How to Make a Purple Velvet Cake
This purple velvet cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting (in purple) is adapted from an Epicurious red velvet cake. I clearly remember the first time I made the red version. I brought it to a friend’s house for a potluck, and someone asked me to make the cake for their wedding. Talk about instilling fear in a new cake baker.
This cake is the third of my favorite birthday cakes for my 50th birthday cake-a-palooza. Cake #1 was the tiramisu cake (all the goodness of tiramisu without raw egg). Cake #2 was the fudgy triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache icing. I promise, if you are a chocolate lover, that is the cake for you.
This cocoa-flavored purple velvet cake was also created for the reddit 52 weeks of baking challenge, week 15: Decoration Challenge: Monochrome. I was originally going to make the traditional red velvet cake and turn my white chocolate cream cheese frosting red, but I seem to have a purple thing going with recipes like this purple cow milk bread, mashed purple sweet potatoes, and ube crinkle cookies. I’m running with it.
Red velvet cake was reported developed around the end of the 19th century. It is traditionally made with just a hint of cocoa, using a only a tablespoon or two for the cocoa’s anthocyanin which produces a red color when combined with buttermilk and vinegar. That red isn’t particularly vibrant, so many recipes now include food coloring in one shape or form.
Tips and tricks for this recipe
I’ve adapted the original recipe in a few ways. When I make chocolate cakes, I always dust my greased cake pans with cocoa powder instead of flour to avoid any possibility of having noticeable white powder on the outside of my cakes. I’ve also tripled the amount of cocoa in order to give the cake more chocolate flavor. It makes it harder to get a rich purple color, but I’ll take that challenge in order to have a cake taste like chocolate, eh?
And I made it a purple velvet cake. I have been using the Wilton concentrated food coloring, and the cake layers took 46 drops of pink, 8 drops of blue, and 1 drop of red. It still doesn’t achieve a deep purple color, but it’s clearly purple. For the frosting, I frosted the inside of the cake and a thin layer of the outside using 5 drops of pink, 2 blue, and 1 red, and then did a second layer after adding 3 more drops of pink and 1 of blue. If you are using a different food coloring, play around with it until you get your desired color. The frosting will be more forgiving than the cake with extra beating.
In looking at the monochrome challenge, I wish I had thought to make it a purple ombre. Next time.
FAQs about this purple velvet cake
It tastes just like red velvet cake – it has a mild chocolate flavor with a soft, velvety texture (thus the name). If you are looking for a more chocolatey cake, check out my fudgy triple layer chocolate cake (linked above and below).
Vinegar is added to this cake in order to provide leavening as part of a chemical reaction with the baking soda.
Do you have to do anything? No. But there is so much variation in how people measure that you are much more likely to get a reliable result if you weigh your ingredients
Absolutely, especially if you decorate the cake simply like I do. After the cake has been in the refrigerator overnight, I cut the cake into family sized portions. I double-wrap each piece in plastic wrap and then place it in a plastic bag with as much air removed as possible. When you want to eat a piece, remove it from the refrigerator, unwrap it and put it on a plate, and let it come to room temperature before serving.
If you’re like me and you like only a thin layer of frosting on the cake, you might end up with extra icing. You can freeze frostings and have a variety for a batch of cupcakes. Or use extra frosting for cake balls or cake pops the next time you have a cake failure. Because they happen to all of us.
Yes, though given those anthocyanins in the cake, orange would probably be easier.
Related cake recipes
Make another cake from the Ugly Duckling Bakery archives for cakes, cakes, and more cakes like:
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.
Purple Velvet Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
- Two 9 inch round cake pans
- 2 cups (240 grams) cake flour
- 6 tablespoons (36 grams) unsweetened cocoa not Dutch processed, if possible. Plus more for dusting the cake pans
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened plus more for greasing the cake pans
- 1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk use a 2cup measuring cup for convenience
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- food coloring, if desired (see notes)
White chocolate cream cheese frosting
- 4 ounces white chocolate
- 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- food coloring, if desired (see notes)
Purple velvet cake layers
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease and line two 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper and dust with cocoa powder.
- Sift the dry ingredients for the cake layers (flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) into a medium bowl.2 cups (240 grams) cake flour, 6 tablespoons (36 grams) unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ¼ teaspoon salt
- In the bowl of stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer), beat the butter for 3 to 5 minutes until soft and light, scraping the bowl intermittently.8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- Add the sugar, and beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, another 1 to 2 minutes.1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat for one minute after each one.2 eggs, room temperature
- Scrape the bowl, add the vanilla, and beat for an additional minute.1 teaspoon vanilla
- Measure out the buttermilk into a 2 cup measuring cup, and then add the vinegar and food coloring (see notes) to the measuring cup.1 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon white vinegar, food coloring, if desired (see notes)
- Add the dry ingredients in three parts and alternate with the buttermilk mixture (in two parts), starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix only as long as needed to incorporate the addition, and scrape down the bowl as needed.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans, even the batter out in the pan, and give it one or two gentle thwacks (i.e. careful drops) onto the kitchen counter to remove any air bubbles.
- Bake on a middle rack of the oven for about 25 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean. I start checking for doneness at about 18 to 20 minutes.
- Cool the cake layers in the pans for about 10 minutes and then turn out onto cooling racks. Cool completely.
