Southern Red Velvet Cake

This classic Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with cocoa and buttermilk and topped with a tasty cream cheese frosting.

Southern Red Velvet CakeRed Velvet Cake.  It’s one of those recipes that all Southern bakers keep in a safe spot in their recipe box.  The recipe has probably been handed down through the family for years.  Like homemade biscuits, Southern bakers are just expected to have a knock-down, drag-out, delicious Red Velvet Cake.  So what exactly is southern red velvet cake?  Well, for starters, it’s not chocolate (despite the fact that cocoa is a key ingredient).  But it’s also not vanilla.  It’s so unique that it deserves it’s own name!

Southern Red Velvet CakeWhile there is some debate as to the origin of red velvet cake, one thing is for sure: it’s taken the internet (namely Pinterest) by storm in recent months.  It’s easy to see why, too.  The deep red cake partners quite well with the pure white cream cheese frosting.  (Oh, and it tastes amazing, too!)  Do you remember the movie Steel Magnolias?  Aside from being a classic film about life in the South, this movie brought red velvet cake to the big screen in the form of an armadillo-shaped groom’s cake.  Speaking of groom’s cakes, that’s another tradition that I didn’t realize was Southern until I moved to New York.  Groom’s cakes are a rarity up here, but they are a requirement down South.  These cakes are either served at the rehearsal dinner the night before or perhaps alongside the main wedding cake…and they’re usually something whimsical.  Mine was a tiger paw coming out of a purple and gold cake to show my love of LSU.  My cousin’s was a cake in the shape of a 6-pack of Budweiser with a wedding band around the top of one of the bottles.  Groom’s cakes are a fun tradition that needs to make it’s way to the rest of the country!  Oh, this post was supposed to be about red velvet cake?  Whoops.

Southern Red Velvet CakeDid you know that some bakers originally made red velvet cake using boiled beets instead of red food coloring?  Impressive.  Like most modern recipes, this one calls for a lot of red food coloring.  (If you make a red velvet cake with boiled beet juice, let me know…because I’ll have immense baking respect for you if you do.)  Red velvet cake also must have some amount of cocoa powder in it.  This amount varies by taste, and I like my cake to have a hint of cocoa without being overwhelmed by it.  You can certainly adjust the amount of cocoa to fit your personal tastes.  And finally, the primary liquid in a respectable red velvet cake should be buttermilk.  I also prefer to use a classic cream cheese frosting, but that’s just me.  Like I said earlier, red velvet cake is just a unique cake that isn’t easy to classify.  But it remains one of my favorite cakes of all time (and it reminds me of Christmas at my grandparents house)!

Southern Red Velvet Cake


    For the Cake
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp (1 ounce) red food coloring (see note below)
  • ½ Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sticks (16 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3-3.5 cups powdered sugar


    For the Cake
  1. Grease and flour 2 9” round cake pans. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Using a countertop mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs one at a time; mix fully after each addition.
  4. Meanwhile, sift together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder). In another bowl, whisk together the liquid ingredients (buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla).
  5. Using a countertop mixer with the paddle attachment, add 1/2 of the dry ingredients to the bowl; mix on low speed until fully combined. Add 1/2 of the liquid ingredients; mix on low until fully combined. Repeat with remaining dry and liquid ingredients. Once all ingredients have been added, scrape the sides of the bowl down with a spatula and mix on low speed until batter is smooth.
  6. Divide the batter evenly among the 2 cake pans; smooth the tops of each cake with an offset spatula to ensure even baking. Place cakes in oven with space around each pan for air to circulate. Bake at 350°F for 27-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean.
  7. Allow cakes to cool on a cooling rack before frosting.
  8. For the Cream Cheese Frosting
  9. Using a countertop mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese and butter until fully combined.
  10. Add vanilla extract and 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time until frosting reaches desired sweetness.
  11. Beat frosting on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until fluffy.
  12. Frost cake.


Craft stores often sell food coloring in 1-oz bottles. (Usually grocery stores only carry the 4-color sample packs of food coloring.)


  1. I have been looking for a good old fashioned red velvet cake recipe, and it looks like this is it! It looks so moist and yummy, thanks for the recipe David!

  2. I challenge you to make it with the beet juice! :-) And I think groom’s cakes are fun — that should definitely be a tradition that catches on in other parts of the country.

  3. My niece had Red Velvet for her Wedding Cake. It was kind of nontraditional, but delicious!

    I always suspected there was cocoa in there (I can smell chocolate from 100 yards away)

    I like the idea of groom’s cakes…it is mostly a Southern thing.

    Nice cake for Valentine’s Day!

    • You know, I’ve heard about Red Velvet Cake for wedding cake…different, but pretty cool! The funny thing about the cocoa is that it ranges from like 1 tsp to 1/2 cup depending on whose recipe it is. I’ve even seen some with no cocoa at all…but those aren’t real Red Velvet Cakes in my opinion! Thanks for stopping by, SueAnn!

  4. The idea of the beet juice is intriguing… I feel like I should buy stock in food coloring whenever I make anything red velvet, since it takes so much coloring :)

    • Tell me about it, Laura! Whenever I make red velvet anything, I’m always a little shocked at the amount of coloring. I’d love to go back and do it the old-fashioned way (with beet juice) one day…

  5. One of my favorite cakes, yet I rarely ever make it. But, it’s my go-to cupcake of choice in a bakery.

  6. What a gorgeous cake!! Pinned!!!! And I agree the groom’s cake isn’t popular here in NY but I made one for my guy and served it at our rehearsal dinner. He is an Apple fan, iPhone fanatic so I had an iPhone replica cake lol.

    • Thank you so much, Zainab! How did you even hear about a groom’s cake? Most people up here in NY just look at me with blank looks when I mention a groom’s cake.

  7. Stopping by from Carole’s Chatter. Glad to find your blog!

    • Hey Kris! Thanks so much for stopping by…hope you have a great Valentine’s Day! (p.s. I’m heading over to check out your site now, too.)

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