Grandma's Red Velvet Cake Recipe (2024)

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I know I really missed the boat on getting this posted in time for Valentine’s day and the rest of red velvet-palooza that’s been happening here all month.

Palm to the head.

But I just had to post it anyway, because it’s seriously the best red velvet cake I’ve ever had. And even better than that– it’s a family recipe. Like, a real family recipe.

I mean, of course I have other family recipes on hand. But they mostly come from… like, you know… underneath the Cool Whip lid and stuff.

But not this one. It’s completely legit, from scratch, and totally amazing.

I have a small notebook with a handful of recipes that come from my mom, aunts, grandparents, and those recipes are really special to me. This one happens to be from my great grandmother (and we even have it in her handwriting!). My Grandma made it for our Christmas dessert last year, which was the first time I remember eating it.

I was blown away.

The cake manages to be moist and dense at the same time. The frosting isn’t a traditional cream cheese frosting, which surprised me– but in a good way. It’s filled with pecans and coconut, and it’s not overly sweet since the base is made from a flour and milk paste. I know that sounds a little weird, but you’ll have to take my word on it. This frosting is FABULOUS. And it really pairs perfectly with the red velvet.

My great-grandma’s recipe calls for making this a 6 or 8 layer cake (which my Grandma, the queen of layered cakes, pulled off beautifully at Christmas), but I’m took that down a notch and went for 4 layers. However, if you have the magic touch with layered cakes, definitely go for it. I’d double the frosting if you’re doing more layers though… just a note.

I hope you enjoy this special family recipe as much as I have!

Red Velvet Cake Tips and Tricks:

  • Sift the cocoa powder to avoid any clumps in your cake batter.
  • Be careful not to overmix the batter– stop mixing as soon as the ingredients are combined. Overmixing will result in a tough cake.
  • If you don’t have red food coloring, you can use beet juice! I’ve used both and they work equally well.
  • If you want a really deep red color, add a little bit of blue food coloring to your batter. This will counteract the natural red tones in the cocoa powder and give you a true red color.
  • If you want a really tall cake, bake the cake layers in half sheet pans. You’ll need to adjust the baking time– start checking them around 15 minutes. They should be done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • To make transporting your cake easier, use a cardboard cake round or cake board underneath your assembled cake. This will help keep everything together and prevent any sliding.
  • If you want to get really fancy, pipe some frosting around the edge of each layer before adding the next one. This will give your cake a nice finished look.
  • Leftover cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Red Velvet Cake FAQ

What is red velvet cake?

Red velvet cake is a type of cake that originated in the United States. The most notable characteristic of this cake is its bright red color, which is often achieved with food coloring. The cake is typically moist and fluffy, and it is often layered and frosted with cream cheese frosting.

Grandma's Red Velvet Cake Recipe (4)

Grandma’s Red Velvet Cake

Yield: 20


For the Red Velvet Cake:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ounces red food coloring
  • 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the Coconut Pecan Frosting:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tsp vanilla


For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven 350ºF. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with foil and grease with a non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, food coloing and eggs.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until batter forms and is a uniform color.
  4. Divide batter between the two cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before cutting each cake through the center to create 4 layers of cake.

For the frosting:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and milk until thick paste forms. Set aside.
  2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Mix in the flour paste, coconut, and chopped pecans.
  3. Layer the frosting in between each layer. Garnish with additional coconut and pecans if desired.


I have two versions of this recipe in my family recipe book. I didn't notice until I was typing this up that the frosting recipes are different. One recipe calls cooking 3 tbsp of flour with 1 cup of milk over the stove top until thickened, and then letting it cool before adding it to the butter and sugar. Obviously, I used the version that calls for mixing together 1 cup of milk with 1 cup of flour.

I have no idea how the other version comes together since I haven't made it myself, but if you are averse to using so much flour (I know that 1 cup of raw flour is substantial), I would definitely recommend trying the stove top version.

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Grandma's Red Velvet Cake Recipe (2024)


What was the original red velvet cake made of? ›

Around the 1900's cake recipes with cocoa as the main ingredient began to surface. People were finding recipes for cocoa velvet cakes, red cocoa cakes and other "cocoa" types of cakes.

Why is my red velvet cake not red enough? ›

The trick to using our Red Velvet Color when baking cakes and cupcakes is to lower the pH. Some ways to do this is by substituting baking powder in place of baking soda, using a natural non-alkalized cocoa powder, adding more white vinegar or buttermilk to your red velvet recipe, to achieve a bright red color.

