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Rainbow cake recipe

Rainbow cake recipe

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  • Recipes
  • Dish type
  • Cake
  • Celebration cakes
  • Birthday cake
  • Kids' birthday cakes
  • Birthday cakes for boys

Bake every colour of the rainbow into this delightful cake. Perfect for a birthday cake or kid's party!

29 people made this

IngredientsServes: 12

  • Cake
  • 370g plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 320ml milk
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • food colouring in 6 rainbow colours
  • Icing
  • 600ml whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 450g mascarpone cheese

MethodPrep:10min ›Cook:1hr30min ›Extra time:2hr chilling › Ready in:3hr40min


  1. First, make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200 C / Gas 6 and grease and flour 6 23cm round cake tins.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarb.
  3. In a bowl, beat the butter, sugar, milk, egg whites and vanilla extract until smooth. Stir in dry ingredients, mix well.
  4. Divide the mixture into six bowls. Mix in different food colouring to each bowl. Start with just a little bit of colouring, then mix; you can always add more!
  5. Bake each for 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  6. Icing

  7. Beat the cream until stiff. Fold in icing sugar and mascarpone cheese, stir until smooth.
  8. Spread icing on each layer of cooled cake, placing one on top of the other. Cover the top and sides with the remaining icing. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.

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Reviews & ratingsAverage global rating:(5)

Recipe Summary

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Red, yellow, green and blue food coloring
  • 3 sticks plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 10 cups confectioners&rsquo sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Rainbow nonpareil sprinkles, for garnish

MAKE THE CAKE LAYERS Preheat the oven to 350°. Coat four 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Dust with cake flour, tapping out the excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk the 3 cups of cake flour with the baking powder and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter with the granulated sugar at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. Alternately beat in the dry ingredients and milk at low speed until just combined.

Scoop 1 cup of the cake batter into each of 7 medium bowls. Using a few drops of food coloring at a time, tint the batter in each bowl to create red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (dark blue-purple) and violet layers. Scrape the batter from 4 of the bowls into the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake the layers for 15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean.

Coat 3 of the cleaned cake pans with nonstick spray, line with parchment and dust with cake flour, tapping out the excess. Scrape the batter from the 3 remaining bowls into the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Bake the layers for 15 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. Invert each layer onto a wire rack and remove the parchment.

MAKE THE LEMON BUTTERCREAM In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. At low speed, add the confectioners&rsquo sugar in 3 batches, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon zest and salt. Beat at medium speed until smooth, about 6 minutes. Add the cream and beat until very light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

Set the violet cake layer on a cake plate. Using an offset spatula, spread the top with 1/2 cup of the lemon buttercream. Repeat with the indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red layers. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake in a thin layer. Refrigerate until the buttercream is firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the remaining buttercream on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the top of the cake with sprinkles.

