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This is the Best Red Velvet Cake Recipe, and with Bourbon Cream Cheese Buttercream it is EPIC! Layers of perfectly tender homemade red velvet cake between a silky, smooth whiskey Cream Cheese Buttercream!
Bourbon and I are having a moment. I put it in bourbon chocolate truffles, I soaked this carrot cake roll with it, I may or may not have presently spiked the best hot chocolate, and I poured it in this buttercream. It just made sense to pair it with a Red Velvet Layer Cake!
I had a sneaking suspicion that whiskey would accentuate the subtle chocolate flavor in the red velvet cake, and I was correct! The combination is a flavor powerhouse. If you aren’t down with a boozy cake, that’s cool, and this would be just as epic with my the best Cream Cheese Buttercream or even a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream.
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What does red velvet taste like?
Red Velvet cake has a light chocolate flavor from the cocoa powder but a slight tanginess from the addition of buttermilk or white vinegar. Too much red food dye will make it taste artificial. Oftentimes the most predominant flavor is the cream cheese buttercream, which is sweet simultaneously with a slight tang from the cream cheese.
Is red velvet cake chocolate cake?
Red velvet cake does have cocoa powder in it but it has far less than a typical chocolate cake. The cocoa powder gives the cake a light chocolate flavor but is mainly there to create the dark reddish color when non-alkalized cocoa powder reacts with an acid such as vinegar or buttermilk.
Best Red Velvet Cake Recipe Ingredients
- Butter: I use unsalted butter in my baked goods so I can keep track of the salt content.
- Sugar: I use granulated sugar in this cake which aids in leavening, moisture, texture and stability.
- Light Brown Sugar: Using light brown sugar adds sweetness along with a little moisture.
- Eggs: Whole eggs allow you to emulsify all that oil into the batter, resulting in a moist, not greasy, cake.
- Cake Flour: I use cake flour because the lower gluten content and finer texture are essential for getting that light, airy finished cake!
- Cocoa Powder: I use Dutch processed cocoa powder, which just means it has been treated with an alkaline solution. This neutralizes the acidity, which means it will not react with baking soda or baking powder.
- Kosher Salt: Kosher salt heightens the cocoa flavor here and will keep your cake from tasting dull or flat.
- Sour Cream: The extra fat and the low liquid content in sour cream help add flavor, lock in moisture, lower gluten and add to that dense, moist texture.
- Baking Soda: Do check the freshness of your baking soda! It does lose potency over time.
- Vanilla Extract: Vanilla Extract adds a beautiful flavor itself but it also boosts the flavor of other ingredients around it like brown sugar.
- Red Food Dye: You could replace the red food dye with water if you’d like, but the resulting cake will not have that beautiful bright red color.
- Confectioner’s Sugar: Confectioner’s sugar is used in buttercreams because it is ground finely into a powder.
- Whiskey: Adding whiskey or alcohol to a cake is for moisture and flavor.
- Cream Cheese: I use original Philadelphia Cream Cheese for all my baked goods including frostings and buttercreams.
- Light Brown Sugar: If you don’t have light brown sugar on hand, you can indeed substitute dark brown sugar in equal amounts. The flavor will be a bit more robust but you will still get all the benefits of the added moisture and caramel notes.
- Red Food Dye: You can omit the Red Food Dye if desired, however you will not get as bright of a red color.
Variations on the Best Red Velvet Cake Recipe
- Red Velvet Cupcakes: Bake this same homemade red velvet cake into 12 especially adorable red velvet cupcakes. Above all, now you have the perfect excuse to fill them with salted caramel sauce.
- Red Velvet Cookies: Love red velvet cake and cupcakes but need it to be even more portable? Red Velvet Cookie recipe time!
- Blue Velvet: I can’t say I totally understand what Blue Velvet is but you can easily make this into a blue velvet cake by swapping in some blue food coloring.
- Buttercream: If you aren’t down with a boozy cake, that’s cool, and this would be comparatively just as epic with my Favorite Cream Cheese Buttercream. Cream cheese has a surprisingly perfect balance of tanginess for chocolate flavors, like my chocolate chip cookies with cream cheese also offer!
- Or you could go rogue and use the Best Chocolate Buttercream or even a Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
- Decorate Her: She deserves all the flare, just like us! Cover her in sprinkles, chocolate curls or even get altogether really fancy and use this tutorial on how to temper dark chocolate using the ice bath method!
Frequently Asked Questions
Store unfrosted red velvet layer cake well-wrapped at room temperature or freeze it!
Unfrosted Red Velvet Cake will keep at room temperature for 3 days, refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to two months!
Absolutely. Cool the layers completely, wrap well and freeze for up to two months.
If you would like to make red velvet layer cake ahead, I suggest making each component separately then assembling the day you would like to serve it. I suggest baking the cake layers right after preparing the batter, then cool completely, wrap well and freeze. Make the buttercream and then refrigerate for one week or freeze for two months. This way it can be made weeks in advance without loss of quality.
You are only limited by the capacity of your particular mixer. I would strongly suggest measuring by weight when multiplying cake recipes. They are particularly sensitive to minute adjustments of flour and hydration.
Thaw covered at room temperature or in the fridge. I do not suggest thawing it in the oven as that will dry it out. Frost after thawing!
Store unused bourbon buttercream in an airtight, clean container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Buttercream can be frozen for longer storage. Once iced, cake can be kept at room temperature for up to three days before the buttercream spoils. For longer storage, store in the refrigerator.
Red Velvet Layer Cake Bourbon Cream Cheese Buttercream
For the buttercream:
For the Cake:
- Grease 3, 8 or 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a bowl, whisk together cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift. I know, this is one of those rare times when it is absolutely essential.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and water until no lumps remain.
- Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time until they are just combined. Add the food dye and vanilla with the last egg.
- Alternately add dry mixture and sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with dry mixture.
- Divide between the three prepared pans. Bake in preheated oven until cake tester or toothpick comes out with clinging crumbs and center of the cake springs back to the touch, approximately 18-20 minutes.
For the Buttercream:
- Cream together cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar until smooth.
- Add whiskey and vanilla extract. If it gets too warm, chill it. Just pop the whole bowl and attachments in the fridge and give it an hour.
- Beat with a paddle. ? Breathe. It’s just buttercream.
- Place first layer of the cake on your favorite cake stand or cake plate. Mound about ½ cup butter cream on top, spread smooth.
- Repeat with second layer. Refrigerate before proceeding or your layers will be uneven. If you aren't concerned, carry on!
- Place the remaining butter cream on top and spread evenly over the top and down the sides. Leave as it is for a regularly frosted cake. For a thicker layer of butter cream, make a 1.5 x recipe of the buttercream above.
- If you would like a naked cake, like my photos, run a bench scraper or bowl scraper around the outside to reveal the layers underneath.
Before You Go!
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