Rainbow Pride Party Cake
I think all little kids, at least at one point, have unrealistic ideas about what they’ll become when they grow up. I know I did. For a while I wanted to be an actress, then a singer, then a vet, and I went through an inevitable, short-lived pokemon master phase. I also remember once announcing that when I grew up, I wanted to be a duckling.
Yeah, I don’t know where that came from either.
But there was always something I wanted to be that I never told anyone about. I wanted to be a creative product namer – it would be the most fun job in the world! As a child I’d walk through the candle aisle of a store and think to myself, “This would be Golden Raspberry Dream and this one could be named Velvet Plum.” My favorite was to think of cute crayon colors, like Pink Lemonade Paradise and Safety Patrol Yellow.
Turns out I still can’t help but do it!
I can’t look at this vivid rainbow cake without feeling a bit of that creative spark all over again – Cherry-Red Hard Candy, Greenest Grass Green, Princess Eyes Blue. And even though I’ve seen the rainbow a million times, I still experienced an unexpected feeling when the cake was cut open. It was as if someone had waved a magic wand and restored all of the childish wonder and curiosity that I thought I’d outgrown years ago.
This cake was commissioned for a local company’s Pride celebration. I knew right away that rather than make a regular cake decorated with rainbow frosting, I wanted to make every layer a different color. This suggestion was met with a lot of enthusiasm, and I didn’t realize the difficulties of it until later.
First of all, I’d never made a cake of this size – six layers, 9″x13″ – and secondly I haven’t had a lot of success with white cakes. They usually end up dry or flavorless. Yet here I was, making six layers. I was also worried about height. Six layers is surprisingly tall, even taller after you add frosting, and I didn’t want the cake to lean or fall apart. I settled on Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party cake… after all, I trust Dorie whole-heartedly and it seemed like a moist, flavorful white cake that would also be sturdy.
I made two layers in advance, just to test things out. Unfortunately, I found the cake to be dry and much too sweet. I cut each layer into three, stacked them, and moaned a little when I saw how tall the finished cake would be. I tested freezing the layers, but they came out even drier the next day. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.
I pushed forward, and the morning of the party I woke up at 6:30 to be absolutely sure I’d have enough time to do the whole cake. Dorie’s recipe makes two 9″ round layers, so I was using one recipe to make two thin 9″x13″ layers – basically I would have to repeat the recipe three times. I measured, sifted, and set out all my ingredients beforehand. Then I made two layers at a time, did dishes, and repeated, working like clockwork.
I do kind of go into “baking mode” when I work, especially when I’m alone. I concentrate completely on the task at hand, and it feels good. I have a friend who loves running because it clears his mind and lets him focus, and this happens when I’m in the kitchen. Even though I was doing the same recipe over and over, it didn’t feel repetitive, and I even enjoy the feeling of being busy.
When all the layers were baked, I decided not to go with Dorie’s buttercream frosting, since it could be too rich in a 6 layer cake. I was going to go with whipped cream, but felt frosting would better hold the cake. Finally, I wanted the cakes to be moistened with jam but not too sweet. I ended up thinly spreading every layer with apricot jelly, then alternating whipped cream and cream cheese frosting. I frosted the outside with cream cheese frosting and then pressed shredded coconut into the cake.
Driving the cake to the office was a little nerve wracking. I was so worried about the cake leaning! A few hours ago, I had chilled the cake between layers. I had checked on it and realized, with horror, the cake was leaning to the right. I had turned the pan around and when I returned twenty minutes layer, the cake had straightened out. But every time we came to a sudden stop or made a sharp turn, I thought I could feel the cake moving like the leaning tower of pisa.
We made it to the office in one piece. Everyone who saw the cake was impressed by how big it was (and it was heavy!) It sort of looked like a giant coconut candy. But nothing can compare to the reactions I got when the cake was cut. The inside was a surprise, and it elicited gasps and outbursts of surprise all around. It was a room of adults, and yet there was still a wisp – no, a spark – of that innocent, fleeting joy at seeing something colorful. At that moment, I was reminded why I love to bake so much. This is what it’s for. I love to make people happy, and here was an entire room full of happy people – but I don’t think anyone was happier than me.
I was nervous about taste, but I’d learned a lot from my test run. Even though the cake was served in tiny, teetering slices, it was almost completely devoured as people came back for seconds.
It’s almost indecent that I was paid to do this. Creative product namer? No, what I am doing right now must be the most fun job in the world.
I was more than happy with Dorie’s cake. After my adjustments, it was perfect – it was moist, had a beautiful tight crumb, and was just sweet and lemony enough. It might even be my new go-to white cake. When I froze my test run, it came out dry and crumbly, so it’s definitely best the day it’s made. I think it’s worth getting up early for.
I don’t know if people noticed the difference between whipped cream and cream cheese between the layers, but my dad and I did. We both liked the whipped cream better because it was lighter and added a creamy texture. At the same time, the cream cheese layers helped to hold the cake together. Despite all my fears about the cake leaning, this cake stayed upright and perfectly straight as it got smaller and smaller. I also thought the apricot jelly was great, adding moisture and a little flavor without being too prominent.
The cake was supposed to serve 20, but it could have definitely served 30 because the pieces were so small. I am highly recommending this cake. Good for your taste buds, good for your reputation, good for your emotional well being. I think everyone needs a rainbow cake once in a while.
Rainbow Pride Party Cake
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes a 6 layer 9″x13″ cake
I only had two pans. I would make the following recipe three times for a total of 6 layers, rather than tripling the recipe. If you don’t have buttermilk, make it by combining 1 tbsp lemon juice with a scant cup of whole milk for five minutes. Finally you want really soft butter, with the texture of mayonnaise.
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 slightly rounded cup sugar (originally 1 1/2)
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract
Gel or powder food coloring
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and put a rack in the middle or upper third of the oven. Butter two 9″x13″ glass pans and line with buttered parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the egg whites and buttermilk.
Cream the butter, zest, and sugar in a mixer on medium speed for a full 3 minutes until very light and fluffy. Beat in the lemon extract, then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, still on medium speed.
Beat in half of the egg-buttermilk mixture, then half of the remaining flour mixture, then the last of the egg-buttermilk mixture, and finally the last of the flour, beating until the batter is smooth. Beat the entire batter on medium high for two minutes until completely smooth and mixed.
Divide the batter in two (it’s about 6 cups total batter.) Dye each batter a different color of the rainbow and scrape into the two pans. Bake 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until a thin knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pans five minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. To ensure moistness, once the cakes are cooled, wrap immediately and chill.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes enough to frost and fill two layers of Pride cake
From The Joy of Cooking
24 oz cream cheese
15 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
6 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Beat the cream cheese, butter, and extract together until combined. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.
Assembling the cake: Cut a piece of cardboard slightly larger than the layers and put strips of parchment paper all around the edges. Set the purple layer on top. Spread with a small amount of apricot jelly, then a small amount of stiff, sweetened whipped cream. (Sorry, I didn’t take measurements.) Top with the blue layer. Spread again with jelly, then a small amount of cream cheese frosting. You want very thin layers of frosting, just enough to cover the cake. Repeat with the remaining layers, spreading each with jelly and alternating between whipped cream and frosting. To hold the cake together, it’s helpful to chill between layers.
Use an offset spatula to wipe excess filling off the sides, which may have spilled out. Cover the entire cake with a very thin layer of cream cheese frosting (a crumb coat) and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Then frost the entire cake and press shredded coconut into the sides. Keep the cake wrapped in the refrigerator. Take it out 20 minutes before serving and enjoy!
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