The cake. The cake was a scary project to take on. And at the last-minute, it almost didn’t happen.
A portion of the guests had arrived. My mother, father, mother-in-law, and husband worked their tails off to help me get all of the sliced and diced food out of their prep containers and ready for people to eat. But off to the side sat something crucial, and only half-done: The Birthday Cake….
Now, it should be said that I have never successfully made a cake from scratch. It’s not that I haven’t attempted, but every scratch cake I have made in the past had a somewhat dense texture: great on flavor, but off to the tooth. So, I have generally used my mom’s secret technique for doctoring box cakes and topping them with homemade icing.
But making a respectable scratch cake is something I aspired to. It’s something I felt I should be able to do; but, for whatever reason, past recipes (or past technique) had let me down. I knew that if I wanted to pull off a multi-layer, multi-colored cake like the amazing creation that inspired me on Whisk Kid, I needed something with a little more structure than an airy box cake. So, I sought out a lot of advice (that I’ve listed below) and eventually found the perfect recipe sitting right under my nose.
The Perfect Party Cake
Because I trust her wholeheartedly, I decided to use a cake recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen as the base for my rainbow cake. Deb had used the recipe to make a multi-layered wedding cake, and the base recipe came from a recipe book she’s referred to often on her site, Sky High Irresistable Triple-Layer Cakes. In fact, the recipe used for the rainbow cake on the Whisk Kid site, is a variation of another Sky High recipe.
But a few seconds before I got ready to crack the first egg, I got apprehensive. You see, the recipe I had settled on was for a yellow cake, and Kaitlin (of the Whisk Kid) specified the importance of using a white cake in this video. Would my yellow cake base make all of my colors appear off? If the cake was about color, why was I taking the risk of using a non-white cake base?
So, I grabbed my copy of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking and quickly found the answer staring back at me on page 250:
Stick a bright-colored Post-it to this page, so you’ll always know where to turn for a just-right cake for any celebration…The cake is snow white with an excellent crumb and an easy going nature: it always bakes up perfectly; it is delicate on the tongue but sturdy in the kitchen—no fussing when it comes to slicing the layers in half or cutting tall, beautiful wedges for serving; and, it tastes just as you’d want a party cake to taste—special.
And let me tell you, Ms. Greenspan is 100-percent right. I made two batches of the cake, dividing each into three portions, which were colored and baked for about 22 minutes a piece in a 9-inch round cake pan. The cooled cakes were attached to cake boards and double wrapped in plastic wrap, followed by heavy duty aluminum foil. The layers could easily have been frozen for up to a month, in my case they were baked a week ahead and defrosted just a few hours before the party.
Technicolor Cake Batter Photos
Of course I have only a couple of photos of the cake as it was being sliced. And many more of the batter-making, layer baking process. There are none of the frosting-making or cake frosting process; but the video under Resources and Tips should help you with that.
Resources and Tips
1. Video of Kaitlin Flannery (aka The Whisk Kid) creating her rainbow cake on The Martha Stewart Show. I found the video more helpful than her blog post, but if you’d like to use her recipe see number 2.
2. Rainbow Cake as seen on the Whisk Kid (recipe is at the bottom). Her photos are beautiful.
3. Recipe for Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake (I did not use coconut or jam between the layers, because I was making a rainbow variation). This web version is accurate, but if you have any desire to be a good home baker, I cannot recommend buying Baking, enough.
4. Swiss Meringue Buttercream: You’ll notice that Dorie’s technique for making Swiss Meringue Buttercream is different from Kaitlin’s, namely in the way the sugar-egg mixture is heated. I used Dorie’s technique. It was my first time and my results were great. My only tip would be to make a double batch or at least increase by 50%. Mines was bit skimpier than I would have preferred.
5. A set of straight-forward scratch cake baking tips from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. I printed these and read them several times before I began making my cake.
6. Tips from Dorie Greenspan that are specific to the Perfect Party Cake (I just discovered these).
7. Don’t let anxiety keep you from frosting your cake until the last possible minute, because it’s easier to do other things than tackle frosting and stacking a cake. You will only feel more anxious when the guests arrive and the cake is still unfinished.
8. If your cake is not getting covered and you’re about to cry, leave the kitchen and let your mom finish it. She’s been frosting cakes for years and she wants yours to be a success.