Red Velvet Cake (Three Layers)

This cake is more that merely red. It would be an outstanding cake even without the red food coloring but, then, it wouldn't be a Red Velvet Cake, would it. It's exceedingly moist with a tender crumb, very light textured and delicious, too.

  • 3-1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 ounces liquid red food coloring OR 1 teaspoon red gel food coloring mixed with 6 tablespoons water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter bottom and sides of three 9-inch cake pans well AND line pans with parchment paper. Have prepared pans at the ready because the batter needs to be added to them as soon as it is mixed.
  2. Combine the cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  3. Combine the oil and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on low speed until well blended. Add eggs one at time, beating well after each addition.
  4. With mixer running at lowest setting, slowly add the red food coloring and the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Beat only long enough to ensure that batter is thoroughly mixed. Turn off mixer.
  5. Turn the mixer back on. Combine the baking soda and vinegar in a small cup. With mixer running, add the vinegar/soda and beat for about 10 seconds.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake in a 350°F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow layers to cool on a rack in pans for 20 minutes before turning out. Peel off parchment paper. Let cake cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Cream cheese frosting complements Red Velvet cake perfectly. For this cake, I doubled my usual recipe in order to accommodate three layers with a generous amount of frosting. There is even enough for some decorating if you are so inclined.

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon white vanilla (see Note below)

Blend the softened cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer. Beat in the sugar, a little at a time. Add the vanilla, and mix well.

Notes on the frosting: I have broken a long-standing personal rule on one important ingredient: vanilla. Note that the recipe calls for "white" vanilla. White vanilla, of course, is not vanilla extract; in fact, it isn't vanilla at all. It's a wood by-product -- that's right, wood -- known as vanillin. It is used widely in most commercially produced cookies, cakes, cake mixes and other desserts on supermarket shelves. Until I made this frosting, I had not used vanillin before, since I never wanted to use anything artificial in my baked goods. But, like they say, never say never.

White vanilla has one and possibly two advantages, the first being that it is a clear liquid that adds no color to a recipe. With my Red Velvet cake I wanted a really bright, white frosting. And, yes, even a few teaspoons of vanilla will remove some of the brightness I desired. The second advantage is that vanillin is a decent imposter of vanilla. It may lack the complex flavor notes of genuine vanilla extract, but it tastes pretty good, and I seriously doubt that anyone will notice the difference.

Ready in: 1 Hr 45 Min

Recipe editor Patricia Mitchell