Red Wine Velvet (3, 8" layers)
I first published this recipe for Gilt Taste, but as Lexingtonians know, I developed it at Table 310. I ran it on my dessert menu for weeks on end, tinkering until I got it just right. For all of you who came in, tried it out, and left feedback: thank you!
You’ll notice this is absolutely nothing like any Red Velvet recipe you’ve seen before. But I promise, it has its roots in the oldest tradition of velvet cakes and will taste like the Red Velvet of your dreams. A little splash of oil prevents the notorious dryness often associated with RVC and an obscene amount of vanilla provides a deeper vanilla flavor than you’ve ever had before. Meanwhile, the eponymous wine gives legitimacy to the “red.”
Red Velvet’s most traditional companion is a boiled milk frosting (aka “cooked flour” or “ermine”), but in much of the South you’ll only find cream cheese. For this recipe I’ve split the difference between the two with German buttercream. German buttercream is very much like a boiled milk frosting, but with the addition of an egg or two to create a creamy custard base. Butter is then whipped in, resulting in one of the silkiest buttercreams imaginable. For those who feel the need for cream cheese (myself included!), you can substitute up to half of the butter with cream cheese, but boiled milk purists can leave it out.
Read all about Red Velvet’s secret history, how I came to uncover its roots and develop this recipe, here.
Red (Wine) Velvet Cake
12 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces natural cocoa
16 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ounces safflower oil or other neutral flavored oil
18 ounces brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably freshly ground
scrapings from two vanilla bean pods
6 eggs, room temperature
12 ounces red wine (Zinfandels work especially well)
1½ ounces vanilla extract
1 batch German buttercream, using the cream cheese variation if you like (I do!)
Preheat oven to 350° and line three 8” by 2” cake pans with parchment rounds. Grease lightly.
Sift together the flour and cocoa, set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the butter, oil, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean seeds. Use a hand or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to cream the ingredients for 10 minutes on medium speed. Periodically, stop mixing to scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula.
Turn the mixer to medium low and add the eggs, one at a time. Continue mixing after each addition until the egg has fully incorporated before adding the next.
Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour/cocoa mixture alternately with the red wine in about three additions. Add the vanilla at the end. Shut off the mixer and give the batter a few turns with a rubber spatula to ensure a homogenous mix.
Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans (25 ounces each).
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The oil in the batter makes the cakes slightly more forgiving of over-baking, but try not to let it come to that. Bake until the cakes have puffed but will still retain a slight impression if touched gently with a fingertip. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a few moist crumbs still attached.
Cool the cakes on a wire rack. At first, they will have pronounced domes and a slightly gray-brown color, but as they cool the domes will settle down somewhat and the color will deepen. When they have cooled, run a knife around the sides of the pan and invert onto a parchment lined tray or cooling rack. Continue cooling until no trace of warmth remains.
Before frosting, use a serrated knife to level the cakes. If you have found this step difficult in the past, refrigerate the cakes for 30 minutes beforehand, making them easier to handle and cut.
Assemble the cake on a platter or cake stand, topping each layer with a generous amount of buttercream. Crumb coat by spreading a thin, smooth layer of buttercream over the tops and sides of the cake; this will prevent stray crumbs from flecking the finished layer. Check out my crumb coating tutorial here for more details. Refrigerate the crumb-coated cake for 30 minutes before applying the final coating of buttercream to the top and sides.
For an “ermine” finish
5 ounces white chocolate, preferably in a block or bar
½ ounce cocoa nibs
Click here to see the ermine that inspired this design.
Use a Microplane or Parmesan grater to finely shave the white chocolate. Dust the top and sides of the cake with the shavings until completely coated. It’s easiest to use a folded piece of parchment paper as a “scoop” to distribute the white chocolate as the warmth of your hands will melt the chocolate.
Scatter the cocoa nibs over the cake in a haphazard manner to mimic ermine spots. You’ll really have to fling the nibs to make them stick, don’t be afraid to get a little messy.