White chocolate cream cheese frosting
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, being careful not to overheat the white chocolate. Let cool.4 ounces white chocolate
- In a mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter together until soft.6 ounces unsalted butter, softened, 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
- Add the vanilla and cooled white chocolate and blend.1 teaspoon vanilla
- Add food coloring, if using, to achieve desired color.food coloring, if desired (see notes)
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Week 1: New Year new recipe – blueberry galette
Week 2: seasonal – Smitten Kitchen’s grapefruit pound cake
Week 3: Great British Bake Off – Kate’s sticky toffee apple caramel cake
Week 4: Australia – sausage rolls
Week 5: bite sized – bite-sized cookies
Week 6: Chinese New Year – mushroom bao
Week 7: new tool – baguette baker
Week 8: chocolate – chocolate peanut butter bonbons
Week 9: timed bake – under 1 hour! chocolate chip scones
Week 10: allergy/diet restriction – macarons
Week 11: quick breads – kale bread
Week 12: signature bake – purple cow bread
Week 13: enriched breads (kale and cheese babka fail)
Week 14: childhood favorite –fudgy triple layer chocolate cake with chocolate ganache frosting
Next week: crispy crunchy
Love this! Did you really use 46 drops of pink food coloring? Or is that a typo (she says hopefully)?
Thanks, Hillary. Nope, not a typo. The Wilton Color Right concentrated food coloring “color mixing guide” recommends 45 drops of pink, 6 of blue, and 3 of red for a purple buttercream (i.e. not a cocoa-colored cake), so you can imagine how much food coloring would be needed to get the layers even more purple. It’s probably why many of the other “purple velvet cakes” call for as little as a teaspoon of cocoa. But for me, what’s the point of that? I’m all about making things that taste delicious, even if they don’t look perfect.
Of course, every food coloring is different, so you might not need as much if you are using a different one.
Ah gotcha!! You’re becoming quite the food photographer! And food blogger!
Thank you, Hillary. I’m still steep on the learning curve for both, but it’s been an incredible learning experience so far.
I have a batch in the oven now, I made these as cupcakes for Halloween. Took A LOT of food coloring, which I knew going in, the batter isn’t as purple as I’d have liked, but having read your whole post first, I knew what I was getting into with the cocoa powder! They are rising beautiful and the batter was such a beautiful silky consistency so I know they’ll be delicious! I plan to use a more traditional ermine icing with these.
Hi Brittany! Yes, that’s the downside of having them taste of chocolate. I’m so glad you decided to make them. Please let me know how you like them!
Hi 🙂 Step 5 says add sugar and cream but the recipe doesn’t call for any cream. Help!
Hi Katelyn. Thanks for asking! It should read as “add the sugar, and cream (beat) the butter and sugar together…”. I’ll re-write it so it’s clearer for everyone!
Thank you! I actually figured it out after starring at it for 20 mins, I felt dumb after. Lol thank you!!!
No worries! If you were confused by it, it’s likely someone else would be too. Happy to make edits to make it clearer for everyone. THANK YOU!
Hi whats cake flour please
Self raising or plain
Hi Joan. Thanks so much for asking. Cake flour is a low-protein flour so it has less gluten formation. If you don’t have that available, the cake layers in this purple velvet cake would work just fine with plain flour.
When you really want a tender cake that calls for cake flour, sift together 1 cup minus two tablespoons of plain flour plus two tablespoons of cornstarch for every cup of cake flour in a recipe.
What is the best purple extract that I can purchase so I don’t have to use the , pink, blue & red mix together to get purple??
Hi Wilda. That’s a great question. I see people rave about AmeriColor purples, but I didn’t test them to see if one would work on this cake. I’d love to hear if you try.
Hi there, is this frosting usable in a piping bag? I’ve made this into cupcakes and would love to do a light and dark purple swirl.
Hi Lena. Thanks for the question. I’ve never tried piping this frosting. I might add a bit of powdered sugar to stiffen it if you do decide to pipe it. It’s a pretty soft frosting as written. Let me know how it turns out!
Hi! I’m going to use your recipe to make purple velvet cupcakes for our Mardi Gras celebration. I found purple gel food coloring by Wilton but am unclear about how many drops to use. Don’t want the cake batter being too “ liquidy.” What do you suggest?
Hi Nadine – the challenge is “how many do I use?” is that food colorings are all a little different. It’s a pretty liquidy cake batter, so I think you’d be fine adding as much as you needed to get the batter close to the color you want. It won’t ever be a bright purple, given the cocoa. Good luck, and let me know how your cupcakes turn out!
Thanks for the quick response! And the good luck….I’ll let you know! 💜💛💚⚜️
I baked this amazing cake for my daughter’s birthday: instant success!!!
Hi Emilie – thanks so much for dropping a note and letting me know you loved the purple velvet cake. Happy birthday to your daughter! Joanne
When you say white chocolate, are you intending the use of white baking style chocolate or full flavor white chocolate?
Hi Caine, I’ve used both Callebaut white chocolate chunks and Baker’s brand white chocolate baking bars in this purple velvet cake. I’m not sure where you are in the world, but in the US you should be fine with anything labelled as white chocolate. I’d avoid “white baking chips” and other things not labeled as chocolate because they don’t contain cocoa butter. Hope that helps!