Does vinegar and cocoa powder turn red? ›

Cocoa powder contains an antioxidant called anthocyanin, which is pH-sensitive, meaning it reacts to acids and bases. When raw cocoa powder reacts with acidic ingredients such as buttermilk and vinegar, it turns dark red.

How important is vinegar in red velvet cake? ›

White Vinegar: It sounds like a strange ingredient in a cake, but it is essential in a red velvet cake. This recipe calls for baking soda to leaven the cake (make the cake rise). The small amount of added vinegar allows the soda to do its best work.

What is the red ingredient in red velvet cake? ›

The “red” in red velvet cake is multifaceted — historically, the red tint in the cake came from either the chemical reaction between unprocessed cocoa and vinegar (according to Southern Living) or the use of beet sugar.

Was red velvet cake originally made with beets? ›

Some red velvet recipes do actually call for beets, but there is no clear correlation between beets and Red Velvet cake, but rather just one theory on the cake's origins. The Adams Extract company attributes itself to making the “original” Red Velvet cake in the 1920s.

What if I forgot vinegar in red velvet cake? ›

If you don't want to use vinegar, you can substitute an equal amount of lemon juice. If you want to skip the acidic liquid altogether, you can substitute a tablespoon of baking powder for each teaspoon of baking soda. Then add water equal to the amount of vinegar you omitted.

What makes red velvet cake taste like red velvet? ›

What flavor is red velvet? While there are cocoa undertones, red velvet is not chocolate cake because it balances both chocolate and vanilla flavors. It contains cocoa but not the same quantity as traditional chocolate cake, resulting in a more subtle cocoa flavor and tanginess due to the buttermilk and vinegar.

How do you get the red in red velvet cake? ›

Today, red velvet cake is made by combining cocoa powder, butter, sugar, eggs, and flour as well as buttermilk, vinegar, and red food coloring that gives the cake its iconic red tint. In a classic red velvet cake, cream cheese frosting is paired but the cake can be really be frosted with anything.

Why did my red velvet cake turn brown? ›

The red food colouring makes the cake batter prone to splitting, and turns everything it touches red; a couple of grams over on the cocoa powder and the cake goes brown instead of a rich red; the cream cheese frosting has a tendency to turn to gloop at the very last minute for no apparent reason; and the list goes on.

What is a substitute for cocoa powder in red velvet cake? ›

To retain the proper color and taste, it is best to stick to natural cocoa powder when making red velvet cake. You could use carob powder, dutch processed cocoa powder (with strong red gel food coloring) but I do not recommend using any other substitute.

What makes red velvet cake special? ›

In red velvet cake, there is very little cocoa powder used, in comparison to chocolate cake. The cocoa powder generally serves to deepen the color. Also, it's reaction with acids (buttermilk or vinegar) reveals the red anthocyanin, which tints it red and also makes the cake extra light and fluffy.

Do you have to put white vinegar in red velvet cake? ›

You need something acidic- apple cider vinegar or lemon juice would also work. You can substitute white wine vinegar for white (sometimes called distilled) vinegar in the red velvet cake recipe. It is used in such small quantities that the subtle difference in flavor will not be noticed.

What can I use instead of white vinegar in red velvet cake? ›

White vinegar substitute: If you need a different vinegar to substitute for white vinegar, use apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar. You could also swap in lemon or lime juice, depending on your recipe.

Can I use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar in a red velvet cake? ›

“You can use substitutes for pretty much any of the ingredients,” King says. “I prefer apple cider vinegar for its subtle kick, but any standard vinegar will do. And if you'd rather swap sour cream or yogurt for the buttermilk, that works just as well.”

What's the origin of red velvet cake? ›

Big Apple origins

While the hotel long claims to having served its first version in the mid-1920s, culinary journals including Southern Living report the red velvet cake first appeared at the Waldorf in the mid-1930s — around the same time ritzy Toronto department store Eaton's starting serving red velvet cake.

Where did the original red velvet cake come from? ›

In the 1930s, the Waldorf-Astoria, a famed New York City hotel, began serving red velvet cake. The hotel receives credit for creating the cake, but as the research shows, they only capitalized on a cake already somewhat known throughout the country.

Is red velvet just chocolate dyed red? ›

While Chocolate Cake is made primarily with cocoa powder and sometimes melted chocolate, Red Velvet Cake is made with a small amount of cocoa powder, but is also known for its signature bright red color, which is usually achieved by adding red food coloring to the batter.

What color is original red velvet cake? ›

In the dessert world, this was initially called a “mahogany cake.” It delivered a light chocolate flavor and appeared red-brown due to the chemical reaction between baking soda, buttermilk, vinegar, and raw cocoa powder.

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