For information on how to store cakes, see this post from the Kitchn.
Oct 17, 2011 · 5:04 AM
What a stunning looking cake !!
It’s a real beauty
It took my breath away.
Wonderful wonderful wonderful
· Winnish · winnish.blogspot.com
Oct 17, 2011 · 2:25 PM
What a stunning and unusual cake. I have saved this recipe and have marked it with a star. Thanks so much for releasing the recipe. The post is very inspiring. I want to make and eat it right now
· Tina@flourtrader · flourtrader.blogspot.com
Oct 17, 2011 · 2:28 PM
I am not sure what happened to my comment, but anyhow this is a stunning cake as well as creative cake. Love the use of wine and I have saved this recipe.
Very inspiring-I want to make it and eat it now. Buzzed.
· Tina@flourtrader · flourtrader.blogspot.com
Oct 17, 2011 · 10:52 PM
Omg this cake looks amazing! That slice is absolutely perfect!
· Elyse @The Cultural Dish · www.theculturaldish.blogspot.com
Oct 18, 2011 · 12:58 AM
Not only is the cake gorgeous, but the post is chock full of terrific information. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work!
· Brooks at Cakewalker · http://cakewalker.blogspot.com
Oct 19, 2011 · 10:16 AM
@Winnish, thanks so much! I owe it all to Sarah Jane’s photography, she knocked these outta the park!
@Tina, let me know if you make it. Sorry for whatever weirdness went on with your comment, haha. Oh, technology…
@Elyse, I was prepared to cut a few pieces to get the right one, but it worked out on the first try. Whew!
@Brook, you’re so welcome. Thanks for dropping by!
Nov 16, 2011 · 7:37 PM
Hi Kate, I’m so sorry you had a bad experience with the cake. It’s definitely not a red cake (as the pictures illustrate) but I hate that you didn't enjoy it. If you have any questions or think something might have gone wrong with your cake, let me know, I’d love to help you get to the bottom of it.
Nov 17, 2011 · 1:07 AM
thanks stella! i definitely got thrown off by the oz measurements but was measuring with oz in a measuring cup trying to be accurate. my wet:dry ingredients ratio was off and the batter was almost grainy from so much brown sugar i think? and i don’t know if 12 oz was too much wine. i’m not sure if this is a tricky recipe (your steps are very clear so it my issues!) and appreciate you trying to help-i love your recipes and photos, keep it up!
Nov 17, 2011 · 9:47 AM
@Kate, I do all of my baking in a restaurant, so I don’t have cups, lol! I wish I convert my recipes to cups, but I unfortunately just don’t have time. My guess is something was lost in translation in the guesstimations between ounces and cups. The batter turns out just like a normal cake batter would, no graininess, etc.
At any rate, having had to throw away all those ingredients with a bad batch, you’re probably not looking to spend any more money, but I can’t recommend enough a kitchen scale. (My favorite part: recipes come together super fast because you can measure the ingredients straight into the bowl, no cups to clean!) I don’t know where you live, but in my neck of the woods Bed, Bath & Beyond sells a really great digital scale for about $30.
Perhaps Santa will pick one up for you. Thanks for stopping by, have a great Thanksgiving!
Dec 11, 2011 · 1:23 PM
Thank you for this, Stella! Yes, I cannot agree more using a kitchen scale!
· Annapet · thedailypalette.com
Dec 11, 2011 · 1:41 PM
Hey Annapet! About to undertake some holiday red velvet? Yup. Scales totally rule!
Dec 24, 2011 · 3:23 PM
@Amanda, not a stupid question at all! All of my measurements are by weight and never by volume, so just pay attention to what your scale says, not your measuring cups. Merry Christmas!
Jan 15, 2012 · 12:47 PM
@themagiccloset, oh honey, I have no idea. I always fail with tube pans, overbaking, sticking, you name it. They are my archnemesis. That being said, as a cake these bake fairly slowly, so I would say they need over an hour if I had to guess. If you have success, please come back and let me know!
