don’t cook or bake with vegetable oil, I used light olive oil, which doesn’t have an olive flavor.
  • Eggs.  Eggs add richness and stability to the cake and help it rise in the oven.
  • Vanilla extract.  This little liquid adds a lot of yumminess to our red velvet cake!
  • Distilled white vinegar.  I know, it sounds weird to add vinegar to a cake, but it’s actually an important ingredient in red velvet cake.  Vinegar brightens the color of the cake and helps the cake rise.
  • Liquid red food coloring. Although red velvet cake technically doesn’t need red food coloring, we like to add it for a brighter, richer red.  It takes about 2 tablespoons to get the deep red we all love!
  • Buttermilk.  This thick, tangy liquid helps our cake rise and makes it moist and tender.  I recommend using the real, full-fat buttermilk in this cake recipe instead of substituting with sour milk (1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice mixed with 1 cup of milk).

holding a forkful of red velvet cake

How do you make red velvet cake fluffy?

  • Use cake flour.  The lower protein content of cake flour will keep the cake more tender.
  • Use a combination of butter and oil.  Butter adds richness, while oil keeps the cake moist and fluffy.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This will add air into the cake batter, making it lighter and fluffier.
  • Use real, full-fat buttermilk.  The acidic buttermilk helps the cake rise and makes it more moist.

How do you make the best red velvet cake?

Measure out all the ingredients, making sure they’re all at room temperature.  It’s best to weigh the flour on a kitchen scale for the most accurate measurement.  Alternatively, you can spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it with a knife.

ingredients for red velvet cake

Butter three 9-inch cake pans and line their bases with parchment paper.  This ensures your cakes won’t stick to the pan!  For perfectly flat layers, I recommend wrapping a cake strip around the outside of each pan.  You can even make your own with just aluminum foil and paper towels!

prepared cake pans for red velvet cake

Whisk together the dry ingredients, then sift once to remove lumps.  The additional air from sifting the ingredients will help the cake have a lighter texture.

sifting the dry ingredients for red velvet cake

Cream the butter and sugar together until they’re a very pale yellow and quite fluffy.  It will be pretty grainy, because there’s a lot more sugar than butter here!

creaming the butter and sugar for red velvet cake

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula and beat in the oil for about 2 minutes.  It will be pretty liquidy; don’t worry.

adding the oil to the red velvet cake batter

Add the eggs and vanilla.

adding the eggs to the red velvet cake batter

Scrape down the bowl and beater, then add the vinegar and red food coloring or a natural red food dye.  I’m loving that color! ❤

adding the red food coloring to the red velvet cake batter

Now comes the gentle part: folding.  Fold in half of the dry ingredients by scraping the edge of the bowl in one stroke, then cutting through the middle.  Fold in the buttermilk until blended, then fold in the remaining dry ingredients.  No lumps or streaks of flour should be in sight!

red velvet cake batter with a spatula

Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans, then tap the pans on the counter a few times to remove large air bubbles.  Bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Switch the pans around halfway through, and be careful not to overbake!  Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove them from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack.

baked red velvet cake

Ice the cake with boiled milk frosting (the original icing for red velvet cake) or cream cheese icing.  Slice and serve! 🍰

red velvet cake with icing

Pro Tips

  • Use cake flour instead of all-purpose.  The lower protein content in cake flour will result in a more tender and fluffy cake.
  • Be sure to measure the flour accurately, as too much flour will result in a dry cake.  If you’re using measuring cups, spoon the flour into the cup and level the top with a knife.  Preferably, use a kitchen scale to get a more accurate measurement.
  • Make sure all the cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.  Take the buttermilk out of the fridge 45 minutes to 1 hour before you start.  Warm up the eggs by submerging them in warm water for 10 minutes, and soften the butter by microwaving it in short intervals.
  • Fold the cake batter gently, making sure all the flour is incorporated (no white streaks or lumps).  On the other hand, be careful not to overmix, or the cake will be tough.
  • Be careful not to overbake the cake, or it will be dry.  Mine was perfectly done at 15 minutes, but your oven will probably bake a little differently.  Always test a couple minutes before the timer beeps if you’re unsure.

Dazzle your guests with a slice of these other delicious cakes.

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Did you make this red velvet cake?  Please leave a star rating below the recipe to share how you enjoyed it.

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slice of red velvet cake on a plate

Southern Red Velvet Cake from Scratch


  • Author: Emma
  • Prep Time: 50 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Yield: 20 slices
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Enjoy a tall slice of moist, fluffy red velvet cake this Christmas or Valentine’s Day.  With a few simple tips and tricks, you’ll be able to make this famous Southern sweet treat completely from scratch.  It’s the perfect showstopping end to a holiday meal with family and friends!


Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled (320g)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (18g)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (115g)
  • 1 1/2 cups caster sugar (300g)
  • 1 cup light-tasting olive oil (236 ml)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar (15 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons liquid red food coloring (30 ml)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (236 ml)
  • 3 cups boiled milk frosting or cream cheese frosting

Instructions

Making the Cake (40 minutes + 15 minutes baking + 45 minutes cooling)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Lightly butter three 9-inch cake pans and line their bases with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder, then sift to remove any lumps.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until very light yellow and fluffy, about 5-8 minutes on medium-high speed.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula, then add the olive oil and mix for 2 minutes on medium speed.
  4. Blend in the eggs and vanilla, then scrape the sides of the bowl and the beater.  Mix in the vinegar and food coloring or natural food dye until well combined.
  5. Add half of the dry ingredients and gently fold them in with the spatula.  The best way to fold is to scrape around the edges of the bowl in one stroke, then cut through the center of the batter.  Repeat until mixed.  Fold in all the buttermilk, then fold in the remaining dry ingredients.  Be careful not to overmix, but be sure there are no white lumps or streaks in the batter.
  6. Gently divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.  Tap each pan on the counter a few times to get rid of any large air bubbles in the batter.
  7. Bake the cakes at 350 F for 15 minutes, switching the pans around after 10 minutes to ensure an even bake.  The cake is done when its surface just barely springs back when gently touched, and when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  8. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Decorating the Cake (10 minutes)

  1. Slowly peel the parchment paper off of the cakes, being careful not to crack the soft cakes.
  2. Set one cake on a large, flat plate and spread a layer of icing on top.  Repeat with the following two layers.
  3. Crumb coat the sides by spreading a layer of icing on, then scraping most of it off.  Carefully spread more icing over the crumb coat, smoothing with an angled spatula.
  4. Serve the cake in slices, and store leftovers in an airtight cake carrier for up to 3 days at room temperature.

Notes

  • Be sure to measure the flour accurately, as too much flour will result in a dry cake.  If you’re using measuring cups, spoon the flour into the cup and level the top with a knife.  Preferably, use a kitchen scale to get a more accurate measurement.
  • Make sure all the cake ingredients are at room temperature before you begin.  Take the buttermilk out of the fridge 45 minutes to 1 hour before you start.  Warm up the eggs by submerging them in warm water for 10 minutes, and soften the butter by microwaving it in short intervals.
  • Be careful not to overbake the cake, or it will be dry.  Mine was perfectly done at 15 minutes, but your oven will probably bake a little differently.  Always test a couple minutes before the timer beeps if you’re unsure.

Keywords: Southern, recipe

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