Made with buttermilk and cocoa powder, this original Waldorf Astoria red velvet cake recipe is moist with a hint of chocolate that isn’t too rich. Add on the traditional cooked red velvet cake icing with its whipped cream consistency and you have a dessert that’s to-die-for!
This is the classic red velvet cake recipe from the Waldorf Astoria.
The story goes that the restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City was the first to serve this cake, back when it first opened in the 1920’s. Although some would argue that it is actually a classic Southern cake recipes.
In either case, it’s one of my absolute favorite cakes!
This red velvet cake has a chocolate flavor but isn’t too rich and uses buttermilk to make sure it is moist.
The original Waldorf Astoria recipe includes an unusual buttercream icing recipe that is so light and fluffy it almost looks (and tastes) like whipped cream.
It’s a little finnicky to make and requires a lot of beating to get it that light and fluffy.
But some people swear it is the only frosting that should ever be used on a red velvet cake.
(However, if you’re a cream cheese icing lover like me, you can serve red velvet cake with this fluffy cream cheese frosting instead. I promise I won’t tell…)
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Here’s your shopping list for the cake:
- Baking supplies: 2¼ cups cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt, 1½ cups granulated sugar
- Dairy: 1 cup buttermilk, 1 stick (or ½ cup) shortening or unsalted butter – the original recipe calls for shortening (which may make the cake a little moister) but I prefer the taste of butter
- Eggs: 2 large ones
- Flavoring: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Food Coloring: 2 Tablespoons red liquid food coloring works best since it is the easiest to get evenly distributed.
- Vinegar: 1 Tablespoon white distilled vinegar
Here’s the ingredients for the traditional icing:
- Baking supplies: 5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar)
- Dairy: 1 cup (or 2 sticks) butter, 1 cup milk
- Flavoring: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- You can substitute 1 teaspoon of red gel food coloring instead of the liquid food coloring if that’s what you have on hand.
- Or if you don’t want to use food coloring, omit it and buy natural cocoa that has not been alkalized. It will be more acidic and react with the buttermilk and vinegar to create a naturally red color. (Although it won’t be as red as using food color).
- If you prefer, you can use our cream cheese icing recipe instead of the traditional frosting.
How to make the original red velvet cake
This recipe make 2 or 3 8-inch layers or 24 cupcakes.
Take the butter, eggs and buttermilk out of the refrigerator a couple of hours in advance. If they are too cold when you mix them, the cake will turn out heavy and dense.
Before you start, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 ºF.
Grease 2 or 3 8-inch cake pans (or line the bottoms with parchment paper.) For cupcakes, put cupcake liners in the muffin tins.
Mix the cake batter
Add ½ cup of shortening or butter, 1 cup sugar, and 2 eggs to the stand mixer.
Beat until they are light and fluffy (2 to 3 minutes). This is another important step in helping the cake to turn out with the right texture.
The original recipe called for liquid red food coloring. If you are using this:
- Mix 2 Tablespoons of liquid red food coloring and 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder in a small bowl to form a paste.
- Add the food color/cocoa mixture to the butter mixture and mix until combined.
If you are using gel food coloring:
- Mix about 1 teaspoon directly into the creamed shortening (or butter) mixture.
- Then mix in 2 Tablespoons of cocoa powder.
In another small bowl, mix 2¼ cups of cake flour with ½ teaspoon salt.
To make sure the cake turns out perfectly, it is important to follow the next few steps in order:
- Add 1/3 of the flour to the butter mixture. Beat just until combined.
- Next add 1/2 cup of buttermilk to the butter mixture and beat until combined.
- Mix in the next 1/3 of the flour mixture until combined.
- Then add another 1/2 cup of buttermilk and mix again.
- Add the last 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat again.
- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix until combined.
- Then mix in 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar until it is combined.
- Finally, add 1 teaspoon baking soda to the cake mixture and beat a few more seconds until combined.
Bake the cake
Pour the cake batter into the greased cake pans or spoon it into the muffin tins.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for a cake, or 20 to 25 minutes for cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let cool completely before icing.
Make the traditional icing
Mix the flour and milk together in a saucepan, making sure to get rid of any lumps.
Over medium heat, cook the flour and milk mixture until very thick (almost solid), stirring constantly.
