This classic Southern Red Velvet Cake is made with cocoa and buttermilk and topped with a tasty cream cheese frosting.
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!
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.
Did you know that some bakers originally made red velvet cake using boiled beets instead of red food coloring?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
For the Cake
- 1 cup unsalted butter , room temperature
- 1⅔ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2½ 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
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.