Red Velvet Cake with Boiled Milk Icing

red velvet cake

I was thrilled when I found this recipe in Jesse Oleson Moore’s The Secret Lives of Baked Goods because so many bakers overlook cooked icing and go for cream-cheese frosting. Now, you might love red velvet cake with cream-cheese frosting – and even think that it is the original pairing – but give this one a try, which some proponents say is the icing that is meant to crown your red velvet cake.


Adapted from The Secret Lives of Baked Goods (Sasquatch Books) by Jesse Oleson Moore. Photos by Clare Barboza.

This is an old-fashioned red velvet cake, large and lovely. I’ve made some updates: the recipe calls for butter instead of oil or shortening, which I believe offers a richer flavor, and the food coloring? Yes, it’s there, and there’s a lot. It’s up to you how much to use—depends on whether you want a cake that whispers or one that shouts.

Red Velvet Cake with Boiled Milk Icing
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • About 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 2 heaping tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2¼ cups cake flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
Boiled Milk Frosting:
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional garnish: chocolate shavings, sprinkles or red candies
  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven; preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of three, 8-inch round cake pans.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.
  4. In a small bowl, make a paste of the food coloring and cocoa. Add this paste to the butter mixture, beating on low speed so that you don't send drops of red coloring everywhere! Add the flour alternately with the buttermilk, ensuring that each addition is fully mixed in before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Stir in the salt and vanilla.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar (it will fizz up). Immediately mix it into the batter until everything is combined. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans; smooth and level the batter with an offset set or rubber spatula.
  6. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out mostly clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes; loosen the sides from the pan using a small paring knife, then turn the cakes onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before frosting.
  7. For Frosting: Whisk together the milk with the flour until smooth.
  8. Transfer to a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking continuously until it comes to a low boil. Remove the pan from the stove and transfer the hot mixture into a medium bowl; place plastic wrap directly against the milk’s surface to prevent it from forming a skin. Let cool.
  9. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar and salt on high speed until very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and mix on medium speed for another 1 to 2 minutes.
  10. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually pour the cooled milk mixture into the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 to 7 minutes; during this time, the frosting will become smooth and fluffy, which will give it a more pleasing texture and a more easily spreadable consistency.
  11. For the Assembly: Set one of the layers on a plate with its flattest side up. Spread about one-quarter of the icing on top, stopping a little short of the outside edge of the cake. Add another layer of cake, press lightly. Place your last cake on top and press lightly. Frost the sides and then the top of the cake with the remainder of the frosting. If desired, garnish with chocolate shavings, sprinkles or red candies.

9 Responses to Red Velvet Cake with Boiled Milk Icing

  1. Betsy Clasby July 23, 2014 at 8:56 pm #

    Wow! I have never heard of a boiled milk frosting before! Would you say it is less sweet than cream cheese frosting? I always end up using a ganache, or mousse on cakes, because frosting is way too sweet for me.
    Thanks for the help!

    • Dede Wilson July 24, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

      Yes, I think it is less sweet; that’s once reason that I like it. Sometimes I think the cream cheese frostings compete with the delicate flavor of Red Velvet – but it is all about personal preference!

  2. Sally Wallace March 18, 2015 at 10:11 pm #

    Hi Ms. D, i never made this kind of icing before. Will it hold shape like rosettes. I want to pipe it. Thanks

    • Dede Wilson March 19, 2015 at 8:10 am #

      Hi Sally, no I wouldn’t count on it holding up that well. But it is such an interesting frosting to try. Let us know if you do.

  3. Sherry Warrenfeltz Wolfe June 5, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    I made this icing three times this week. It is perfect if you do not like sweet icing. It is just sweet enough. Can you freeze it? Will it last In the frig for a week? Thanks.

    • Dede Wilson June 6, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

      Sherry Thank you for commenting. I too love the just-sweet-enough aspect. I have never tried to freeze it and my instinct is that this will not work. It could last maybe 4 days in fridge although bringing it back to life might be problematic. I think we need to take this for what it is – a great icing made last minute. However, if you should decide to experiment, please let us know what you find out!

  4. Carmen Johnson March 29, 2022 at 1:10 pm #

    I’ve been using this same recipe ( I have in my recipe box) with the boiled milk icing and it’s the BEST! My kids love it! It does take more time but worth it! Keep refrigerated!!!

    • Braunwyne Mulkerne December 19, 2022 at 12:54 pm #

      I’m heartbroken to have misplaced the original hand written copy of my grandmother’s recipe for red velvet cake. This recipe sounds like hers. I plan to try it. There is absolutely nothing like it. In my opinion the cream cheese iced, bright red cake just isn’t authentic.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to toolbar