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 Cake

Red 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.  

What is Southern 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 Cake

While 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 their way to the rest of the country!  Oh, this post was supposed to be about red velvet cake?  Whoops.

Southern Red Velvet Cake

Did you know that some bakers originally made red velvet cake using boiled beets instead of red food coloring?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

Southern Red Velvet Cake

This classic Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with cocoa and buttermilk and topped with a tasty cream cheese frosting.
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 16 servings
Calories: 561kcal

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter , room temperature
  • 1⅔ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp 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
  • 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3-3.5 cups powdered sugar

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Grease and flour 2 9” round cake pans. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Using a countertop mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  • Add eggs one at a time; mix fully after each addition.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Allow cakes to cool on a cooling rack before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Using a countertop mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the cream cheese and butter until fully combined.
  • Add vanilla extract and 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time until frosting reaches desired sweetness.
  • Beat frosting on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes, or until fluffy.
  • Frost cake.

Notes

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

More Southern Recipes you’ll love:

Classic Southern Red Velvet Cake is a delicious dessert for the holidays or any special occasion!

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22 Comments

  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!

      1. I have only made it with beet juice…it is a family tradition and the subtle flavour that comes from it pairs well with the cocoa. I use a lot of cocoa and chocolate in mine as I love chocolate! Definately cream cheese icing though my grandma would roll over in her grave lol
        Jayne Robbins

        1. Hey there, Jayne! I’ve totally been wanting to make this cake with beet juice, but I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. And, yes, cream cheese frosting is the only way to go for Red Velvet Cake. But I actually don’t like cream cheese frosting on ‘regular’ (i.e. birthday) cakes…go figure! Thanks so much for leaving a comment, and I hope you have a great week! 🙂

  2. 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!

    1. 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!

    1. 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…

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.)

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Rebecca! I really hope you enjoy this cake. It’s one of our favorites. I didn’t make one for Valentine’s Day this year, but now I’m kinda thinking I should! 🙂

  4. I thought I didn’t like red velvet until I made this recipe. One of the moistest and most delicious cakes I’ve ever had! Thank you for this recipe.

    1. Hey there, Erin! Thank you so much for your kind comment. It really did make my day! This is definitely one of my favorite cakes…and I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  5. Greetings,
    I would like to know if you have measurements for amount of beet juice in place of the food coloring?
    This is the best red velvet cake recipe I’ve come across thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Mit! Unfortunately, I don’t have the measurements for beet juice. Off the top of my head, I would guess that the beet juice should be reduced down until it’s about the same volume as the food coloring (2 Tbsp). You wouldn’t want to add too much more liquid to the batter, or it could change the consistency of the cake. If you do try this with beet juice, let me know!

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