Jan 26, 2012 · 3:52 AM
So just to clarify on the measurements.. because apparently my brain is foggy. And I usually use cups. Though I do have a scale. Do you just pour the ingredients in a bowl and put them onto a scale to obtain your measurements? I’m being slow, I know.
· BananaAnna · www.bananadallas.blogspot.com/
Jan 26, 2012 · 2:00 PM
@BananaAnna, It can be quite a transition going from cups to weight! But I’m so happy to hear you have a scale, hurray! Just put a bowl or measuring container on the scale, then turn it on. If any weight registers, just press “Zero” or “tare” to get it back to 0. Then add in your ingredient until you get the right amount. You can press zero/tare and add the next ingredient, if they’re to be mixed together, or add a new container then zero out and measure your next ingredient. Does that make sense?
Feb 10, 2012 · 9:21 AM
This cake looks absolutely stunning and I’ll bet it tastes even better. I’ve really been wanting to have a bash at making it ever since I first saw it, and have decided that now is the time to do it!
I was wondering whether it freezes well? I have a load of baking to do, so making some things in advance would really be handy. Can’t wait to get stuck in!
Feb 10, 2012 · 9:43 AM
@Becsbakes, Hmm… I’ve never tried freezing it before. Generally, I only freeze oil based cakes (like carrot or chocolate), I find butter cakes lose their moisture a bit more readily. That being said, this has a little of both, so I don’t know how it would fair; it may be alright. If time is truly of the essence, I have found that the batter keeps fairly well in the fridge for a few days. So at the very least, you could make up the batter and then bake it off a few days later to lighten your work load. If you do decide to give freezing a try, let me know how it turns out! I’ll be curious to hear your results. Good luck!
Feb 10, 2012 · 10:29 AM
Do you? I’ve frozen many a butter-based cake in my time and they’ve tended to stay moist as ever! Handy to know that the batter keeps in the fridge for a short while. But I’ll give freezing the cake a go and keep you posted. It’s for Sunday 19th Feb, so I’ll let you know after that how it went. And give a taste review!
Many thanks for the tips and for sharing your recipe!
Feb 11, 2012 · 11:27 AM
@Becsbakes, in my line of work, I rarely have occasion to freeze cakes, so it may just be my lack of experience with it. At any rate, good luck and hope everything goes well. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you.
Feb 21, 2012 · 12:02 PM
You’ll be pleased to know that the freezing process was a success! The cake survived perfectly, and I must say it was one of the best cakes I’ve made (and eaten!) in a long time!
Beautifully fudgy, dense, chocolatey, vanilla-laced, and the wine was curiously detectable – definitely in a good way.
I did, however, have issues with the German buttercream… I made the cream cheese variation, as suggested (also, not sure I could face throwing ALL that butter in one mix!). I found the mixture to be far to liquidy after the lemon juice was added. Even before that, the consistency wouldn’t match the stiffness apparent in your picture. It tasted lovely though, just ended up sort of slopping over the cake instead of elegently swathing it.
It was thoroughly enjoyable all round =)
Feb 21, 2012 · 8:30 PM
@Becsbakes, I’m so glad to hear the freezing went well, hurray!
As far as the buttercream goes, I’ve found it easiest to handle if it’s fully refrigerated and then rewhipped before frosting. It’s very soft and loose when it’s first made. If you have any of the German Buttercream leftover and frozen, you might try rewhipping it just to see if that shows an improvement. Otherwise, it’s possible it wasn’t cooked long enough on the stove and the cornstarch didn’t get a chance to do its thing. Sorry it didn’t behave for you; fingers crossed for next time!
Feb 22, 2012 · 3:49 PM
I think it must have been a cornflour issue because the mixture was well chilled. It’s odd because I’ve made non-cornflour custard so many times for ice creams and been very comfortable with reaching the right consistency. However, with this frosting I found that it began to stick to the end of my spoon and scramble slightly (emergency sieve to the rescue!) quite soon, even though it was on a low heat. Perhaps I turned off too soon due to the scramble-scare and should have persevered with a whisk for a minute more. Ah well, I’ll know for next time!
