Red Velvet Cake

Since my dad and stepmom moved back here about seven months ago, my stepmom Denise has taken over a lot of the cooking. This has been really helpful and, given she’s lived in numerous places in America, including Texas, Hawaii and Seattle, her food knowledge and repertoire is varied, which has meant we’ve been introduced to some great new food.

One thing she did leave behind when they moved here were her treasured recipe boxes, but that was rectified recently when her sister sent them over. We decided to celebrate by making a red velvet cake. Upon searching through the recipe cards, however, we couldn’t actually find her recipe for red velvet! Not to be beaten on the quest for red velvet cake, we decided to try the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook. Denise said the ingredients were similar to hers, but the method was slightly different to what she was used to. We chose to follow the recipe in the book, but used a cream cheese icing instead of the suggested vanilla buttercream.

Red velvet cake is essentially a light chocolate cake and whilst the ‘red’ in the name used to come from a chemical reaction involving the cocoa powder, now the red just comes from food dye. The ‘velvet’ part is related to the texture formed by the combination of bi-carb soda and apple cider vinegar.

Red Velvet Cake (recipe adapted from the Magnolia Bakery Cookbook)


3 1/3 cups plain flour, well sifted
185g unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
100ml red food colouring
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened (no sugar added) cocoa powder, sifted (these are Australian sized tablespoons; 20ml as opposed to American tablespoons which are 15ml)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons bi-carb soda (also known as baking soda. It also needs to be as fresh as possible – despite having a 200g container in the cupboard, Denise bought a new packet on the day we baked this!)

Cream Cheese Icing
500g cream cheese, left at room temperature for an hour to soften
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
5 cups of icing sugar mixture, well sifted (not pure icing sugar)


To make the cake, heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 fahrenheit). Depending on how many layers you want in the cake (or how many of the same sized cake tins you have), grease two or three 20cm round cake tins and line the bottom with baking paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a seperate small bowl, whisk together the red food colouring, cocoa and vanilla extract. Pour this mixture into the batter and beat well. In another small bowl, mix together the buttermilk and salt. Alternating with the flour, add this mixture to the batter in three parts. After each addition beat until the ingredients are incorporated but be careful not to over beat.

Once all the ingredients are incorporated, in another small bowl/cup, mix together the bi-carb soda and apple cider vinegar. There should be a reaction between the two ingredients – they will start to bubble. If this doesn’t happen, it is because the bi-carb soda isn’t fresh enough. The more bubbles you get the better as this is what gives the cake the ‘velvet’ texture. Quickly add this mixture to the batter and mix well. You might like to do this step with a rubber spatula to ensure you don’t over beat the mixture.

Divide the batter evenly between the two or three cake tins (the best way to ensure evenness is to weight how much batter you put into each tin, but that is getting a bit pedantic!). Bake for 30-40 mins if there are three tins, and 40-50 minutes if two. Ensure you use a cake tester/skewer to test the middle of the cake.

Once cooked, remove the cakes from the oven and leave to sit in their tins for an hour before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

To make the cream cheese icing, beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth. Add in the vanilla essence and beat well (I actually forgot to do this step and the icing tasted fine without it!). Slowly add in the icing sugar mixture, one cup at a time and beat until smooth and creamy. Cover and leave in the fridge for 2-3 hours (but no longer) before using on the cake.

To assemble
Depending on how your cakes have baked, you might like to evenly trim the top off to get a flat surface. If so, use a sharp knife and try using something of a similar height as the cake to guide your knife. If you do cut the top off, the inside of the cake will be crumbly – this will be ok for icing an inside layer, but not the top layer as you’re likely to end up with crumbs inside the icing, so flip the top layer over so that you ice the bottom of the cake.

Using a palette knife, or similar, ice evenly between each layer and then ice the top and sides. If you have a round cake stand that you can turn the cake on, icing the outside will be much easier.

Then the best bit – eat!


7 thoughts on “Red Velvet Cake

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