A Blank Canvas: Fantastic White Cake

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 granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups plus 3 tablespoons all purpose 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 about 25 minutes, or just until a wooden toothpick tests free of wet batter (a few moist crumbs are OK). Cake will be fragrant and its edges will be golden brown. 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.

*One tip I most appreciated from my online perusing is that the blueberry juice needs a few tiny sprinkles of baking soda mixed into it before using, or else it will look purple. 

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15 Responses to A Blank Canvas: Fantastic White Cake

  1. I made this cake (not rainbow version); it came out fabulous and husband loved it! Thanks for the recipe. You mention that you have adapted this base multiple times; have you ever tried adding cocoa to some of the batter for a marble cake or similar? I was wondering if I could use this recipe for a zebra cake!

    • Hello! It’s so nice to hear from you! I remember you being one of my first commenters nearly 10 years ago.

      Thanks so much; I’m glad you enjoy this recipe! I do think you could replace some of the flour with cocoa powder. It won’t be a dark chocolate flavor, more mild, but I bet it would work! Let me know if you do?

      (And someday I’ll post my favorite chocolate cake recipe.)

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  6. Erica says:

    Such an absolutely beautiful cake this is…I love the delicate colors all layered together…and your gorgeous photos of the cake and slices too. Those are two very lucky birthday fellows who get to eat such a lovely birthday cake as this one…as is everyone lucky who gets to eat anything baked (and decorated) by you!

    • Erica, Thank you so much! It brings me immense joy to create these goodies — I can hardly explain how much MORE joy I feel when I know someone really enjoys eating them. Your appreciation means so much to me!

  7. What a beautiful creation! You’re husband’s very lucky to be a taste tester. And what an adorable baby.

  8. katy says:

    What a lucky baby!! I think anybody who gets a Moriah birthday cake, and especially a rainbow, multi-layered one, is sure to grow up not only a cake-eating man, but also one who holds the highest possible standards of baking excellence dear to his heart. I have no doubt that this may be a formative moment.

    I hope the experiments are progressing nicely! I was trying to think of other ways to create a vibrant natural green dye, but, besides spinach (and maybe sage, which perhaps would leave too much of a taste), nothing comes to mind…

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