It's hard not to love this classic homemade Red Velvet Cake with Butter Roux Frosting. This beautiful cake bakes up tender and moist with that famous beautiful red color we expect in this velvety cake, and making it from scratch is so easy.
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My love of Red Velvet started in the late '60s when this cake wasn't even popular yet. Our neighbor asked us over for cake and to my delight, she sliced up a beautiful red cake with fluffy white ermine icing, I never had anything like it and I immediately fell in love with this cake. Ever since then I have made this Red Velvet Cake a tradition.
Tradition is such a good thing. It ties us together with stories and memories, it creates a culture in families now and for future generations. So having a cake as a tradition in our home has meant Red Velvet Cake for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and special occasions. This was even my wedding cake
Red Velvet Cake flavor
What makes Red Velvet so unique is its flavor that comes from buttermilk, vanilla, cocoa powder, and vinegar that create a mild chocolate buttery flavor with a little bit of tang.
The texture of a Red Velvet Cake
The texture is just as unique as the flavor of the cake, it is moist and tender with an amazing velvety crumb.
What type of frosting goes on a Red Velvet Cake?
- I grew up with only the butter roux frosting I am using today. This icing is almost like whipped cream, it's rich and creamy, and pairs well with the acidity of the cake. Butter roux is also known as ermine frosting, which is also called boiled milk frosting.
- Butter roux is the traditional Red Velvet cake frosting, I think it is delicious.
- Cream Cheese frosting and American buttercream frosting are also used to ice the cake and are more common than the butter roux.
- Swiss and Italian meringue frosting can also be used for icing the cake.
- Cake Flour - I recommend using cake flour as it is a finer flour than all-purpose and give this cake a great texture
- Shortening - I still use solid shortening, you can substitute butter
- White vinegar
- Baking soda
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Red food coloring - liquid food color works the best
🍰 Let's bake
There are several steps to preparing this cake recipe, meaning several bowls, but it is all worth the dirty dishes.
- The first step in making this cake is mixing the cocoa powder and liquid red food coloring together in a small bowl. I use McCormicks that come in 1-ounce bottles.
- For this recipe, you can use either a handheld electric mixer with a large bowl or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
- In a large mixing bowl beat the solid shortening and sugar together at medium speed until this mixture becomes light and fluffy.
- Measure the buttermilk into a one-cup measuring cup, then add the eggs and vanilla. With a small whisk or a fork beat the eggs into the buttermilk. Alternatively, you can add this to a small bowl and mix these ingredients together.
- To the shortening and sugar mixture add half the flour and salt then mix on medium speed to incorporate. Next, add the buttermilk mixture, and mix to combine at medium speed, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the remaining flour and mix thoroughly to combine.
- Mix in the cocoa powder and food coloring mixture at low speed, scraping the bowl and then mixing again.
- Your last step is to mix the vinegar with the baking soda in a small bowl, then mix this into the batter until well incorporated at low speed.
- Split the batter between two 8" square baking pans and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 minutes.
How to make butter roux frosting
- In an 8" saucepan mix the flour and sugar together then slowly whisk in the milk. Cook this mixture over medium heat until thick and creamy. This will take about 10 - 14 minutes.
- Pour this mixture into a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to cool for about 30 -45 minutes. Once cooled this mixture should be very thick and paste-like.
- In a large mixing bowl beat the butter and vanilla until creamy.
- Add the cooled flour mixture in thirds to the butter beating a medium speed between each addition, scraping the bowl as needed. Keep beating until the mixture is fluffy, smooth, and creamy.
Frost the cake
- Place one square of cake upside down on a cake plate and add half of the frosting. Spread the icing in an even layer.
- Add the next layer upside down on top of the iced cake layer and spread with the remaining frosting.
- I get asked why I leave the sides of the cake unfrosted and the reason is (you guessed it) tradition. My mom didn't frost the sides of her cake and I personally love showing off the beautiful red cake inside. And by the way, my Red Velvet cakes are always square. Tradition!
You can make this cake without any decoration and many times I simply just frost the cake with the butter roux frosting, but today roses are in order for the birthday girl.
The answer is nooooo! Red Velvet Cake has a small amount of cocoa powder in it that adds flavor and aids in the red color when mixed with the buttermilk, food coloring, and vinegar. Chocolate cake does not have vinegar as an ingredient and uses more chocolate which gives it a different flavor and a different texture.
No, you don't. The original Red Velvet Cake relied on the chemical reaction of the buttermilk, vinegar, and cocoa powder for coloring. If you choose not to add food coloring your cake with be more of a mahogany color. Opt for the food color to get that classic red cake. I prefer using liquid food coloring as it mixes well with the cocoa powder.