Thanks again for sharing both delicious recipes! =)
Feb 22, 2012 · 7:40 PM
@Becsbakes, Sounds like that might be the issue. Cornstarch based custards definitely need to be whisked vigorously to prevent scorching and they have to cook for a full minute while bubbling. So anything shy of that would definitely have prevented you from getting a good set. Hope that helps!
Jul 11, 2012 · 12:54 AM
This looks frrrrreakin’ amazing!!! Great photography!
· sweetlab · sweet-lab.com
Jul 11, 2012 · 10:13 AM
@sweetlab, pretty pictures are thanks to my friend Sarah Jane. She’s the best!
Sep 02, 2012 · 2:09 AM
Absolutely incredible! I substituted flax seed for the eggs (for a guest in my home that was allergic) and it still turned out as lovely as ever. Also in a trajic lack of forethought I realized, part way through, that I had no wine in the house. In a desperate attempt to salvage the recipe I did the traditional milk and vinager, but used balsalmic to give it a little bit of a twist (I was feeling bold). I don’t know how it compares to the red wine but it yielded a vanilla infused velvety moist unfathomably delicious cake with a unique but incredible taste with a touch of a kick thank you so much for the recipe. I can’t wait to make it again and to do it right!
Sep 02, 2012 · 10:02 AM
kels, I’m so thrilled to hear the cake held up even under such “wild” substitutions! I just bought a pint of flax seeds, cos I’m eager to learn about how they work as an egg substitute, I’m really glad to know they came through in this recipe! And your idea of a dash of balsamic sounds phenomenal, I will definitely try that out, thanks for sharing.
Sep 13, 2012 · 7:04 PM
Hi AK! Although I haven’t tested it for myself, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble substituting grape juice (if you want to go for a similar flavor). If I were to try the grape-juice version for myself, I would probably start off with twice the amount of grape juice and then reduce it by half, to give it a similar intensity to wine. But that’s going the extra mile, and I think you’d be okay with just plain grape juice.
You could also substitute coffee or black tea, which will take the flavor in a bit of a different direction, but should be tasty none the less.
You’ll have to let me know how your version turns out! Happy baking.
Sep 14, 2012 · 5:16 PM
Hi AK! I’m not sure; the kind of grape juice I’m used to seeing in stores isn’t refrigerated (like Welches brand) at the store. Just make sure to look at the ingredients, if there’s corn syrup or sugar added, it may change how the recipe works. Look for something that’s 100% juice. Hope that helps!
Sep 19, 2012 · 8:01 PM
Thank you for being so generous with your gorgeous recipes! I am planning on making this cake for an upcoming birthday. This may be a silly question but how do I bake 3 layers at the same time in a standard home oven? Should I put two layers on the top rack & one layer on the bottom rack and rotate halfway through?
Sep 19, 2012 · 10:32 PM
Hi Harriet! You’ve got it. When I bake at home, I put the racks in the two middle positions and then put the cakes in (it doesn’t matter if you go for two top/one bottom or vice versa) and rotate once or twice during baking.
Keep an eye on the cakes, your oven may run hotter at the top or bottom, which may make rotating 1/3 of the way through a better option. But if they look even, half way is fine. Good luck!
Nov 21, 2012 · 4:47 AM
What a gorgeous and elegant cake! I can’t use alcohol so what would you suggest as an alternative?
· Kellie · www.twitter.com/kelliemurray
Nov 21, 2012 · 9:08 AM
Hi Kellie. You can make it with strong black coffee or black tea. The flavor will, of course, be different in that case. You might also look for some non-alcoholic wine, which has a more robust flavor than grape juice and would help you keep a similar flavor profile in the cake.
