My favorite baby in town is turning one this month, and I will have the honor of making his first birthday cake. (Yes, I volunteered.) 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 (serves about 8)
- 4 egg whites
- 1.25 cups sugar, divided
- 1.5 cups plus 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter (at room temp.)
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 F; butter and flour two 8″ cake pans or line them with parchment. In a large bowl, beat the butter, 1 cup sugar and the vanilla until light and fluffy. Sift or sieve flour, salt and baking powder over bowl and mix until incorporated. Stir in the milk until batter is even. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy, then add the remaining sugar and keep beating until whites are opaque and stiff. Gently fold the whites a little at a time into the batter until even consistency. 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 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 beans 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 first 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; finely chopped nuts will make it hearty. Or enjoy this white cake the wonderful way it is, frosted with your favorite icing, or simply plain. After all, there’s something beautiful about a blank canvas.