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Red Velvet Cake


This is the red velvet cake I was telling you about that I won a blue ribbon for at this year’s state fair.  It not only won a blue ribbon for the red velvet cake class, but won second best of all cakes turned in for judging from all classes!  So I guess you could say this one is a winner.  :)

I get 95% of the recipes I use from the web, mainly from other food blogs, but when I saw the recipe for this red velvet cake in Dam Good Sweet, I knew it was the one I had to use for the state fair competition.  I could tell by reading the ingredients that it was going to be killer, and I was right!

Most recipes use white vinegar in addition to the buttermilk, which can cause the crumb to be coarse because there is too much acidity for the baking soda to neutralize.  I learned this from Rose Levy Beranbaum, who has a red velvet cake recipe in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes that I almost used, but decided not to since the amount of cocoa she used was the usual paltry two tablespoons.  After learning about the vinegar, however, I knew what to look for in a red velvet recipe and this one passed the test: buttermilk only.

**Update: upon re-reading Rose’s explanation of why she used buttermilk only, I see I was wrong about the vinegar.  She said that baking soda neutralizes the acidity of the buttermilk which makes a coarser crumb on the cake.  She uses only baking powder to keep the acidity in the cake high, thus making the vinegar unneccessary.  So it’s not the acid that makes the crumb coarse, it’s the lack of it caused by the soda neutralizing the acid.  So this cake DOESN’T pass her test, but now I’m thinking of making it again with baking powder only and seeing if it makes the color brighter and the crumb finer.**

This recipe has a whopping half-cup of Dutch-processed cocoa, which is more than any other red velvet recipe I’ve found, and it gives the cake a nice devil’s food flavor, far superior to the other from-scratch red velvet cakes I’ve made, where the frosting was the best part about them.  With this one, the cake itself is just as good as the creamy frosting.  In fact, the flavor is very similar to the Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix.  This is the only cake I’ve ever made that came as close to a cake-mix taste.  (Some might see this as not ideal, but cake mix cakes are my standard for the best cakes.)  It is not as moist or light as the Duncan Hines red velvet, but it is still very, very good.

Dutch process cocoa has a smoother and deeper chocolate flavor than regular cocoa powder, which means while it makes the cake taste incredible, it also affects the color, making it a deep red.  (I was racing against the sunset to shoot these pictures and due to the low light (and my lack of a good camera & photo editing program), the color of the cake appears darker in the first photos than it really is. The actual color is closer to these last couple photos).  The deeper color doesn’t bother me, but if it bothers you, you might want to go with Rose’s recipe, which is a very bright red.

Red Velvet Cake

Printable recipe
Printable recipe with picture

For the cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 (1 lb) box light brown sugar (about 2 ¼ cups)
3 tablespoons red food coloring (about 1.5 oz)
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 ¾ cups buttermilk, room temperature

For the frosting:
1 ¼ pounds (2 ½ packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (2 lb) bag confectioners’ sugar (about 7 ¼ cups)

To make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans; set aside. Sift flour with the cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set aside.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar, food coloring, and vanilla on low to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and pale, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition and using a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and add one-third of the dry ingredients followed by half of the buttermilk. Repeat, finishing with the final third of the dry mix. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl and divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans, spreading it out as evenly as possible.

Bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean and center of cake resists slight pressure, about 40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then run a paring knife around the edges of each pan to release the cake from the sides; invert the cakes onto the cooling rack. Cool for 1 hour, then wrap each cake in plastic wrap for at least a few hours.

To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla together with an electric mixer on low speed to combine. Increase speed to medium-high and beat  until aerated and light, about two minutes. Stop the mixer and add a few cups of the confectioners’ sugar, incorporating it into the cream cheese mixture on low speed until combined. Repeat with the remaining sugar, adding it to the mixer in two additions. Once all of the sugar is added, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.

