My favorite baby in town is turning one this month, and I will have the honor of making his first birthday cake. Knowing how much I enjoy experimenting with desserts, his dear parents asked if I’d be up for trying a naturally dyed, mutlicolored layer cake. I was quick both to say yes and to get in the kitchen and practice.
One thing I knew for sure: I’d use my favorite white cake recipe as the base. Over time, I’ve modified it into a lime cake with mango filling, an egg nog cake, a lemon cake, and much more. It’s also a fantastic white cake on its own or with any variety of frostings or fillings. Here is the recipe, which is easy to double if you need more than two thin 8″ round layers.
Blank Canvas White Cake (makes a small two layer 8″ cake; serves about 8)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter at soft room temperature
- 1.25 cups sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1.5 cups plus 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk
- 4 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour two 8″ cake pans, or grease and line them with parchment.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, 1 cup of the sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder over bowl and begin to mix until batter is coming together; it will be thick. Gradually add the milk, continuing to mix until fully incorporated. (If you are adding citrus zest, vanilla bean, or other additions, do so at this point.)
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on high until frothy, then add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Keep beating until whites are opaque and stiff. Using about 1/3 of the egg whites, gently fold the whites into the batter. Repeat with remaining two thirds, in two stages, folding delicately in order to not deflate the whites. Stop folding when egg whites are just fully combined and an airy batter has formed. Without delay, spread the batter evenly into the cake pans.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, then check regularly with a toothpick every few minutes until edges are golden and toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely in pans before inverting and decorating.
Despite the many resources that come up with a Google search, I haven’t yet perfected the naturally dyed rainbow cake (you can tell from the photos that my green layer simply didn’t take, for instance). However, the cake tasted great and adapted well to the modifications I made. I added vanilla bean and lemon oil to the batter, omitted the extra tablespoons of milk, split the batter into 5 equal bowls, and added a to each bowl, respectively: a tablespoon of carrot, beet, spinach and blueberry* juice, and an egg yolk for the yellow layer. (I don’t take any credit for these dye ideas; they’re all over the web.)
For the birthday party coming up, I hope to post my “final draft” here. For now, my plan is to double this recipe and follow the same modifications I made, except to find a better green — perhaps dehydrated peas or green vitamin powder. In the meantime, the practice version served as a delicious birthday cake for my all-time favorite grown-up: my husband.
Maybe next time… What I love most about this recipe is that, at least from my perspective, it really encourages creativity. You can replace the milk with buttermilk or a not-too-sweet juice like blueberry or grapefruit. Try exchanging the vanilla extract for almond or another kind (keep in mind that some extracts, like mint, are much more potent than others; adjust as needed). A bit of citrus oil or zest will make it tangy; some finely chopped nuts will make it hearty. This recipe makes 12-14 standard size cupcakes; check after 10 minutes in the oven and remove once toothpick tests clean.