Food & Drink

Darius King’s Classic Red Velvet Cake

With plenty of room for tweaks, this rich dessert makes a foolproof Valentine’s Day finale

Photo: Darius King

Sometimes, the best dish for an occasion is the most obvious one. Such is the case with Darius King’s red velvet cake: When Valentine’s Day rolls around, the Garden & Gun Club sous chef can think of no better dessert to mark the holiday. “It’s a Southern classic,” he says. “I always associate it with this time of year.”

Darius King.

After he tested multiple versions, the chef landed on a flexible base recipe with room for modification. “You can use substitutes for pretty much any of the ingredients,” King says. “I prefer apple cider vinegar for its subtle kick, but any standard vinegar will do. And if you’d rather swap sour cream or yogurt for the buttermilk, that works just as well.”

When it comes to the icing, consistency is key. “Make sure all the ingredients are room temperature,” King says. “You want the smoothest cream cheese possible, and when you’re mixing, remember to constantly scrape the sides of the bowl.” A veteran of the Piggly Wiggly cake decorating department, King also knows his way around a spatula. “There’s really no right or wrong way to ice a cake though,” he assures home bakers. “Just go slow. The most common mistake people make when icing is just trying to rush through it.” Red velvet cake can be especially crumby, so patience and control are key. Here, tools and technique are as flexible as the cake’s ingredients. “You could do some piping with a pastry bag, or simply spread with a knife or a spatula. You just have to find what you’re most comfortable with and go for it.”


  • For the cake (Yield: 1 double-layer cake or 2 single-layer cakes)

    • 2½ cups all purpose flour

    • 1 tsp. baking soda

    • ½ tsp. salt

    • 1 tsp. cocoa powder

    • 1½ cups granulated sugar

    • 2 eggs

    • 1½ cups canola oil

    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

    • 1 oz. red food coloring

    • 1 cup buttermilk

    • 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar

  • For the Cream Cheese Icing

    • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened

    • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

    • ¼ tsp. salt

    • 4 cups powdered sugar


  1. Make the cake:

    Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 round 8-inch cake pans with baking spray.

  2. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

  3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the sugar, eggs, and canola oil. Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated.

  4. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

  5. Add the red food coloring and let it incorporate into the batter.

  6. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk in four alternating portions with buttermilk going in last (flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk). Scrape down the sides of the bowl thoroughly between pours.

  7. Add the apple cider vinegar and mix well.

  8. Pour the batter into the two prepared pans and bake for 20–25 minutes. Using a toothpick or fork, poke the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

  9. Let the cake rest for at least 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Once removed, let the cake cool completely before decorating.

  10. Note: At this stage, the two cakes can be iced separately, or stacked with a layer of icing in between to create a two-layer cake. For a four-layer cake (as seen in photo), cut the two cakes in half horizontally and stack, icing between each layer.

  11. Make the cream cheese icing:

    Combine the butter and cream cheese in a bowl. Beat until well-incorporated and lump free.

  12. Add the vanilla extract and salt and stir well to combine.

  13. With a mixer on low, slowly add the powdered sugar until completely combined.

The Garden & Gun Club at the Battery Atlanta is open for lunch and dinner and accepts walk-in diners and reservations. Online ordering for pick-up is also available. Visit the Club’s website for more information.