You do have options for natural food coloring such as using beet root powder. I have not used this but adding ¼ cup to the cocoa powder should result in a nice red cake color.
The vinegar either white or apple cider makes all the difference in this cake since reacts with the buttermilk to give this cake its unique flavor, and the vinegar also reacts with the baking soda to help the cake rise.
🥄 Pro tips
- For this recipe I use cake flour, if you don't have this on hand you can make substitutions. This guide for Baking Ingredients Substitutions will help you decide what to use.
- You can make this cake in two 8" round cake pans, a 13" x 9" cake pan, or approximately 30 cupcakes.
- This cake a somewhat of a dense texture to it, however, over creaming the shortening and sugar together could result in a very dense cake, so only mix these ingredients for a minute.
- Try this tip for the red food coloring if you want a deep red color you don't want to use a lot of the food coloring. Pour the 1-ounce bottle in with the cocoa powder as directed, then fill the bottle with water, shake and pour that into the cocoa powder. This adds more color without having to buy another bottle.
More delicious desserts
If you love pumpkin, try this Spicy Pumpkin Sheet Cake with a White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting filled with warming spices.
If chocolate is your thing this three-layer Chocolate Torte Cake will cure your chocolate cravings.
This Sweet Tart and Tangy Lemon Cake is moist and delicious and full of lemon flavor inside and out.
There are so many nuances to baking the best red velvet cake. This is my neighbor's original recipe and the results are a stunning cake that deserves to be set on a pedestal.
I am including the recipes for the Red Velvet Cake, Butter Roux Frosting, and Piping Frosting.
Red Velvet Cake with Butter Roux Frosting
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- 1 cup solid vegetable shortening I use Crisco
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 2 ½ cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoons vinegar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ounce liquid red food coloring can use 2 oz. for a brighter red color
Butter Roux Frosting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8" pans with nonstick spray and parchment paper - I use square pans
- In a small bowl mix the cocoa powder and red food coloring together and set aside.
- In a large bowl beat the shortening and sugar together until creamy for one minute.
- In another bowl mix the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla,
- To the bowl of shortening and sugar, add the flour and buttermilk mixture alternating between the two. Mix well after each addition. Add the salt
- Pour the cocoa powder mixture into the bowl and mix until combined.
- In a small bowl mix the vinegar and baking soda, then mix into the batter until combined.
- Pour the batter between the two baking pans. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on racks for before removing from pans.
Butter Roux Frosting
- In a heavy saucepan whisk the flour and sugar together than slowly whisk in the milk. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly until smooth and thick, about 10 - 14 minutes.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Place a piece of plastic over the mixture. Let the mixture cool completely, about 30 - 45 minutes in the fridge This will be thick like pudding.
- Beat the butter and vanilla for about 5 minutes until fluffy.
- Add the cooled flour milk mixture in thirds, beating well after each addition until smooth and creamy. Scrape the bowl and mix still smooth.
Frosting the cake
- Once the cake has fully cooled place one layer on a cake plate with the bottom facing up to get a nice flat surface then spoon the icing onto the middle of the cake. With a large icing knife spread the icing to the sides of the cake. Top with the second layer of cake, again flip the cake over and spoon the icing onto the middle of the cake and spread to the sides. To achieve the pretty scallops on the sides of the cake use a #1 icing tip to pipe rosettes around the edge of the cake.You can leave the side unfrosted if you like or frost the sides.
Perfect Piping Buttercream
- Mix the butter until smooth and fluffy, then add the cream, cornstarch, and salt.
- Scrape the bowl then add the sifted powdered sugar in batches. Beat to combine and scraping bowl occasionally.
- Add the almond extract.
- Adjust the consistency of the icing by adding more powdered sugar or more cream for your desired piping.
- Add food coloring.
- This is a crusting buttercream so keep a plastic wrap over the bowl.
This buttercream can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks or it can be frozen for six months.
Storing the cake
- This cake will keep for several days in an airtight container.
- Two - 8" round cake pans
- One - 13" x 9" cake pan
- Make about 30 cupcakes
Happy Birthday to my daughter Juliane who I know will be carrying on this delicious cake tradition for her family too.
First published Nov. 14, 2019, and updated June 16, 2021.
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From learning to cook on a farm in Indiana to culinary school in California, my passion for food is never-ending. Turning on my oven to bake something for friends and family is my happy place, and I am glad to be here at One Hot Oven sharing both sweet and savory recipes with all my baking friends.