For my daughter’s 10th birthday, she asked for “a white cake with colorful swirls and chocolate icing with green and pink decorations.” Very specific, and I aim to deliver what people ask for. Not only do I deliver, I like to over-deliver by taking the idea a bit further.
I have a basic white cake recipe that I love to make – it is so simple but so delicious. Super-moist but light, dense enough to stand up to a thick buttercream but airy enough to layer without getting too heavy. I’ve tweaked it over the years ’til I’m happy with the results every time I make it.
I took my basic recipe below and doubled it, creating four layers (two 10 inch and two 9 inch) with a different colored swirl inside each. Then I assembled and frosted it with my chocolate buttercream frosting. My daughter and I tinted a bit of the Caramel Buttercream I had left over from the chocolate cupcakes I made for the party (I like for people to have options, and I also like to stuff my guests uncomfortably full – that’s my love language) and used it to add decorations, along with roughly 2 pounds of sprinkles (I exaggerate, but that kid is seriously pretty heavy-handed with the edible glitter).
The reactions when I cut into the cake were great – nobody knew what the inside looked like until the first piece was served. The kids all went “WHOA” and one usually-hard-to-impress girl exclaimed, “that is friggin’ COOL!” Validation achieved. 😉
Let me know how yours turns out. The color combinations are endless and you can swirl together as many as you like.
TIE-DYED WHITE CAKE:
** This recipe makes one two-layer round cake (9 and/or 10 inch pan). You can double the recipe like I did if you’d like to build more layers! **
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) softened (NOT melted – it makes a big textural difference, trust me) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups cake/pastry flour (lends a much lighter texture than all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it’s fresh – old baking powder yields less rise)
6 (3/4 cup) egg whites
3/4 cup milk (I use 2%)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Gel food coloring and a few small bowls to divide and tint cake batter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of two round pans (I used one 9 inch and one 10 inch and made two batches for the layers). Line bottoms of pans with parchment or waxed paper. (I cut circles of parchment paper to fit in the bottoms of my pans. This step will really help you avoid the stuck-to-the-pan blues that often result in torn cake.)
Using your stand mixer or an electric hand beater, cream butter and sugar together on medium-high until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes).
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. In another bowl (sorry, I’m really making a mess of your kitchen) whisk together the egg whites, milk and vanilla extract.
Add 1/4 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture in the mixing bowl and beat for a couple of minutes, then add 1/4 of the milk mixture and beat ’til incorporated. Repeat this process until all dry and wet ingredients are incorporated into the butter/sugar mixture. You’ll probably need to stop the mixer a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl so that everything gets combined thoroughly.
We’re gonna dirty up more of your dishes now. Depending on how many colors you want to make, evenly divide the prepared batter into separate bowls. Using a toothpick or the tines of a fork, dip a tiny amount of the gel food coloring into each bowl and mix thoroughly into batter. Repeat as needed to reach the desired intensity for each hue.
To make the swirls: You’ll need small scoops, measuring cups or spoons for each color (more dishes to wash, hooray!). I use 1/4 cup scoops for mine. Using your scoop/cup/spoon, place a dollop of one of the colors of batter in the center of each pan. Give it a minute to spread out a bit, then scoop a different color and pour it directly on top of the dollop already in the pan. Don’t mix them together! Let the batter spread a bit before adding the next dollop, again to the center. Keep repeating this process until you have concentric rings in each pan, like a bulls-eye dartboard. Don’t mix them together, although you can use a spoon to lightly push the edge of each new dollop out so the mixture continues to spread to the edges of the pan. It’ll look like this when the pans are full:
Bake cakes about 22 to 25 minutes on the middle rack of your oven (or until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean). I turn/rotate them halfway through to ensure even baking.
Cool in pans on a cooling rack for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out onto rack (I like to put the rack upside down across the top of the pan and hold them together as I quickly flip the pan so that it drops easily onto the rack), remove the parchment/waxed paper and let the cakes cool completely on the rack before frosting.
CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, softened (NOT melted – you need the structural integrity of soft butter to make this frosting set up right)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 pound confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk (I use Horizon 2% chocolate milk just to pump up the cocoa flavor a bit more)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Add cocoa powder to bowl of stand mixer or large bowl that you can use your electric hand mixer in. Whisk powder thoroughly to remove any lumps.
Using your stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat softened butter into the cocoa powder at medium-high speed for about 5 minutes – you want the mixture to be really creamy and fluffy. (I use the paddle attachment in my Kitchenaid stand mixer for the best results.)
Reduce speed to medium and add 1 cup of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the milk, then crank the speed back up to high for a minute or two until well-combined. Repeat this process, slowly incorporating the sugar and milk until it’s all combined with the butter (you’ll need to frequently stop the mixer to scrape down the sides and beater with a spatula). Add the vanilla extract and beat on high for another two minutes.
** If frosting is too dry/hard, add a little more more milk – a tablespoon at a time – until it reaches the right consistency. If it’s too wet/soupy, add a bit more confectioner’s sugar – again, a tablespoon at a time – until the texture is right.
To assemble cake: using a spatula, spread a thin layer on the underside of the bottom layer of cake to “glue” it to the cake board or plate, then lay a nice thick layer of frosting over the entire bottom layer. Frost the underside of the next layer so it’ll stick to the bottom layer better, then set it in place and frost it entirely too. You can then smooth out the frosting, add a thicker coat to hide the “seams” of the separate layers and/or put additional frosting into a decorating bag with a piping tip to embellish your cake. (My daughter chose the large star tip to outline the layers and to write her first initial on top of the cake before dousing it liberally with sprinkles and colored sugar.)
Let me know how yours turns out! I’d love to see pictures. (I really need to start taking more “process” pictures of my own recipes! I always forget or take sloppy ones.)