Let cool completely.
In the meantime, beat the butter, vanilla and the confectioners’ sugar together with the mixer until light and fluffy (2 to 3 minutes).
Make sure the flour mixture is completely cooled before continuing to the next step. Otherwise, it will melt the butter and your icing will turn into a soupy mess.
Add the milk and flour mixture into the butter mixture.
Beat it at high speed until it is very fluffy. It should have a whipped cream consistency when it is done. This will take some time!
Note: This icing is very soft so it isn’t appropriate for piping.
Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Makes enough to frost 2 or 3 8-inch layer cakes, or 24 cupcakes.
Frost the cake
Spread the frosting between the cake layers and over the top and sides of the cake.
Or you can make a naked red velvet cake by spreading icing between the layers and on the top, leaving the sides open so you can see the cake.
If you made cupcakes, spread the frosting over the tops of the cupcakes with a knife.
How to store
Red velvet cake that has not been frosted can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature for a couple of days.
However, once it has been frosted, it needs to be refrigerated because of the icing.
If I’m making the cake ahead of time, I usually make the cake and frosting and store them separately. Then wait until shortly before the party to put it together.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, red velvet cake is made with cocoa powder so it has a chocolate flavor. But it isn’t as rich as a traditional chocolate cake because of the buttermilk and vinegar.
The frosting on the original Waldorf Astoria red velvet cake was a light and fluffy cooked icing. However, most people today use cream cheese frosting.
If it has not been frosted, red velvet cake does not need to be refrigerated. However, since the icing is made with dairy products, cake that has been frosted should be.
Other Dessert Recipes You Might Like
Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake
- mixer and mixing bowl with paddle attachment
- 2 bowls
- 2 or 3 8-inch cake tins or 2 12-cup muffin tins
- Sauce pan
Red velvet cake
- ½ cup (or 1 stick) shortening or butter softened
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 2 Tablespoons liquid red food coloring
- 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2¼ cups cake flour
- 1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon distilled white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup butter softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Red velvet cake
- Heat the oven to 350° F
- Beat the shortening (or butter), sugar, and eggs with the mixer until they are light and fluffy (2 to 3 minutes).
- In a separate bowl, mix enough of the red food coloring with the cocoa powder to form a red-colored paste.
- Add the food color/cocoa mixture to the shortening mixture and mix until combined.
- In another bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
- Add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the shortening mixture and beat just until combined.
- Then mix in ½ of the buttermilk.
- Add the next ⅓ of the flour, followed by the other ½ of the buttermilk and then the last ⅓ of the flour, beating until combined between each addition.
- Add vanilla, vinegar and baking soda to the shortening mixture in that order, mixing in between each addition.
- Pour into 2 or 3 8-inch cake pans or 24 muffin tins.
- Bake for 30 minutes for a cake, or 25 minutes for cupcakes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Let cool completely before icing.
- In a saucepan, stir together flour and milk making sure to get rid of any lumps.
- Over medium heat, cook the flour and milk until very thick, stirring constantly.
- Let cool completely.
- In the meantime, beat the butter, vanilla and the confectioners' sugar together with the mixer until fluffy (2 to 3 minutes).
- Add the flour mixture into the butter mixture together and beat until it is very fluffy. It should have a whipped cream texture when it is done.
Frost the cake
- Spread frosting between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake. Or spread over the top of cupcakes with a knife.
- For the best texture, make sure to use cake flour and sift it before measuring.
- Using room temperature eggs and butter (or shortening) and then beating them with the sugar until they are light and fluffy will add air to the cake and prevent it from turning out too heavy and dense,
- Bring the buttermilk to room temperature for the best results.
- If you are using gel red food coloring instead of liquid, add it directly into the creamed shortening mixture. Then add the cocoa powder.
- For the icing, make sure that the flour and milk mixture is completely cool before adding it to the butter mixture. Otherwise, it will melt the butter which will ruin the icing.
- This traditional red velvet cake icing is too soft to be piped, so it’s not a good choice for decorating the cake
- Substitute cream cheese icing for the traditional version if desired. Read our fluffy cream cheese frosting recipe HERE.
Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.
Have comments or questions about the original red velvet cake recipe? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on May 20, 2015 but was updated with new content on May 13, 2022.