Made with buttermilk and cocoa powder, this classic Waldorf Astoria red velvet cake recipe is moist with a hint of chocolate that isn’t too rich. Add on the traditional 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 early 1930’s…although some would argue that it is actually a classic Southern cake recipes.
In either case, it’s one of my absolute favorite cake recipes!
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: cake flour, baking soda, salt, granulated sugar
- Dairy: buttermilk, 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: vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder
- Food Coloring: red liquid food coloring works best since it is the easiest to get evenly distributed. However, you can use gel food coloring if that’s what you have on hand (See below for the change in the instructions).
- Vinegar: white distilled vinegar
Here’s the ingredients for the traditional icing:
- Baking supplies: all-purpose flour, confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar)
- Dairy: butter, milk
- Flavoring: vanilla extract
Here’s what you need to make the cake:
- 2 small bowls
- stand mixer and mixing bowl with paddle attachment
- 2 or 3 8″ cake pans or 2 12-cup muffin tins
Here’s the equipment for the traditional icing:
- small sauce pan
- stand mixer and mixing bowl with paddle attachment
How To Make Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake
Before you start, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF.
Take 1 stick (½ cup) butter (if you are using it) and 2 eggs out of the refrigerator a few hours in advance. If they are too cold when you mix them, the cake will turn out heavy and dense.
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.
Grease 2 or 3 8-inch cake pans (or line the bottoms with parchment paper.) For cupcakes, put cupcake liners in the muffin tins.
Pour the cake batter into the 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.
How to Make Traditional Red Velvet Cake 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!
Spread the frosting between the cake layers and over the top and sides of the cake. Or spread over the tops of cupcakes with a knife.
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.
Other Classic Dessert Recipes You Might Like
Waldorf Astoria Red Velvet Cake
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
- mixer and mixing bowl with paddle attachment
- 2 bowls
- 2 or 3 8-inch cake tins or 2 12-cup muffin tins
- Sauce pan
How to make 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.
How to make red velvet cake 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.
- Spread frosting between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake. Or spread over the top of cupcakes with a knife.
- Makes enough icing for 2 or 3 8″ cake layers or 24 cupcakes.
- 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.