Smooth, chocolatey sponge smothered with rich buttercream icing, it takes a lot to beat the beautiful indulgence of red velvet cake. Here, Georgina Hayden from Jamie’s food team shares her fail-safe recipe.

With its striking red sponge, I must admit, I was initially cynical of red velvet cake and imagined it to be style over substance – I hadn’t eaten anything that vibrant since I was a kid.

But while on a pilgrimage to Magnolia Bakery in New York (many, many moons ago), I knew I would be a fool to not give it a go, and, when I tried it, it truly blew me away. It tasted nothing like I expected – it was, in fact, a deliciously smooth chocolate sponge with a creamy and ever-so-slightly tart cream cheese frosting – for me, a perfectly-balanced combo.

So my love affair with red velvet cake started, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Since its relatively recent arrival in the UK (compared to the States, that is), it has become a firm household favourite, despite being thought to be almost 200 years old.


Originally a classic southern-American recipe, its name sparks much debate. Some say the “red” refers to the sugar that was originally used (brown sugar was traditionally referred to as red sugar), while mostly it is thought to refer to the red colour of the sponge and its velvety texture. Traditionally, the red hue came from the reaction between the cocoa powder and the acidic vinegar and buttermilk. Cocoa naturally contains anthocyanins, a compound found in red foods (such as red cabbage), which gives it a strong pigment. However, nowadays, our cocoa is processed differently and is treated with an alkalinising agent that neutralises the acid, making the colour less vibrant. So even if you follow your great-great-grandma’s recipe, you’ll almost certainly still end up with a less vibrant sponge.


Thankfully, however, the combination of bicarbonate of soda with the vinegar and buttermilk still give red velvet cake its smooth, iconic consistency. Even though the recipe may sound a little fiddly, alternating the wet and dry ingredients is what gives it that gorgeous creamy feel.

Red velvet is a wonderful chocolate cake alternative, something a little different and is perfect for any celebration. And unlike a lot of chocolate sponge recipes, which have a tendency to dry out quite quickly, I can safely say that this stays moist and still tastes fresh a few days later, making it a perfect cake to make in advance.


Serves 12 to 16

250g plain flour
1 ¼ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
40g cocoa powder
240ml vegetable oil (or any flavourless oil)
300g golden granulated sugar
2 large free-range eggs
2 tablespoons red food colouring
½ tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
100ml freshly brewed coffee, cooled
240ml buttermilk
½ tablespoon white wine vinegar
175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
400g icing sugar
300g full-fat cream cheese

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350F/gas 4. Grease 3 x 8” sandwich tins and line the bases. (Alternatively, you can do this in 2 x 8” springform cake tins, if you have them).

2. Sift the flour, ½ teaspoon of fine salt, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa into a large bowl and leave to one side.

3. Pour the oil into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or you can use a large bowl and electric whisk) and add the granulated sugar. Gently beat together for a couple of minutes, until pale.

4. Add the eggs, beating them in one at a time, and then mix in the red food colouring and vanilla extract.

5. Spoon in ⅓ of the sifted flour mixture, and mix together. Mix together the cooled coffee and buttermilk, and add half to the mixing bowl. Beat it in, then beat in half the remaining flour.

6. Stir the white wine vinegar into the remaining buttermilk and pour it into the cake mixture. Beat it in well and finish by folding in the last of the flour.

7. Beat everything together well, then evenly divide between the tins. Bake in the oven for around 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. (If your cakes are a little domed, that’s great, slice off the excess sponge and keep it for decorating later).

8. To make the cream cheese frosting, cut the butter into chunks and place into the bowl of the freestanding mixer (or use a mixing bowl and electric whisk), and beat with the paddle attachment for 2 minutes until very pale and creamy. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl in 3 stages, beating it well in between until smooth.

9. Drain any excess liquid off the cream cheese – I spoon it into a sieve to drain it completely. When all the icing sugar has been incorporated, spoon a large tablespoon of the cream cheese into the bowl and beat it in, scraping the mixture off of the sides as you go. Add half of the remaining cream cheese, beat it in for 30 seconds, scrape the sides of the bowl again and add the remaining cream cheese. Beat rigorously for a minute or two. It’ll look like liquid at first, then it’ll come together and appear light and whipped. Be careful not to beat the icing too much though, otherwise it will end up runny again. Spoon into a bowl and pop into the fridge for half an hour to firm up a little.

10. Dot a teaspoonful of the cream cheese icing onto your chosen cake stand or board and top with one of the cakes. Dollop a couple of large spoonfuls of icing into the middle of the cake and evenly spread it to the edges, leaving a bit of a border, as it’ll ooze a little when you place the next sponge on top.

11. Keep going until all the sponges have been layered up and finish by decorating with the remaining icing. I like to have a scant layer around the outside, so that you see all the layers through, but apply it as thickly as you like (make extra if you want to finish it with a piped pattern).

12. Decorate by crumbling up any offcuts of the sponge, then sprinkle around the top edge of the cake.

Tip: If you want to make this cake even further in advance, wrap the individual, cooled sponges thoroughly in a couple of layers of clingfilm. Then wrap them well in foil and pop them in the freezer – they’ll last this way for a few weeks. Defrost completely before decorating.

For more bakes that embrace the wonderful ingredient cocoa, check out our chocolate cake gallery.




  • tim williams

    Hi Jamie loved flavour and the texture, just like red velvet should be, but it didn’t come out red at all, not sure why because i followed all the measurements exactly. More food colouring? To strong cocoa powder? Any help is welcomed.

  • ref

    Please help when making red velvet cake I find that the colour is only in the middle. The outer layer comes out brown. How do I get an even colour throughout the whole cake?

  • Caroline Geiger

    I live in Spain as well and often make my own. Pour la nata para montar in a jar about twice the volume of the quantity of nata; shake it until it turns to whipped cream, and if you continue to shake it, the whipped cream separates into butter and buttermilk. I use the butter for the recipe as well 😉

  • mjp


  • Elle Simpson

    You need to use a high quality red food colouring. Best to use a paste form not a dye.

  • Liza Wopereis

    Is this cake strong enough for a 4 tiered cake?

  • uma gupta

    Can I use hung curd instead of Cream cheese? Please advise. Or some other substitute? Thanx.

  • Serenella Capelli

    Made this and although it looks well and cuts very clean, it is quite thick, it did not rise at all. Wondering what went wrong or should i have used self raising flour/baking powder aswell, usually sponge recipes look for this in combination with the soda.
    Not very red but made with cheap water based food colour, maybe if it was fluffier it would have been more visible.

  • Jennifer Proude

    Any cake is strong enough if you support it properly.

  • Jennifer Proude

    Both of these are right, although you can just whip the heavy cream on a bowl. Butter and buttermilk is what you are left with.

  • Nicola Tomkins

    Hiya I am looking at making a red velvet cake for Halloween but wanted to decorate it into an eyeball does anyone have any suggestion on the icing I should use as I am unsure if the cream cheese can be coloured? Thanks.

  • Robert Sallis-Prokopiou

    Hi, if I want to make a 3 layered 10″ red velvet cake how much more of each ingredient do I need to add ? Thanks.

  • Petra Geckova

    cream cheese can also be coloured 🙂 im not fan of standard icing, always use this cheesy one only and i do a lot of funky colors 🙂