Rainbow Explosion Cake

Directions for Cake
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C) and put the oven rack in the middle of the oven. If you are using a convection oven, set it to 325°F (165°C).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until they are really mixed together. You have to mix all the dry ingredients together first, so that there are no clumps in your batter, which will create white spots .Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter and sugar together, until they become fluffy. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula so it’s all mixed in from the sides.
4. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the butter-sugar mixture, with the mixer on medium speed. Again, make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla to the milk and set it aside.
5. Mix about one-third of your dry ingredients into the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then blend in half of the milk, always mixing on medium speed.
6. Mix in the second third of the dry ingredients, then the remaining milk mixture.
7. Stop the mixer for a few seconds and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl as you go, then mix in the last of the flour mixture. Make sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth. You don’t want any lumps, but don’t overmix it—stop the mixer as soon as the batter is smooth.
8. Divide the batter evenly into six portions. They don’t have to be exactly identical, but you want them to be close: You can use any small bowls that are all the same size: Just slowly pour the batter into each of the bowls a little at a time until they are all at the same height. (It’s about 1 cup/250 g of batter per bowl.)
9. Color the batter individually in rainbow colors: We use purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, and pink for our six-layer cakes. Start with a tiny drop of food coloring, stir it in completely, then add more until it is your desired color. (The baked cake will come out pretty close to what you see—the outside will be a little brown, but that gets covered with frosting.) See Tools & Tips for Frosting Cakes on page 26 for more on food dye.
10. Spray six 6-inch (15-cm) round baking pans with cooking spray, then pour the colored batter into the greased pans.
11. Bake the cakes two at a time for 8 minutes without opening the oven door. Then rotate each pan so the front faces the back. Bake for another 8 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when you insert it into the middle of the cake. (Cakes are very sensitive. The less you open your oven, the better your cake will come out! I don’t know exactly why, but I know it.)
12. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5 to 10 minutes. (When they’re warm, they’re really fragile, and that’s when they tend to break.) Then flip them over onto a baking sheet or cooling rack and let them cool completely before you frost them.
Note on Cake:
If you don’t have 6-inch (15-cm) cake pans, you can also make a larger rainbow cake with six 8-inch (20-cm) pans. Just double the ingredients, and increase the baking time to ten minutes per side. A general rule for scaling this recipe is that if you want to make more or less of this cake, scale it up or down in thirds, because there are three eggs and those can’t be easily divided! At Flour Shop we make four sizes of cakes: the mini (3-inch/7.5-cm), the midi (6 inch/15-cm), the maxi (8-inch/20-cm), and the mega (10-inch/25-cm), which we named after skirt lengths. Usually, one mini serves 4, one midi serves 15, one maxi serves 25, and one mega serves 50.
Directions for Frosting
1. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to blend the butter until it is smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend it together until there are no lumps. Then add the vanilla. Stop the mixer and use a spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
2. Mix in the powdered sugar a little bit at a time on the lowest speed—otherwise it will fly everywhere! Use the spatula to push down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl, making sure it’s all mixed in from the sides and everything is smooth.
3. Use right away. Technically the frosting will last at least a week in the refrigerator, but fresh frosting is key! It tastes and feels so much better.
Note on Frosting
Makes 6 cups (3 ½ pounds/1.6 kg) of frosting. This will make plenty of frosting for a Rainbow Explosion Cake and most of the other cakes in this book, plus a little extra in case you need to cover up mistakes. In some cases, we note where you may need less, and you can easily cut this recipe in half or even quarter it.
Directions for Assembly
1. Once your cakes are baked and completely cool, lay them out with the tops facing up.
2. Use a 2-inch (5-cm) round cookie cutter to cut the center out of every cake but the top one. Never cut a hole in your top layer of cake! In this particular case, the top is the pink layer, but you can choose whichever color you want your top to be.
TIP: Some of the cake might stay on the ring, so wipe it in between each cut so you don’t transfer one cake color to the others, and you get a nice, clean center after you cut it open. Just be very, very careful to try to get the center every time, or else your layers won’t line up when you stack them all together. I like to cut them from above, because when you look at it from the side, you get a slightly different perspective.
3. Before you assemble your cake, you’ll need a base to build it on. You can buy disposable round cake-decorating boards, or you can use a plate, a cake stand, or a flat platter—whatever you use, just make sure the base is a little bigger than your cake. My rule of thumb is that the base should be about 2 inches bigger than the cake pan.
4. You start to build a six-layer cake by putting a small ring of frosting directly on top of the board in roughly the same shape as the cake ring. This is so that the cake really sticks to the base and isn’t sliding around while you’re working. I always frost cake layers with a piping bag, so it is easy to draw a ring.
5. Put the first layer of cake directly on top of the frosting. In this case, the bottom layer is purple.
6. Cover the top of the cake with an even layer of frosting. Using a piping bag, make sure to squeeze on the same amount of frosting for every layer: You just add on the same number of rings every time. I usually make three thick rings around the top of each cake, leaving a little room around the hole: The secret trick is to start by making the first ring around the hole, then moving out. You don’t want to get frosting in the hole, or your sprinkles explosion will stick to the frosting.
7. Add the second layer of cake. Eyeball it from the top after you do, to make sure the holes line up. It’s easier to adjust as you go, rather than to fix a tilting six-layer cake at the end. Add another layer of frosting and repeat until you reach layer 5.
8. Now, pour the sprinkles down into the center of the hole! A measuring cup with a spout works perfectly. You’ll need about 1 ¾ cups (1 pound/455 g) of sprinkles to fill this cake. Stop and pat down the sprinkles to the height of the cake/frosting.
9. Now add the sixth and final layer of the rainbow!
10. Flip it upside-down first, so you have a flat surface to frost on the top of the cake. This is my secret way to make a straight cake, rather than trimming off any cake.
11. Apply a crumb coat and refrigerate
12. After the crumb coat is in place, cover the cake in a final layer of frosting. Of course, if you are making this to share right away and your cake doesn’t need a few minutes of chilling time, you can simply cover the cake in frosting in just one step. Either way, the final coat on this cake doesn’t have to be too thick, because we’re going to cover the cake in sprinkles. Our second layer of frosting is really for the sprinkles, so they’ll stick.
13. Cup hands and scoop up a few sprinkles, and then start moving hands up along the side of the cake, working from the bottom to the top. Drop the sprinkles against the cake as you go, and eventually they start to stick—just work your way around and around the cake until everything is covered.
14. Once you’ve sprinkled it, you can—you should—enjoy it right away, but you can store it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Note on Assembly: To cover the outside of 1 rainbow cake or 3 mini cakes in sprinkles, you will need: ½ pound sprinkles = 225 g = about 1 cup / To fill the inside of 1 rainbow cake or 3 mini cakes with mixed sprinkles, you will need: 1 pound mixed sprinkles = 455 g = about 1 ¾ cups (keep in mind, these don’t have to be sprinkles it can just be 1 ¾ cups of candy!)