Nov 24, 2012 · 3:07 PM
I saw this recipe in the Mensa magazine and made it for Thanksgiving. It turned out excellent and everyone loved it. It is not really red, which is fine since it means the food coloring was not there. I wondered if I did anything wrong, but I see in the photo that it looks very similar to what I made, so all is fine. Thanks very much for a great recipe.
Nov 25, 2012 · 9:59 AM
Hi Smsmd! Thanks for looking me up! Any redness this cake has is definitely as an undertone, rather than a predominate color. I’m glad that you, like me, are willing to make this trade off in order to ditch the dye. Cheers!
Nov 29, 2012 · 9:13 AM
Hi Lisa! I’ve never tried it myself, but a reader has reported back with success on freezing before. My advice would be to keep a very close eye on it during baking; butter cakes are prone to drying out, especially when frozen and thawed. But keep a close eye on it and pull the cakes as soon as they’re done. my friend Gail swears by wrapping the hot cakes in plastic wrap to lock-in moisture, but I’ve never tried it. I always cool the cake completely and then wrap. If you’re on twitter, you can ask Gail, @THEToughCookie, more about her technique if you like.
Dec 03, 2012 · 2:45 AM
I love this cake! I just made it for my best friend’s birthday and I have never seen a cake vanish so fast. The only changes I made were that I used a Merlot instead of a Zinfandel, purely because the corner shop near my house didn’t have any Zinfandels, and I couldn’t find vanilla pods there either, so I put a bit of extra extract in for taste. I’m sure it’s even better with the vanilla pods.
Anyway, it was stunning and a huge success! There wasn’t a single crumb left to take home afterwards so thank you for this fantastic recipe.
Dec 05, 2012 · 9:29 AM
Hi muckseen! I’m so thrilled you liked it!! The recipe is very flexible as to what wine you use, Merlot was a great choice! I use vanilla pods at work, but I know for most they’re not quite as easy to come by. Glad you worked it out to your liking. Thanks for the feedback!
Feb 01, 2013 · 9:48 AM
Hi Krysten! Not at all. I measure everything by weight, even liquids. As a rule of thumb, “ounces” should always refer to weight no matter what the ingredient is, but it’s confusing because there’s also “fluid ounces” or “fl oz.” Fluid ounces are for measuring liquids by volume. Two totally different ways to measure something, but such a similar name! Hope that makes sense. Happy baking!
Feb 03, 2013 · 2:22 PM
Hi pj! No, you’ll be fine. I’d use a Tablespoon of vanilla for every one vanilla bean. If you’d ever like to stock up, there’s a website called Beanilla where you can buy vanilla beans in bulk, which makes them much more affordable and what you buy will last you a year or longer. Way better than those tough, hard beans they sell in stores.
Feb 03, 2013 · 9:56 PM
STELLA….omg….I made the Red Wine cake tonight and it was AWSOME….can’t say it looked as good as your photos…I still have trouble with leaning cakes…but this is definately a 5 star wonderful cake….THANK YOU for the recipe….I am taking what remains of the cake to work tomorrow and they will be real happy campers….
Feb 04, 2013 · 10:00 AM
Hi PJ! I’m soooo glad it turned out for you, yay!! Definitely takes a bit of practice to master the straight-sided cake, which just means you have to make more cake Hope your coworkers appreciate your generosity, I’d be in the corner at home eating up all the leftovers by myself.
Feb 14, 2013 · 5:50 PM
Hi Dita! Sprinkles and a cake? Lucky guy! Hope the cake turns out just how you’d like. Happy baking!
Feb 23, 2013 · 2:57 PM
Hi Seamus! I’m so glad you and your friend enjoyed it, thanks for sharing! Maybe it’ll start a red velvet craze in Ireland.
Mar 08, 2013 · 12:30 AM
Hi there Stella!
