The Best Red Velvet Cake

Our classic red velvet cake is a true showstopper. It includes brown sugar for added flavor and moisture, as well as buttermilk for tang and tenderness. The homemade cream cheese frosting is rich and smooth thanks to the addition of butter.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 4 hr (includes cooling and chilling times)
  • Active: 1 hr
  • Yield: 10 servings
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Ingredients

Cake:

Nonstick cooking spray

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (see Cook's Note) 

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process) 

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

1 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken, at room temperature 

1 tablespoon red liquid food coloring 

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

1 cup granulated sugar 

1 cup packed light brown sugar 

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

3 large eggs, at room temperature 

Frosting:

Four 8-ounce blocks cream cheese, at room temperature

3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 

4 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar 

Directions

  1. For the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds and lightly coat the paper with nonstick spray.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla in a second medium bowl. 
  3. Beat the granulated sugar, brown sugar and butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer) on medium-high speed until very light in color and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mixer still running, slowly add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Reduce the speed to low. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients; mix until smooth. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans. 
  4. Bake until the cakes are slightly puffed, and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the centers, 20 to 25 minutes. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto the rack to cool completely. 
  5. For the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on high speed (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer) until smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually mix in the confectioners' sugar. Once all the sugar has been added, increase the speed to high and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. 
  6. To assemble the cake: Place one cake, domed-side down, on a platter. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the frosting evenly over the top. Place the remaining cake, domed-side up, on top. Spread the top with 1 1/2 cups of the frosting. Frost the sides of the cake with another 1 1/2 cups frosting and smooth out completely to make an even crumb coat. (It's ok if some of the cake shows through. This is just a base layer.) Refrigerate for 30 minutes to let the frosting set.  
  7. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate until ready to serve.  

Cook’s Note

When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)