This Old Fashioned Red Velvet Cake is a very special one. It’s my grandma Meme’s recipe and she would make this cake every year for my mom’s birthday. Meme is originally from Kentucky so I consider this a true southern red velvet cake. I’ve made this cake many times now over the years and have kept it just as Meme would always make it. This is a family favorite that I hope you’ll enjoy just as much as we have.
Red Velvet Cake
The red velvet cake layers are soft, moist, and velvety with a hint of cocoa and that classic deep red hue. Red velvet cake is essentially a mild chocolate-flavored cake, with red food coloring added. Buttermilk and vinegar are added and react with the baking soda to help the cake rise in the oven. I make three 6” round layers and cut each of those layers in half so you end up with a 6-layer cake that stacks up nicely.
Old Fashioned Frosting
I’ve deemed this icing “Old Fashioned Frosting” and it’s probably unlike anything you’ve had before. In all my years of baking and cake decorating, I’ve never seen a recipe quite like this one. Cream cheese icing is most often paired with red velvet cake. I like to think that this one-of-a-kind light and creamy frosting is the original icing that red velvet cake was intended to be eaten with.
The frosting starts by cooking cornstarch and water together on the stove to create what’s called a slurry. This thickens as it cooks and continues to thicken as it cools down to room temperature. Butter and sugar are creamed together, vanilla is added, then the cornstarch slurry is added slowly to the mixture. It all gets whipped up until smooth and ends up looking a bit like fluffy whipped cream. This icing is most similar to an “Ermine” icing or boiled milk frosting. These are made by combining milk and cornstarch, whereas my recipe uses water. A perk of using water instead of milk is that the frosting is fine to sit out at room temperature so the cake won’t need to be refrigerated.
I like to keep the decorating simple with a ridged, ribbon-like texture on the sides of the cake. This design is done simply with a metal spatula. Add a few rosettes of frosting on the top and finish with red velvet cake crumbs for a simple, classy look. The crumbs are easy to make by breaking up the trimmed cake tops, lightly toasting them in the oven, and then crumbling them between your fingers. I press the crumbs into the sides of the cake, around the bottom edge, and sprinkle a few on top as well. The crumbs are a great way to use up your leftover cake scraps and a nice way to show what’s on the inside of the cake!
Red Velvet Cake FAQs
Can I use gel food coloring instead of liquid?
Yes! You won’t need as much gel coloring as the liquid coloring that the recipe calls for. Start with a drop or two and add more if needed. My grandma’s original recipe calls for liquid coloring which I think was just what was available during that time so that’s what I’ve always used. The tiny bottles of liquid coloring can get expensive so I like to buy a big bottle of it to have on hand.
Do I have to use red food coloring?
The red food coloring is essential to get that vibrant color but doesn’t add any kind of flavor to the cake. I’ve never tried it myself, but beet juice or beet powder is often used as a natural alternative to food coloring. If you leave out the coloring altogether, you’ll end up with a light brown color, with maybe a slightly reddish tone.
How do I store the cake?
The cake can be stored for up to 3 days at room temperature, or up to 5 days in the fridge. If you’re keeping it in the fridge, be sure to pull it out about an hour before serving so the cake and frosting come to room temperature. I recommend keeping any cut sides of the whole cake covered in plastic wrap. You can also cut slices and store them in an airtight container.
Can I freeze the cake?
Yes! This cake freezes great. I’ve found that the best way to do this is to first cut the whole cake into slices, then wrap each individual slice in plastic wrap. Store the wrapped slices in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the freezer, for up to 3 months. Allow the slices to sit at room temperature overnight to thaw. This way you can pull one piece out at a time and enjoy it anytime!
Kitchen Scale – The most accurate way to measure ingredients when you’re baking is with a kitchen scale instead of measuring cups. If you weigh a cup of flour, depending on how you pack it into the cup, it could be a different weight every time. With a scale, the measurement will be the same every time! I always include gram measurements (along with cups) in all my recipes and highly recommend using a scale. I also use my scale to weigh the batter into the cake pans so each one gets the same amount.
Cake Pans – The Fat Daddios brand has been a longtime favorite of mine for baking. A good, high-quality pan will make a big difference as the cakes bake. These anodized aluminum pans are the best I’ve found for your cakes to bake nicely and evenly. For this recipe, I used 3 of the 6” x 2” pans and then cut each layer in half to create 6 layers of cake.