Was searching for a new recipe for red velvet cake and thought I’d try something new since yours had Both butter and oil. My friend wanted a Red cake so I added some food colouring just so it won’t look like a chocolate cake. Hehe. We don’t take alcohol so subbed that with buttermilk, but was too chicken hearted to try out the balsamic version suggested in one of the post So apple cider vinegar it was. I made half of the recipe and it yielded a 9×13×1.5 cake and 4 cupcakes. Well cake was for a friend, and the cupcakes were for Me!! Quality control you know
This is a great recipe! It was soft.. really soft and forgiving about baking time as you said. Mine came out at 30 min with a toothpick clean. Errrk.. should’ve checked sooner next time.
Would definitely make this again! Now should probably try the German buttercream next to go with it.. or just thaw the extra swiss meringue buttercream to save time!
Mar 09, 2013 · 6:10 PM
Hi sharina! Oh, I’m so glad the cake turned out to your liking even with the substitutions!! It’s great with the Swiss BC too, so I say thaw away!
Mar 21, 2013 · 7:43 AM
Hi there Stella!
Am baking for mum’s birthday this Saturday(day After Tomorrow!) and she requested a tiered cake. Gulp! And she really likes this one. Question is, being such a Soft cake, do you think it can withstand the weight of a tiered construction? What do you think?
This would be my first tiered cake.. Oh gosh.. pressure!
Mar 21, 2013 · 8:51 AM
Hi Sharina! Despite the softness of the crumb, I haven’t found the cake itself to be fragile, so I don’t think it would have any trouble in tiers. Of course, be sure to use support rods within the cake itself! No cake should have to bear the weight alone.
Apr 08, 2013 · 9:05 PM
Hi Diane! I’m not sure, they were my grandmother’s. I’ve got them in storage at my folks’ house, I’ll have to ask ‘em to peep the underside of the plates to see if they’re marked. I’m 99% sure they’re Japanese, and I think they were a wedding present (dating them to the 1950s). I’ll post again if I find out!
May 03, 2013 · 11:24 AM
I was super-excited about making this cake for a friend’s birthday. I made the layers last night and was dismayed that I had 2 problems: 1) the layers didn’t just settle as they cooled, they sunk; and 2) one of the layers cracked right in half. What did I do wrong?
P.S. Tastes great, though!
May 05, 2013 · 7:19 PM
Hi Allison, awww, bummer! Let me ask a quick question just to make sure we’re on the same page, did you use a scale or convert to cups? Also: any substitutions, or reduction of the recipe (ie a half batch)? Hate to ask such boring questions, but it’s hard to diagnose without knowing all that for sure. Let me know and we’ll get to the bottom of this!
May 16, 2013 · 6:20 PM
Hi Stella, I had a nice recipe for a red raspberry velvet cake, which was a twist on the usual red velvet. It was well liked, but I hadn’t made it in over a year and just baked it recently. I made sure all my baking ingredients were fresh, etc, but oddly, it had no flavor. So, I’m looking for a new recipe and I like the ommission of red dye. Anxious to give your beautiful cake a try. One question though, how do you dust the sides of your cake (or do you). Since the white chocolate is so fragile, how do you get it on the sides? I suppose I could search the web, but thought you might be able to endure yet another specific question. I love your website and really appreciate the depth of research you have shared and poetic perspective you have re your creations. Lovely. You are, indeed, a brave little tart. And those of us who strive for perfection know that cooking and baking can be intimidating to even the most brave. Thanks!
May 16, 2013 · 6:31 PM
Hi Eva! I’m happy to help! I grate up all the white chocolate on a microplane, onto a piece of parchment. Then I sort of fold the parchment down the middle, and use it to shake out the shavings on to the cake, starting from the top edge and working my way down. You can take a metal spatula and gather up all the shavings that didn’t stick, and scoot them back onto the parchment to keep shakin’ it. Hope that makes sense! It’s kinda like trying to describe how to tie your shoes!
You’ll have to let me know how you like the cake; definitely not as red as the “classics” but I’m happy to ditch the chemicals.
May 17, 2013 · 7:27 PM
Sweeeeeet! Good luck with the cake, you’ll have to let me know how it turns out.