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Recipe Summary

  • 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • Red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple gel food coloring
  • 7 disposable baking pans
  • Vanilla Buttercream

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray disposable baking pans with nonstick spray.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Combine sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract in another bowl. Mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until ingredients are just combined.

Add half of flour mixture and half of milk to sugar mixture. Mix well. Repeat with second half of flour mixture and milk.

Divide batter evenly into 7 bowls. When adding food coloring to each bowl, start out with about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp. Add more as necessary. Pour cake batter into prepared pans. Bake in batches of two or three for 10-12 minutes, or until center has set and edges of cake slightly pull away from the pan. Let cake layers cool completely before frosting.

How to make a Rainbow Bundt Cake:

This cake is made in a classic bundt cake pan. Make the batter, as directed in the recipe. Then divide the batter evenly among six bowls. Each bowl is colored with a few drops of food color. The batter is then scooped into the bundt pan, layer/color by layer. No swirling needed. The cake gets a swirly rainbow look all on its own while baking. A sweet lemon glaze is drizzled on top!

Rainbow Bundt Cake leftovers will be just fine for a couple of days. Just be sure to keep leftovers well-wrapped or in a covered bundt cake container. Keeping it at room temperature is just fine.

Julie Hession is an incredibly talented creator of cake recipes. This Beautiful Bundts cookbook is definitely one to add to your cookbook shelf if you love to bake cakes. I also have her Piece of Cake cookbook, and that one is my go-to book for all kinds of layer cakes.


Freezing and defrosting guidelines

Bake according to the recipe but stop before adding decoration or icing if called for. Allow to cool completely. Wrap well in clingfilm and tin foil (to prevent freezer burn) and freeze for up to 3 months.

Loosen the tin foil and clingfilm but leave to defrost in packaging at room temperature for several hours before serving. If you wish to add icing or decoration, add them after the baked goods have fully defrosted and are at room temperature.

As part of a healthy balanced diet, we recommend this recipe for a special occasion or treat.

Making This Four Layer Rainbow Cake in Advance and Storage Tips

  • Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and make it more approachable.
  • Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to a month. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
  • A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to a month. The frosting locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!
  • If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Vanilla Frosting

Makes 5 cups, enough for two-layer cake

To make 10 cups of frosting, prepare this recipe twice. (Do not try doubling the recipe it won't fit in the mixer.) You may have leftover frosting after decorating.

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, each stick cut into quarters and softened
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
4 cups (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar

1. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, cream, vanilla, and salt on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, slowly add sugar, and beat until incorporated and smooth, about 4 minutes.

2. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days let soften at room temperature, about 2 hours, then rewhip on medium speed until smooth, 2 to 5 minutes.)


  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 ¾ cups cake flour, plus more for pans
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups 2% buttermilk, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup plus about 1 tbsp. multicolored nonpareils (candy sprinkles)
  • Pink Buttercream

Preheat oven to 350° with a rack in center. Butter two 8-in. cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer with an egg-beater attachment a whisk attachment won't mix the batter properly), beat butter on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl halfway through.

To butter, add sugar and beat on high speed until pale and fluffy. "Every time the paddle turns, sugar crystals cut through the butter, creating little pockets of air for a fluffy cake." Scrape sides and bottom of bowl. On low speed, mix in egg whites and vanilla, then beat on high until thick and smooth scrape bowl again. "Scraping down the bowl is huge. If you see butter at the bottom when you pour the batter into the pans, that's a rookie mistake."

Onto a large piece of parchment paper, sift flour and baking powder. Add salt.

Turn mixer to low. Pick up parchment from opposite corners and tip about one-third of flour mixture into bowl mix just until combined. Scrape bowl, then drizzle in half of buttermilk and mix just until combined. "Otherwise you may develop the gluten in the flour, and your cakes will be tougher, denser, and sometimes gummy." Repeat, then mix in remaining one-third of flour mixture the same way. Scrape once more, add 1/4 cup nonpareils, "then give it a final spinaroo."

Pour batter evenly into prepared pans, smoothing tops flat with a rubber spatula. Give the pans a couple of taps on the counter to deflate any overly large air pockets. Bake on center rack, rotating 180° halfway through, until top is pale golden, sides are deeper brown and pulling slightly away from sides, and top springs back lightly when pressed, 30 to 50 minutes. "Don't overbake it or it will be dry."