Parchment Circles – You can cut circles from a roll of parchment paper but I love the convenience of pre-cut ones. They’re nice to have on hand and will save you a little time.
Serrated Knife – This may seem obvious for cutting your cake layers but not all serrated knives are the same. You probably have one in your knife block but it’s usually not long enough to carve through your cakes cleanly. This one has a long 10” blade to glide right through the cake layers for a smooth, even cut. It’s also great for slicing bread!
Cake Turntable – A turntable will make cake decorating a much easier process. I don’t believe you need many tools to make a nice cake but a turntable is one I highly recommend. This metal Ateco one is my favorite. It even comes with a nonstick mat that helps keep your cakes from sliding around. It’s a bit of an investment but totally worth it in my opinion.
Offset Spatulas – The only other tool you really need for cake decorating, besides a good turntable, is an offset spatula. You can still create fun and beautiful designs without piping bags or tips by just using an offset spatula. In this set of three, I like using the middle size for filling and frosting the cake and the smallest one for finer details and designs. The largest size is good for bigger cakes that are wide in diameter or very tall.
More Cake Recipes You’ll Love
- Raspberry Orange Pistachio Cake
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Snack Cake
- Vanilla Cupcakes With Chocolate Frosting
- Chantilly Crepe Cake
- Strawberry Crunch Cheesecake
Lastly, if you make this recipe, be sure to leave a comment below and tag @sweetkitchencravings on Instagram or TikTok. Or if Pinterest is more your style, you can save my recipes to your collection there. Happy baking!
Old Fashioned Red Velvet Cake
For the Red Velvet Cake
- ½ cup (1 stick or 113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (315g) sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon (8g) cocoa powder
- 2 ¼ cups (190g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (242g) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 2 oz (56g) liquid red food color
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
For the Old Fashioned Frosting
- 3 Tablespoons (30g) cornstarch
- 1 ½ cups (325g) water
- 1 ½ cups (3 sticks or 339g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (315g) sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Red Velvet Cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 6” round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper circles.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 3-5 minutes.
- Slowly add the eggs one at a time and vanilla, combining well after each addition. Mix in the cocoa then scrape the bowl well with a rubber spatula. Mix on high for an additional 30 seconds until the mixture is smooth.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt then combine the buttermilk, red food coloring, and vinegar. Alternate adding the flour and buttermilk mixtures, starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined after each addition and scrape down the bowl a few times during the process.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch or a toothpick comes out clean.
- Cool the cakes until they are cool enough to handle then remove them from the pans.
- Old Fashioned Frosting: In a small saucepan, combine the water and cornstarch and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens and starts to boil. Strain the slurry mixture, press plastic wrap directly onto the top, and set aside to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix.
- Switch to the whisk attachment. Once the cornstarch slurry has cooled to room temperature, add a little at a time to the mixing bowl, while running on medium speed. After all the slurry has been added, turn the mixer on high speed and whip until smooth.
- Assembly: Once the cakes are cool, slice the top off of each cake layer to make them level then slice each layer in half horizontally, to create 6 even layers.
- Break up the cake tops into small pieces and place them on a baking sheet. Bake at 300°F for about 5 minutes, until they start to dry out slightly. Allow the cake pieces to cool then rub the pieces between your fingers to create coarse crumbs. Set aside.
- Place the first cake layer, cut side up on a cake board or cake stand. Add about ½ cup of frosting and spread it out to the edges. Place your next cake layer on top, gently press down, and repeat the same process for the remaining layers. On the last layer, place the cake layer cut-side down.
- Crumb-coat the cake entire cake with a thin layer of icing and refrigerate for about 20-30 minutes. Apply a final thicker layer of frosting all over the top and sides of the cake and smooth it with an offset spatula.
- Turn the spatula horizontally and using the top rounded part, lightly drag it along the sides of the cake starting at the bottom and slowly working up to the top, to create a pattern on the sides of the cake. Press some of the red velvet cake crumbs up the sides of the cake.
- Fit a piping bag with a star tip and fill it with any remaining icing. Pipe rosettes on the top of the cake and finish with a sprinkle of more red velvet cake crumbs. Slice and enjoy!