The Magic in Red Velvet Cake

red velvet cake

“A Red Velvet Cake makes the heart young again and wipes out the years.”

That’s a quote I found on the internet, so it must be true.

Here’s another quote from another reliable source, actress Emma Stone:

“You’re a human being, you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn Red Velvet Cake.”

These quotes seem to validate everything I want to believe about Red Velvet Cake. After all, a cake that red just has to be magic, right? Well if you’re talking about marketing magic– then yes, this cake has it all.

That’s because the crimson hue of this Red Velvet Cake comes from plain old food dye. Red food dye, naturally.

Which sort of belies this cake’s storied reputation. Urban myths flutter around this cake. I’ve heard it given all sorts of romantic provenance. The main story concerns the chef at The Waldorf Astoria and a vindictive customer. But that story isn’t true, so I won’t bother to repeat it here. Still, if you grew up in the south, where this cake is practically revered, then you might believe that a Red Velvet Cake contains some sort of magic happiness potion.

But the truth is Red Velvet Cake was invented by the folks at the food coloring company Adams Extract during the Great Depression. It was nothing more than a magical marketing scheme with the tagline: “The cake of a wife time.”

Now, I’m not a woman– but in my opinion the only thing miraculous about that phrase is the fact that it didn’t land those marketing geniuses flat on the kitchen floor. What kind of wife would want to make a cake with that sort of incentive?

It’s easy to make fun of Red Velvet Cake and its miraculous red food dye. But the truth is– the magic in this cake comes in the not too sweet alchemy of cocoa powder and vinegar. The red food dye is just for marketing magic. However, it’s the part that does indeed “make the heart young again.” GREG

red velvet cake

Red Velvet Cake Recipe 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 8–10Published

You can make this a dramatic 5‑layer cake (as I did) if you double the recipe and make 6 thin layers. Use the 6th layer as a crumbled topping.

Red Velvet Cake


  • cooking spray (as needed)
  • 2 ½ cup all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 ounce red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract (divided)
  • 16 ounce cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cup powdered sugar


Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat the bottoms and sides of two or three 9‑by-2-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Depending on whether you want 3 thin layers or two standard layers. Line with parchment paper, and spray again. Dust with flour, and tap out the excess; set aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, granulated sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl whisk oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until well combined. 

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in several additions, until the batter is smooth.

Divide batter between prepared pans, and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes for three pans or 20 to 25 minutes for two pans. Remove pans from oven, and transfer to a wire rack to cool, about 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack; let stand until completely cool.

Make the frosting: Meanwhile place cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed until creamy, approximately 2 minutes.

Lower the speed, then with the motor running, pour in the vanilla and mix for 30 seconds. Add the powdered sugar, a little at a time and mix until smooth. Return the speed to medium and mix approximately 2 minutes. Use right away or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days. 

Frost the cake: Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cakes so surfaces are level. Save the scraps for decorating the cake if you like. Place a layer on a cardboard round or directly onto a cake stand. If working directly on a cake stand tuck strips of parchment, in an easy to remove manner, around the perimeter of the cake to cover and protect the stand from messy frosting. Spread about ⅓‑inch of the frosting over top. Place the second and/or third layer on top, and spread with ⅓‑inch, saving the remaining frosting frosting for the sides and finishing touches of assembled cake. 

Crumble the reserved cake scraps with your hands and sprinkle them decoratively on the sides and top of the cake (optional).

Transfer to refrigerator, and chill until ready to serve.