To assemble the cake: Unwrap and cut the dome of the tops off the cakes. Break up the cake domes into a food processor fitted with blade attachment and process to crumbs; set aside. Slice each cake in half horizontally to make four layers. Ice between layers of the cakes then over the top and sides. Press the crumbs into the sides of the cake. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

Veronica’s notes: 1) I omitted the vanilla from the frosting because I’m  used to working with much thicker frosting and didn’t want to thin this recipe any more than it already was.  This kept the color lighter and the flavor didn’t seem to suffer for the omission.  If I’d added it, I’m afraid it would have squooshed out between the layers as I added them, making the appearance of the finished frosted cake not as pretty.  The icing did squoosh out a bit even without the vanilla, but would have been worse with it.  2) I had trouble with the cake crumbs because they were very moist and stuck together pretty badly once I processed them.  I had to add a couple tablespoons of flour and process until incorporated to get them to turn into smaller crumbs.  3) I left this cake in it’s original two layers for the fair, and it made things a lot simpler.  If you don’t have a lot of experience with layer cakes, I’d suggest making it two layers instead of four.  4) I had about a cup of leftover frosting after making this cake.  If you like to make cake pops like I do, freeze the extra in a tub for your next cake pop/ball project.  I use 1/3 cup of frosting per batch, so this will make three batches of cake pops for me.

Recipe source: Dam Good Sweet

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About Veronica

I have a kitchen addiction and love to collect & share recipes. My passion is baking but I love to cook as well. The only thing I don't like to do in the kitchen is wash dishes, but my husband generally does them for me in exchange for his dinner.

99 responses »

  1. Pingback: Pinterest Roundup: Food Edition – New Zealand Located

  2. Natalie kadar

    does this recipe make 2 or 4 nine inch pans worth???

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  3. I made this cake using Dutch cocoa and batter was rich red color before I cooked it but when I took it out of oven it was a dark chocolate color. What do you think I did wrong

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  4. I never heard of using brown sugar instead of white sugar. Trying this and making cupcakes, can’t wait to see how they turn out!

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  5. Pingback: Red Velvet Taste Test | SWEET AND FIERY

  6. THANK YOU so much for posting this recipe its fantastic and I love rich burgundy color the only thing I believe 1 tsp of b.powder is more then enough .I am very happy with the result its tasty and rich and wonderful!!!!

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  7. Hi, I bought today the Dutch cocoa powder but it is unsweetened. Can I use it to make the cake or should I add something?

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  8. Do you know how many cupcakes could this recipe be good for? 30 maybe? Cant wait to try it.

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  9. Have you added anything new to this recipe or still the same? Going to use the hersey special cocoa powder and wondering if its going to be too bitter. First time making cake from scratch.

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  10. I made this cake for the first time last Christmas (2015). I had been making another recipe from Southern Living for many years, but was intrigued by this recipe and thought I’d give it a try. Although the cake was very very good, it was almost impossible to find Dutch process cocoa. I finally found it in Whole Foods, but the price was a shocker. $15 for a small box of cocoa. Some people commented that they used regular cocoa powder instead, so next time, I may give that a try. If anyone out there made both versions, please let me know how they compared?

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  11. Has anyone tried to make this cake a deep purple? I tried using purple gel color. The cakes were the perfect shade of purple prior to baking. After baking, teey were black. Can someone please help me with this? Thank you!

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    • I also tried to make this cake a different color. My son requested a blue cake for his birthday and the end result was more like emerald green than blue. I also used the blue gel color. I have made the red version of this about 15 times since finding this recipe and it’s always a hit. I’m not sure why the color becomes altered when using another color. I would love to know why. Happy baking!

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  12. I made this cake and my family gobbled it up before I could say dessert is served!

    Thank you so much!

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  13. I made this cake as a special request of Red Velvet for a friends birthday. It was a HUGE hit! I put a dash of vanilla in the icing and it does add the that bit of flavor needed. Thank you for sharing!

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  14. I made this cake for my kids and they shared with their friends then I had request from their families, then I made one for my sister now I’m sending cakes to Miami, Georgia, and Orlando. This cake was amazing. I cut back on the cocoa powder other than that I love it. Thank you for sharing my sister wants the recipe I was being selfish but I gave in and sent it to her.

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  15. First time seeing a red Velvet cake made without vinegar and adding brown sugar to it!! Wow!! A must try!

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