- 3 cups cake flour, sifted
- 1 3/ 4 cups granulated sugar
- 1/ 4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 2/ 3 cups buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2-3 drops red gel food coloring
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons meringue powder, optional
- 1/ 4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- 2 tablespoons milk, or cream, if needed
Baking Notes: Your dairy ingredients (eggs, buttermilk, butter and cream cheese) should be at room temperature for best results. Cake flour is best in this cake. It makes a much lighter cake than all-purpose flour does. Use the "spoon and sweep" method to measure your flour, and be sure to sift the cake flour after measuring. I use Hershey's Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder, which is a blend of natural and Dutch process cocoa powders. The type of cocoa powder you use will affect both the rise and the red color of the cake. I used Wilton Tip 1M for the piping on the cake. Note that the buttercream recipe below is enough to frost the cake, but you'll need a little extra if you plan to pipe it onto the cake in the design that I made. Increase the butter to 1 1/2 cups and the powdered sugar to 6 cups if you'll be piping the buttercream onto the cake.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and spray the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with non-stick spray.
In a bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.
In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla and a few drops of red gel food coloring. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and whisk briefly, just until combined and smooth; don't over-mix.
Divide the batter between the pans and bake on the middle rack in the oven for about 25-28 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean and the tops spring back when gently touched.
Set the cakes on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely before frosting.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the butter and cream cheese for several minutes until smooth. Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder by spoonfuls, mixing on low to combine. Add the salt, vanilla and milk (if needed to slightly thin the buttercream), and whip on medium speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy. Be careful not to add too much milk; cream cheese buttercream is softer than all-butter buttercream, and needs to be thicker if you plan on piping it onto your cake.
Fill and stack the cake layers with the buttercream, then frost all-over with a very thin crumb coat of buttercream; chill for 30 minutes. Frost (or pipe) the remaining buttercream onto the cake.
The cake should be served at room temperature, but leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator.