Rainbow Pride Party Cake

July 16, 2009 at 12:36 pm 117 comments

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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117 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mélanger  |  July 16, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    This is just fantastic. The tallest cake I’ve made is 4 tiers. I love the colours, I love the rainbow look here. Wonderful. And I hear you about transportation. When I’ve made cakes for my nieces (usually more intricate), getting the cake to the party is the hardest thing! Well done!!

    Reply
  • 2. Deanna  |  July 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Well done. This cake is beautiful and perfectly executed. You put so much time and hard work into it, that the praise received was well deserved. You rock!

    Reply
  • 3. Mai  |  July 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    That cake is definately a stunner! I love it. Your tenacity definately paid off.

    Reply
  • 4. marilyn bernstein  |  July 16, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    WOW. i LOVE THE CAKE, CAN’T WAIT TO SEE WHAT YOU DO NEXT.

    Reply
  • 5. Making my Mark  |  July 16, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Just lovely. We all need something to make us smile every now and then.

    Reply
  • 6. cassie  |  July 16, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    I love it! I just recently found your blog and love it you are so inspiring. Do you often do commission cakes? Either your work is amazing!

    Reply
  • 7. Amanda  |  July 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    This is gorgeous!!!

    Question: What kind and how much of the food coloring did you use to make the cake so brightly colored? My dyed batters always turn out pastel after the baking. : /

    Reply
  • 8. Wendy  |  July 16, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Wow again! You never fail to impress Elissa! I abslutely love the colours – they’re so vibrant and cheerful!

    Reply
  • 9. Jill  |  July 16, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Good job Elissa! I loved reading this post, because I totally relate to being in the “baking mode.” My favorite part of the day is the early morning when I’m alone in the kitchen completely focused on getting a clients order done for later in the day. Congratulations on making such a great 6-layer cake!

    Reply
  • 10. Elissa  |  July 16, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Hey Amanda – I used gel food coloring, which packs a lot more punch than standard liquid food coloring. The brand is Wilton’s, and it’s their icing coloring. As for the amount, it’s a pretty decent bit. I’d guess maybe a quarter teaspoon of gel for each color. I think powdered food coloring is supposed to be the best but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it. Pretty much, to get bright colors, I just use a LOT.

    Reply
  • 11. Elissa  |  July 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Cassie – Not often! This was my second commission cake and definitely the biggest (and most professional) cake I’ve made. My other paid cake was shaped like underwear! :) I have been baking for fun for a really long time. After I made this blog, word got out, and after a while I began to get offers for my food, though I don’t have a business or menu (yet.)

    Reply
  • 12. Celine  |  July 17, 2009 at 2:25 am

    I’ve already seen rainbow cakes on the web, but this one is the most pretty I’ve seen! The colors are so living, I love it! :D

    Reply
  • 13. Indigo  |  July 17, 2009 at 2:36 am

    For the record – you are amazing at creatively naming things! I love all the ones you said, ahaha; Pink Lemonade Paradise is my favourite XD. Go for that if you get tired of baking, heh.

    This is amazing as well; I’m so glad it worked out well after all your worries over it. I love that you so obviously really threw yourself into your work, and put so much effort in (can you imagine a storebought bakery cake with that much work in it? me neither). You deserved the great reaction when the cake was cut!

    Reply
  • 14. Jen @ MaplenCornbread  |  July 17, 2009 at 3:34 am

    I love it !! You outdid yourself!!!! I love making bright color cakes for my nephews too! What a wonderful surprised when someone cuts into the cake! :)

    Reply
  • 15. Beth  |  July 17, 2009 at 6:30 am

    Wow! This is such an impressive cake! I have never commented before but just had to tell you how beautiful it is. It put a smile on my face even before I had a cup of coffee :)

    Reply
  • 16. Benny  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:00 am

    OMG Elissa. This is amazing. I should get one for my niece’s next birthday. She would so love the coloring. And I love how suspenseful it got. I read the title and was puzzled at how it was a stinkin’ plain john white cake.

    Reply
  • 17. Miakoda  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:20 am

    I am so glad that you got so much joy and satisfaction from this- it really shows :) And if I’d been in that room, you’d have made me extremely happy too- I love the colors so much!

    Reply
  • 18. Valerie  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:22 am

    Amazing job! You must have gotten such a good feeling from people’s reactions! Just looking at that cake makes me smile!

    Reply
  • 19. Jennifer  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:30 am

    A gorgeous cake and lovely sentiments about how it came to be. Cheers to your determination, care and achievement!

    Reply
  • 20. Jet  |  July 17, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Princess Eyes Blue. Perfect!

    Elissa, you’ve done it again: your essays set a beautiful tone for your posts, your pictures capture the spirit of your creations, your recipes are so well-tested, your readers know they can trust you and just make them, because you’ve already done all the heavy lifting.

    Knowing how rainbows are made only adds to their wonder.

    Reply
  • 21. bluejeangourmet  |  July 17, 2009 at 9:24 am

    honey, this is gorgeous. congratulations! pride never looked so good

    Reply
  • 22. Jayme  |  July 17, 2009 at 10:03 am

    gorgeous! I never tire of seeing a rainbow :)

    Reply
  • 23. Eliana  |  July 17, 2009 at 11:32 am

    This cake looks incredible. Those colors are so expected until you cut into it. It’s a definite showstopper.

    Reply
  • 24. Nikki The Foodie  |  July 17, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Beautiful Cake!

    Reply
  • 25. Sally  |  July 17, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Just wanted to let you know I love your blog! :)

    Reply
  • 26. TasteStopping  |  July 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Your story was as beautiful as the cake. It’s always nice to hear from someone who actually loves what they’re doing. Your finished product certainly shows your talent and passion. Well done!

    Best,
    Casey
    Editor
    http://www.tastestopping.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • 27. Memoria  |  July 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    This would be great to make for gay pride!! Good job as usual!

    Reply
  • 28. Katrina  |  July 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Awesome! Great job! Tier cakes scare me. The rainbow is beautiful and what a fun dream job–naming stuff. I love it.

    Reply
  • 29. tianne  |  July 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    So you baked each layer on its own? Just a really thin layer of batter in the pan? Looks great!!! as usual. It’s also so cute how you always write about your dad. It sound like you two are really close.

    Reply
  • 30. steph (whisk/spoon)  |  July 17, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    that is awesome!!! a total success!

    Reply
  • 31. Elissa  |  July 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    tiane – we are really close. He’s definitely my number one fan and has always supported/encouraged 17 and Baking and I owe him a lot!

    Reply
  • 32. sharon  |  July 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Elissa, all I can say is WOW! Your dad clued me in last night that you posted a new cake. It just blew me away! Absolutely beautiful! btw, My mom has a chocolate cake recipe that she has been making for years. It has coffee in the batter. Before she glazes it with a dark chocolate glaze she puts a light coating of apricot jam on the cake. It’s too bad I didn’t inherit the creative genes that run in the family!

    Reply
  • 33. Monica h  |  July 17, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    So colorful and fun- what a great job you did!

    Reminds me of my rainbow cupcakes and make me want one now!

    Reply
  • 34. Top Posts « WordPress.com  |  July 17, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    [...] 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 [...] [...]

    Reply
  • 35. nutmegnanny  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    What an awesome cake! I agree about white cake, and like you, I really enjoy Dorie’s white cake recipe. I also really like a recipe another blogger made that combined Dorie’s and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. She spent a lot of time making up the perfect white cake recipe. If you go to my blog just check out the white cake recipe I used for the fourth of July cupcakes. Really tasty!!!

    Reply
  • 36. fillmyrumblingtummy  |  July 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    hey you!
    wonderful cake:D
    i know i owe you an email, but I have so much to type, I haven’t had the time to finish it. Sorry!

    Reply
  • 37. CM  |  July 18, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Simply amazing cake. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • 38. Marta  |  July 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

    This is certainly more fun than product naming!!!
    What a fantastic cake Elissa. My hat is off to you, this is amazing! It looks perfect, so cheerful! And congratulations on getting asked more baking… oh I can see it, you’re becoming a local legend! 17 And Baking The Bakery coming soon!!!!
    Listen, I actually wanted to ask you a question: I wanted to make those dinner rolls you posted a while ago, you Mom’s recipe, for a wedding I’m catering next week (gulp, I’m so nervous!) but I need to freeze them, since I would like to make them tomorrow. Do they freeze well? THANKS!!!!!!

    Reply
    • 39. Elissa  |  July 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

      Hi Marta – First of all, congratulations on catering a wedding… that’s so impressive! I’m sure the food will be amazing! As for the Carrot-Flecked Dinner Rolls, unfortunately my family has never tried freezing them so I can’t give you a good answer. I asked my mom about it and she said to freeze the rolls immediately after they’ve cooled to room temperature in order to keep some of the moisture. Since I’m not sure how well they freeze, I’d suggest making a batch now and testing it out before the big day. Hope it all goes well!

  • 40. Truthe  |  July 18, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Neato cake!

    Reply
  • 41. Rick  |  July 18, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    This is great. I’ve never seen a rainbow cake before and I am a cook that just loves to bake.

    Reply
  • 42. Jennyjen  |  July 18, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Wow!!! I was just thinking of something I could make that would be Pride themed. This is PERFECT! I’d love to do up a version of your beautiful cake and give out pieces at the Pride Parade!! :)

    Reply
  • 43. justrho  |  July 19, 2009 at 2:14 am

    this is awesome! my partner and i are getting married in september and i may end up making our wedding cakemyself, and if i do, i think this would be totally awesome! just beautiful! thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply
  • 44. whisperlass  |  July 19, 2009 at 3:41 am

    This is absolutely amazing, Brilliant work, i’m really looking forward to trying this as well!

    Reply
  • 45. Amycat  |  July 19, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Oh my god!!! This is the most amazing cake! So eye-catching, totally making this one day. Kudos! It’s sort of like something that you would think up and imagine but wouldn’t be bothered even trying it cos it sounds so hard. Well done.

    Reply
  • 46. Darina  |  July 19, 2009 at 7:06 am

    What an amazing cake! And what a lovely idea. I would never have the patience, or the know how, to produce such lovely results. Kudos to you!

    Reply
  • 47. Forrester McLeod  |  July 19, 2009 at 9:20 am

    You ROCK! Your enthusiasm is infectious!

    Reply
  • 48. Sis  |  July 19, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Beatiful cake, Elissa. And thank you for checking out my blog. I’m not nearly as creative as you but it was so nice of you to comment on my cake. :)
    Sis

    Reply
  • 49. Swee  |  July 19, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    wow, it looks really beautiful!! I should try this!

    Reply
  • 50. Jojo  |  July 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    GREAT!!! Yet another way to consume sugar and get FAT! YIPEEEE!

    Reply
  • 51. Akila  |  July 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    This is simply stunning. I know what you mean about that spontaneous combustion that occurs when your childhood imagination bumps into your practical adult side (not that you are old enough to have such a practical side, right?). I just turned 30 and, all of a sudden, that imagination I thought I had left behind after years of sitting in an office is just boiling out of me as I started blogging about the food we eat. And, I know that everyone tells you how amazing it is that you are 17 and making cakes like this. To me, it doesn’t matter if you are 17 or 75 — that is one darn impressive cake.

    Reply

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Elissa Bernstein



I'm Elissa: a 17 (now 21) year old baker in Seattle Boston juggling creative nonfiction workshops, subway maps, and my passions for writing, baking, and photography. Photo above © Michelle Moore

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