Red Velvet Cake with Chocolate Ganache Filling

Have you ever found yourself eating red velvet cake and thinking "hmm, isn't this cake supposed to have some chocolate in it?". I certainly have. While the cake does in fact contain cocoa, it's delicate, and can easily be overshadowed by the rich cream cheese frosting which typically covers the cake.

This red velvet cake brings chocolate back with a sweet surprise: in addition to the rich cream cheese frosting used to cover it on the top and sides, it has a deliciously decadent chocolate ganache filling, too. The ganache brings out the cocoa-scented flavor of the cake, and it works in sweet harmony with the cream cheese. It's a beautiful way to unify the flavors of red velvet. 

No, it's not traditional; no, I'm not sorry. Because this cake tastes great. 

Red Velvet Cake with Ganache Filling

Makes 1 9-inch cake

For the cake

  • 2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (not dutch-process), sifted
  • 1 teaspoon concentrated gel food coloring
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 2 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar

Note: this recipe has been adjusted for high altitude by reducing the sugar by ¼ cup and by increasing the buttermilk by 2 tablespoons. 

Ganache filling 

  • 1/2 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • pinch salt 

Cream cheese frosting 

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese, softened (do not use low-fat)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease, flour, and line with parchment 2 8-inch round cake pans.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the sifted cocoa, food coloring, and water. Mix together until it forms a thick but lump-free paste. Set to the side.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour and salt. Give them a stir to combine; set to the side.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar. Mix on medium-high speed for 3 minutes; the mixture should be fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the coloring mix.
  6. Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, mixing on low speed and scraping the bowl after each addition.
  7. Now, gear yourself up to move quickly for a few minutes. Don’t be tempted to pick up the phone or take a bathroom break.
  8. In a ½ cup size bowl or larger, combine the baking soda and vinegar (it will bubble up--don’t panic, that’s why you used the size cup you did to mix) and add it immediately to the batter. Mix until combined.
  9. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and put in the oven.
  10. Bake for 25 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the edges, and turn the cakes out on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. If the cakes have formed domes, level using a serrated knife.
  12. Make the ganache. In a saucepan, heat the cream on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to discourage scorching on the bottom of the pan. Bring it just barely to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, remove from heat immediately. Pour on top of the chocolate. Using a wire whisk, mix the chocolate and cream together until they have become smooth, and the chocolate has melted into the cream. It will be the consistency of a thick hot fudge sauce. Stir in the salt, mixing until smooth. Wait until it has come to room temperature (it will solidify more) before using to fill the cake. 
  13. Make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cream cheese and butter until very smooth. Stir in the vanilla. Add the confectioners' sugar one cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and pausing to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. You may not add all of the confectioners' sugar.
  14. Assemble the cake. Place one of the layers with the flattest side up on a serving platter. Coat it generously with a thick layer of ganache. You might not use all of the ganache, but if you have extra I don't think this is a bad thing for your life and snacking for the next day or two. Place the second layer on top, flattest side up again. Now, cover all over with that tasty cream cheese frosting. You might want to apply a crumb coat, but it is not necessary. Do, however, cover the cake very generously.
  15. Store in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature. 

 Do you like Red Velvet cake?