Red Velvet Cake is a bit of an enigma. I mean what flavor is it? It isn’t chocolate, but how can it be vanilla? It’s red! Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, the not-to-sweet balance of the silky tender cake with the creamy slightly tangy frosting is difficult to resist. I made this cake for dinner at a friend’s house and it was a BIG hit with adults and kids alike. My 9 year-old friend and fellow sugar-junkie Jenna declared it my best cake ever!
THOUGHTS on FOOD COLORING: Why is this cake red? It’s traditional. The bright red against the creamy white frosting makes for a dramatic and beautiful contrast, so who am I to argue with tradition. I rarely add artificial color to my food, I prefer the natural hues brought out by the ingredients themselves. However, when I do need a color, I don’t f*** around. I use professional food coloring gel (sometimes called paste). Different from the standard liquid colors at the supermarket, professional coloring gel is vibrant, comes in a wide variety of colors and a small amount goes a long way. You can buy the coloring gel online, at party stores, cake decorating shops or Sur La Table. For this recipe, I used Wilton Red (no taste). Most professional food coloring gel is tasteless, except for the red, for some reason. This “no taste” red was only $2 at Sur La Table and I only used about 20% of it for this recipe. WARNING: Coloring gel stains clothes, skin and countertops. I recommend using gloves when you are working with it although it isn’t technically necessary because it does wash out…eventually.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and put your oven rack in the middle position.
PREPPING THE PANS: It’s worthwhile to take a little extra time to properly prepare your pans. Grease the bottom and sides of three 7- or 8-inch cake pans, then line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper and then grease the paper. Lastly, you coat the pan with a layer of flour by adding a dollop and then knocking it around until it sticks to all the butter. You can knock the leftover flour into the next pan and so on until all three pans are floured. This may seem excessive, but this extra time ensures your cakes won’t stick.
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl.
Place buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs in large measuring cup.
Whisk this together and then add the food coloring.
With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as necessary.
Add one-third of the dry ingredients and beat on medium speed until incorporated, then add half the wet ingredients. Beat on low speed until combined. Add another third of the dry ingredients, mix, then the rest of the wet, mix and finish with the remaining dry ingredients. Using rubber spatula, stir the batter one more time to make sure the color is evenly distributed.
Scoop into prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. You can also tell that your cakes are done because they spring back in the center and are just starting to pull away from the sides.
Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes then turn out onto rack to cool to room temperature.
MAKING THE FROSTING: With electric mixer, beat butter and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add the vanilla and kosher salt and then the cream cheese, one piece at a time.
Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.
FROSTING THE CAKE: Again, this is a step that’s worth a little extra time. Here’s the deal. You want to stick your cake to a stiff piece of cardboard that is hidden under the cake, but makes it easy to move around. Also, you want the cake (with the cardboard piece) to stick to the frosting platform while you frost it. This is how you do all that.
When your cake is room temperature. If you are fancy like me, you will have a cake decorating stand. If you don’t, try a lazy susan, or even just a raised plate. Place a dollop of frosting on the stand.
Over that center a piece of cardboard cut to the size of the cake. This anchors the cardboard to the stand. Put a dollop of frosting on the cardboard round. This will anchor the cake to the cardboard.
Place the 1st round of cake right side up and cover with 1 cup of frosting.
Place the second round of cake (either side up). Cover with another cup of frosting.
Place the last round of cake on upside down. This will give you a nice flat top. Use frosting to cover the top and fill in the sides of the cake. It doesn’t have to be perfect at this point.
When you are done, prep your serving plate with a dollop of frosting. Then, use the cardboard and a large spatula, or pizza peel or I have a cake moving spatula (I know I know), or even a good push with your finger to move the cake from the decorating stand to your serving plate. The frosting on your fancy plate will be invisible under your cake, but will keep it from sliding around.
Fix any imperfections caused by the moving process. Cut and serve.