Classic Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

This striking dessert features two layers of velvety, flavorful cake paired with plenty of cream cheese frosting.

Classic Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

Active Time:
40 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 45 mins

Red velvet cake is one of the most eye-catching cakes to bake. Its vibrant red hue, paired with white frosting, provides plenty of contrast, making it a popular favorite for a variety of occasions.

Red velvet cake dates back decades. During the early 1900s, the more traditional version of red velvet as we know it today came about with the addition of cocoa powder. The cocoa powder was used to break up all-purpose flour to create a velvety texture. This cake utilizes just a touch of cocoa for improved flavor and a beautiful crumb. It also utilizes buttermilk and vinegar, paired with baking soda, for a hint of tang and leavening.

This classic two-layer red velvet cake is made with simple, easy-to-find ingredients. And while the process of allowing the cake to cool takes up quite a bit of time, it is still a fairly straightforward recipe, allowing you to start baking in the morning to put a decadent dessert on the table later in the day.

Ingredients for Red Velvet Cake

While this red velvet cake recipe calls for quite a few ingredients, each item on the list is easy to find at your local grocery store.

For the dry ingredients, this recipe calls for sugar, all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt. For the wet ingredients, you’ll need, butter, two eggs, vanilla extract, red food coloring, buttermilk, and white vinegar.

dry ingredients for red velvet cake

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To make the cream cheese frosting to spread on top of this cake, you’ll need two packages of cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract.

cream cheese frosting ingredients

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

How To Make Red Velvet Cake

To make this red velvet cake, the first step is preheating the oven to 350°F. The oven needs to be fully heated before you put the cake layers in. The combination of the heat and the buttermilk, vinegar, and baking soda create a powerful rise to make this cake stand tall and tender.

Then, grease two 9-inch round baking pans to prep them for the cake batter. Set those aside while you make the batter.

round cake pans with parchment paper in bottom

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Before starting the batter, whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Then grab your sifter, and sift the mixture to get it well combined. Set the sifted dry ingredients aside.

Then combine the buttermilk and vinegar in a small bowl or measuring cup. Set that aside, too.

dry ingredients and buttermilk for red velvet cake

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

To start the batter, you'll need to first cream the butter and sugar. To do this, combine the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a hand mixer. You're aiming for the butter and sugar to be lighter and fluffy.

creaming butter and sugar in glass bowl on red stand mixer

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Next, add in the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract and red food coloring. It’s important to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to fully incorporate all of the ingredients.

To finish the batter, mix together the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture, alternating as you combine. Begin and end with the flour for the best results.

red velvet cake mix in glass mixing bowl

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Use a spatula to even out the cake batter if needed. Finally, move the cake pans to the preheated oven, and bake the cakes for 20 minutes.

red velvet batter in round cake pans

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

Check to be sure the cakes are done by inserting a toothpick into the middle. Once baked, allow the cakes to cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to fully cool. You can even chill the cake layers in the fridge of freezer before adding frosting. The chilly temps making frosting easier.

baked red velvet cake layers cooling

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To finish the cakes, make the cream cheese frosting. Cream the butter and cream cheese until fluffy, and then mix in the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar in gradually until the frosting comes together, and then beat the mixture until it’s smooth.

cream cheese frosting on a spatula mixer paddle

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

Once the cake has completely cooled, it's time to frost it and decorate it if you wish. Grab a cake stand or plate that's larger than the cake. Place the first cake layer on the cake stand, add a dollop of frosting, and smooth it out. Then, place the second layer on top, and cover the whole cake with frosting.

dolloping cream cheese frosting on top of red velvet cake layers

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Frost the entire cake with cream cheese frosting, and add any decorations you wish.

frosting red velvet cake with offset spatula

Molly Bolton/Southern Living

What’s the Best Frosting for Red Velvet Cake?

When it comes to choosing a frosting to pair with red velvet cake, cream cheese frosting is a popular choice. The tangy sweetness of the cream cheese frosting pairs perfectly with the hint of tart tanginess in the red velvet cake.

Red velvet cake could also be topped with classic vanilla frosting or a rich chocolate frosting. We've even made a red velvet cake strawberry frosting.

Do You Refrigerate a Red Velvet Cake?

Red velvet cake layers on their own do not need to be refrigerated. When you add cream cheese frosting, that changes.

Cream cheese is perishable, even with the addition of butter and powdered sugar. Cream cheese frosting can be left out for two hours before it needs to be refrigerated, so it’s important to follow the same rule for a frosted red velvet cake.

Serve the finished cake immediately, or keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cut a slice and dig in. Before serving the cold cake, remove it from the fridge and allow it to come up to room temperature for 20 minutes.

Tips for Making Red Velvet Cake

Red velvet cake has a specific soft texture, which is what puts velvet in the name. To achieve proper texture, it’s important to start with room temperature butter, eggs, and buttermilk. These room temperature ingredients play a key role in creating a light and fluffy texture while the cake is baking.

The cream cheese frosting should be made with softened cream cheese and butter to produce a completely smooth and creamy frosting.  Once the cakes are baked, allow them to fully cool before assembling and frosting the final cake to prevent the cream cheese frosting from losing its shape.

cream cheese frosting in a stand mixer bowl

Molly Bolton/Southern Living


Cake Layers

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. cocoa powder

  • 1/2 tsp. salt

  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

  • 1 Tbsp. white vinegar

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 Tbsp. red food coloring

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 (8-oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 10 cups powdered sugar

  • 2 Tbsp. milk

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans and place a round piece of parchment paper cut to size in the bottom of each pan.

  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa powder, and salt in a large bowl. Sift, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk and vinegar. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the vanilla extract and food coloring.

  4. Beating on low, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Begin and end with the flour mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.

  5. Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 22 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pan for 15 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely, about 1 hour.

  6. Make the Cream Cheese Frosting (instructions below).

  7. To assemble, place one cake layer on a cake stand. Spread cream cheese frosting on top. Top with the second cake layer, and frost the outer layer of the cake with a crumb coating. Place the cake in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Finish frosting the cake with an offset spatula with the remaining cream cheese frosting until covered. Serve immediately, or put back in the fridge until ready to serve.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. Beat the softened cream cheese and butter together with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer until creamy. With mixer on low, mix in half of the powdered sugar. Add the milk and vanilla extract, and then gradually mix in the remaining powdered sugar. Beat on low until smooth.

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