Red Velvet Cake, the easy way, using a mix

Someone around here had a birthday recently!

Someone who turned 26 and has been going to civil war reenactments for 10 years now. Someone who has a civil war rifle named Marabelle that he shoots off every 4th of July and New Years, who prefers to sleep on the cold, hard, damp ground under the stars than in his white canvas civil war tent. Someone who loves to eat hash out of the can that has been heated up by the campfire, burnt on the bottom and cold in the middle and is trying to grow a handlebar mustache; who loves the smell of black powder in the air on a ‘battle field’ and is always asking me to make hard tack.

He also loves Red Velvet Cake!

He is not much of a cake eater, usually preferring fruit crisps or trifles. But his girlfriend reminded me of this one exception.

Boo-ya! This, I think, I can do.

A few years ago I did make a red velvet cake using red wine instead of dye. It used lots of butter and sugar. It turned out a reddish-brown with strong wine overtones that deepened over time. If anyone wants, I can post that recipe sometime. But for now, the easy-peasy, non-winey way is the way for me. I think I have seen cake mixes for Red Velvet cakes, but I already had this mix on hand and I like ‘doctoring up’ the mixes this way. In fact, this recipe is from the infamous “Cake Mix Doctor” herself, Anne Byrn. I just love her! I have her earliest book, “The Cake Mix Doctor” and it is stained and worn out with love. The security of a cake mix with the added ingredients to give it that special something. She even sells her own mixes now, if you can find them. Thank you Ann for this one. I am only changing a thing or two.

??????????????????????I would change one thing next time though. This recipe called for vinegar and baking soda. The fizzy lifting of that concoction may be what made this cake so soft. The problem being that, while the top layer was a happy camper, the middle layer started compressing and the bottom layer was straining under the load of it all. I think, for a sturdier texture, I would leave those elements out next time. But the cake did taste soft and delicious with its cream cheese icing!

Red Velvet Cake with a mix


  • 1 18.5 oz box butter recipe golden cake mix
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
  • 1 (1 oz) bottle red food coloring (or red food paste from cake shop)
  • 1 stick  melted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • Frosting:
  • 1  8 oz pkg. cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 cups sifted powdered sugar

Cooking Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare 3 8″ round baking pans. I like to line them with parchment paper.It takes the worry out of releasing the cake from the pan. You can also use wax paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients and mix, with a hand mixer or a standing mixer. (Keep in mind what I said earlier about vinegar and baking soda. It turned out good tasting, but soft. You might want to try it without. Using a mix makes it pretty fool-proof anyway. Note to future me: try it without.)
  4. Mix until on slow speed until all ingredients are incorporated, then on medium speed for 2 more minutes.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, pour the batter evenly into the pans, approx. 1 1/2 cups per pan. Smooth over the tops.
  6. If you have it, wrap the pans with baking strips. These are some kind of magic things that you soak in water, then wrap around the pans to keep the metal cooler. This is to your cakes won’t dome in the middle, cooking faster around the outsides. But if you don’t have these, just proceed as usual and make a mental note to pick some up next time you are at Hobby Lobby.
  7. So, pans ready? Batter poured? Bake! Bake until they are pulling away from the sides of the pan and the tops spring back when lightly touched with a finger.
  8. This takes anywhere from 17-22 minutes. You may want to rotate pans as well.
  9. Take out when done and cool in pans on rack for 5 minutes.
  10. Run a knife around the edges of the pans. Place a cooling rack of the cake pan and invert onto the rack, then invert again so it is right side up. Let cool completely.
  11. I prefer to frost a frozen cake. It makes it much easier. You can either freeze after removing from the cake pans. or, if you used parchment in the pan, you can freeze right in the pan, wrapping with plastic wrap first.
  12. For the frosting: Cream the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla, then sift in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing in until light and fluffy.
  13. Place 1 layer of cake, frozen or not, on your cake plate. Using a soft brush, brush off the loose crumbs.
  14. Put a layer of frosting over the top. Place the second layer over this one, right side up. Add frosting, then the third layer, also right side up. Put a thin coating of frosting over all and chill for about half an hour.
  15. Remove from fridge and now frost over that layer. This way there will be less crumbs of red cake clinging to the outer layer of frosting. I did not do this to the sides and you can see plenty of red cake mixed in. But I made up for it on top!
  16. I then stored the cake in the fridge until the next day, when we were having his birthday dinner. Since it is a cream cheese frosting, you should keep it chilled.

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