Remove cakes from oven and let cool 10 minutes in pans. Invert cakes onto a cooling rack "so their tops flatten out," and let cool completely.

Split your cakes: Cover a rotating cake stand with a sheet of plastic wrap and set one of the cakes on top. With a large serrated knife, gently cut the cake horizontally and evenly in half, rotating the stand to move the knife deeper into the cake. Holding sides of plastic wrap, lift layers off stand and repeat with a second cake to make 4 layers total. Set aside 1 bottom layer to form top of cake later (it'll be more even).

Layer the cake with buttercream frosting: Set a cake board on the stand and dollop on some frosting--"that's your glue." Choose your most even-looking layer and center it on top. Using an offset spatula, smooth on a generous 1/2 cup of frosting. Set second layer on top. Repeat frosting, followed by third layer. Frost, then set the reserved layer in place, cut side down ("give it a little fliparoo"), and you're done.

Crumb coat: With the back of an offset spatula, smooth a thin layer of frosting across top and down sides of cake, using a back-and-forth motion to massage frosting into gaps and crevices. Chill at least 15 minutes to harden the frosting. "This step locks down all the crumbs," says Daykin, so they don't migrate through your final top coat of frosting and make it look messy.

Top coat: Dollop frosting on top, then smooth it across and down sides. Smooth more frosting up sides of cake to give it a castlelike rim. Holding a bench scraper, wrap your arm as far around the cake as it will go, then rotate stand toward you, pressing scraper against frosting to smooth it and reinforce the rim. Draw long edge of spatula across the cake's top, keeping as much of rim as possible so cake looks tall and straight rather than slump-shouldered.

For a ribbony "rustic" finish, hold spatula vertically, wrap your arm as far around cake as you can, and press spatula tip against cake. Rotate stand toward you while lifting spatula up to rim, creating a ribbonlike effect. (Beginners may find it easier to hold spatula horizontally.) To swirl top, hold the back of spatula against cake just inside rim. Rotate as you pull spatula inward, lifting up at center. "If it doesn't work out quite right, just scrape it clean and start again!" Sprinkle rim of cake with remaining 1 tbsp. nonpareils.

Make ahead: Up to 1 day at room temperature and up to 1 month frozen. Bake cakes and cool, then slice each into 2 layers. Stack layers between pieces of parchment paper, wrap in plastic wrap, and leave on counter overnight (or freeze in a resealable freezer bag). On the day you plan to serve, make buttercream and assemble cake (you can frost the cake frozen, but let it come to room temperature before serving).

Beat the sugar and butter until creamy and whipped, about 10 minutes.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl until completely combined.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and beat until roughly combined.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Blend in the milk and vanilla extract, beat for one minute or until combined and smooth.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the cake batter until combined. Do this gently so as to not deflate all of the egg whites, but also make sure it's totally combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Split the batter evenly into 8 different small bowls. Whisk the food coloring into each bowl. You will need: red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, light blue, and purple. You can skip the pink or light blue if you want to do fewer layers just split the batter into 6 or 7 bowls. You will need more food coloring than you think to get the right hue. The cake will lighten as it bakes so the color needs to be very saturated to stay vibrant. Add a few drops at a time until you reach your desired tone.

Prepare four round baking pans. You can use 8- or 9-inch cake pans. Grease the entire pan, then dust with flour, shaking off the excess. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit on the bottom of each pan. This ensures that it will come out completely clean.

Pour four of the batters into the four prepared pans. Smooth the top as best as you can. Bake at 360 F for 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the oven, cool in the pan for 2 minutes. Turn them onto a cooling rack to complete cooling. Peel the parchment paper off of the bottom of the cake. Prepare the pans again for the next four colors and repeat with the remaining batters.

Once the cakes have completely cooled (about 20 minutes), trim the tops to ensure even layers.

Cover with plastic wrap and freeze on a flat surface.

When the cakes have been completely frozen, you can start assembling. Make sure you have the cakes in the order. Add the purple layer to a cake board or just right onto your cake plate. Use a dollop of icing under the first layer to help it stick to the cake board or plate.

Add frosting on top of the layer. Do a thick edge so there won't be any gaps when it is stacked. Add another layer of cake and repeat with the icing. Continue until all of the layers have been stacked.

Do a crumb coat of the entire cake. Add more icing to the edges if you have gaps.

Add your final layer of frosting. Smooth or leave swirly. Style the bottom edge of the cake with more frosting if you wish.

  • Use gel food coloring for the best solid vibrant colors. Some of the regular food colorings are too watered down and won't give you the rich hues that you need.

6 Inch Cake Pans

For a taller cake, you can use 6 inch cake pans. These thicker layers will take about 20-25 minutes to bake.