Red Velvet Cake

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ever since the armadillo groom’s cake in Steel Magnolias, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.  Everything about it is different from your typical birthday cake. By that I’m referring to the oil, the buttermilk, the entire bottle of food coloring, and the fact that it’s best the second day after a night in the fridge.

My son has requested red velvet cupcakes for his fourth birthday so I’ll soon be testing this out in cupcake version.  That’s where the overnight stint in the fridge will really come in handy so I can prepare them ahead of time.  I’ll also be making a run to get more Wilton icing tips so he’s not jealous of his little sister’s butterfly cupcakes from last spring.

cake pans

Cooling completely so the icing doesn't melt

One of the best tips ever from Michael Ruhlman was how to make the quickest parchment paper circle.  It really saves you from loosing half the cake to the pan and works much better than the grease-and-flour method.  I liked the method so much, I repeated the parchment trick to make a doily  for my cake stand.

Snowflake method of cutting parchment

Lastly, I cannot tell you enough how important it is to cool the cakes completely before you try to cut them.  The icing is half butter and half cream cheese so it will indeed melt if exposed to anything above room temp.  I really like this cake divided into four layers because it gets you the right ratio of cake and icing.  Just use a bread knife to carefully cut each cake in half.  The garnish of pecans or walnuts is pretty and messy. There’s no science to getting those to stick vertically, just keep smushing them on and make sure the icing is thick enough to hold them.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Don’t eat it until it has time to chill in the fridge!

  • Vegetable oil for the pans
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 ounce)
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Cream Cheese Frosting, recipe follows
  • Crushed pecans, for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil and flour 3 (9 by 1 1/2-inch round) cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.

Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Place the pans in the oven evenly spaced apart. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the cooking, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pans, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven and run a knife around the edges to loosen them from the sides of the pans. One at a time, invert the cakes onto a plate and then re-invert them onto a cooling rack, rounded-sides up. Let cool completely.

Frost the cake. Place 1 layer, rounded-side down, in the middle of a rotating cake stand. Using a palette knife or offset spatula spread some of the cream cheese frosting over the top of the cake. (Spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer.) Carefully set another layer on top, rounded-side down, and repeat. Top with the remaining layer and cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top with the pecans.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Yield: enough to frost a 3 layer (9-inch) cake

Thank you to Sara Moulton and Cakeman Raven for the recipe!


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