This rich, chocolaty Southern favorite has its own culinary mythology: a couple at the Waldorf-Astoria, a shared slice of bright red chocolate cake, a request for the recipe, and the surprise of later finding a $100 charge on their room bill. Maybe all desserts this good deserve a legend.

EatingWell Test Kitchen
Source: EatingWell Magazine, April/May 2006


Recipe Summary

2 hrs


Cream cheese frosting & garnish


Instructions Checklist
  • To prepare cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.

  • Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

  • Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until crumbly, about 2 minutes. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, then vanilla and food coloring (if using) until smooth.

  • Beat in half the buttermilk on low speed until smooth, then half the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat in the remaining buttermilk. Beat in the remaining flour mixture just until combined.

  • Clean and dry beaters. Beat egg whites in a clean medium bowl at high speed until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the whites into the batter until just incorporated, using long, even strokes. Divide the batter between the prepared pans, spreading to the edges. Gently rap the pans against the counter once or twice to settle the batter.

  • Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the layers onto the rack, remove the pans and let cool to room temperature, about 45 minutes more.

  • To prepare frosting & assemble cake: Beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Place one cake layer top-side down on a serving plate; cover with half the frosting, spreading just to the edges. Set the second layer on top, top-side down. Spread the remaining frosting on the top only. Sprinkle with grated chocolate, if desired.


Make Ahead Tip: Wrap the cake layers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 1 day. Assemble and frost when ready to serve.

Cake-Baking Tips:
When using cake pans, they must be greased and floured to create a thin layer of protection against the oven's heat. For greater convenience, use a cooking spray that has flour in the mix, such as Pam for Baking, Baker's Joy or Crisco No-Stick Flour Spray.

Whole-wheat pastry flour has less gluten-forming potential than regular whole-wheat flour, making it a better choice for tender baked goods.

To properly measure flour when baking, use a spoon to lightly scoop flour from its container into a measuring cup. Once in the measuring cup, use a knife or other straight edge to level the flour with the top of the cup. If the measuring cup is dipped directly into the container--a common mistake--the flour will be packed into the cup and result in extra flour being added to the recipe, yielding tough, dense baked goods.

Room-temperature butter for a batter is one of the biggest culinary missteps. In fact, butter must be below 68°F to trap air molecules and build structure. Otherwise, the fat will be liquefied and the cake will be flat. To get “cool” butter: Cut refrigerated butter into chunks and let them sit in a bowl for 5 minutes before beating.

Eggs must be at room temperature for the proteins to unwind enough to support the cake's crumb. Either set the eggs out on the counter for 15 minutes or submerge them in their shells in a bowl of lukewarm (not hot) water for 5 minutes.

Although you cannot overbeat the eggs, sugar and butter, you can overbeat the flour. If you do, you'll develop the gluten and create a quick bread rather than a layer cake. Beat the flour just until there are no white grains of undissolved flour visible but not until the batter is smooth.

Ingredient Note: If you prefer not to use food dye, you can omit it completely: just add 4 more teaspoons of buttermilk to the batter (your cake will, however, be more brown than red). Natural food dyes, while less vibrant than conventional dyes, are chemical-, lactose- and gluten-free, but they vary widely in availability. Check for them at your local natural-foods store.

Nutrition Facts

277 calories; protein 6.2g; carbohydrates 38.6g; dietary fiber 1.7g; sugars 24.9g; fat 11.4g; saturated fat 6.7g; cholesterol 61.9mg; vitamin a iu 379.8IU; folate 36.1mcg; calcium 75.1mg; iron 1.1mg; magnesium 24.5mg; potassium 153.6mg; sodium 322.4mg; thiamin 0.1mg.

Reviews (14)

Read More Reviews
14 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 1
  • 4 star values: 7
  • 3 star values: 1
  • 2 star values: 1
  • 1 star values: 4
Rating: 4 stars
it was lovely...the texture was great too Read More
Rating: 4 stars
Subtle simple satisfying! I just used all-purpose flour (couldn't find wwpf anywhere) and lowfat buttermilk (couldn't find nonfat) and only.25 oz food coloring. Maybe these were necessary changes because I loved how the cake came out! Surprised that several people had such negative experiences but my whole family really enjoyed the cake. Frosting was perfect - not too sweet. I decorated it with raspberries definitely a great addition! I will definitely bookmark this one. Pros: Not too difficult to make good flavor and texture Cons: Difficult to find whole wheat pastry flour Read More
Rating: 3 stars
A Decent Red Velvet adaptation Your entry for the fiber content is wrong. Please recalculate. It is one (1) gram per serving. Not two (2). Pros: You can eat without burdensome guilt Cons: Your nutritional facts are too often misculated Read More
Rating: 4 stars
Do not substitute regular whole wheat flour. I did not have good luck with this cake. The cream cheese frosting tasted good but it did not make up for the poor flavor of the cake. Also 8" cake pans would work fine. Read More
Rating: 2 stars
Healthy? Not by a long shot! Never use food dyes as they contain harsh chemicals such as red dye #40 in them. Do a search on the use of these food dyes and stop putting those chemicals in your body. Also red coloring is full of natural flavors do you know what natural means? Insect parts from Beatles. Yep. No thanks I will pass on adding artificial and natural flavors to any recipe. My health means more to me than a vain colorant. Also the cream cheese has Carageenan in it. Something that is known to cause inflammation in the bowels. Cons: RED dye Read More
Rating: 4 stars
I made the cake by subsituting Softasilk in place of the whole wheat flour that this particular recipe calls for. The cake came out great. Very moist. Would make again. Read More
Rating: 4 stars
I made this Recipe almost exactly as written...a little less sugar( I use raw sugar) and only as much red food coloring as I had. It came out just lovely. After reading some of the reviews I was a little apprehensive. Obviously those who wrote them made some kind of error in technique or ingredient. Not as accomplished and educated as they thought I guess;) Thanks for posting Read More
Rating: 4 stars
Didn't have any pastry flour so I used 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour substituted "sour" milk for buttermilk and 8 oz fat free cream cheese and 4 oz full fat cream cheese for the 12 low fat cream cheese didn't eat it yet but it looks great! Read More
Rating: 4 stars
I made this recipe almost exact....a little less sugar and a little less food coloring. It came out just lovely. I was a bit apprehensive after reading the reviews but obviously those must have made some error in technique or ingredient. Thanks for posting:) Read More