A simple and elegant vanilla layer cake with a patriotic surprise inside— red, white and blue ombré cake layers! Perfect for America’s 4th of July holiday.
While cutesy holiday baking isn’t exactly my thing, I just couldn’t resist this idea. Once the seed had been planted (and once my cake craving kicked in), it had to happen.
And I’m not even sorry!
This is actually the first ombré dessert I’ve ever made. The color transition isn’t perfect, but I really like how it turned out.
When I first told my husband I was going to bake an ombré cake, he was like “… an hombre cake?” and I realized what a silly little pinterest-obsessed world I live in. For those like my husband who have no what idea what “ombré” means, it is a graduated change in color. It can be applied to all sorts of things, like cake and even hair.
Ombré cakes are perfect for holidays where colors are king— like America’s red, white and blue. Frosting the cake in a simple white vanilla buttercream hides the layers, making it a fun surprise when it comes time to slice it up.
But this cake isn’t only about the looks. This is my new favorite go-to white cake recipe, adapted from I Am Baker’s book Surprise-Inside Cakes. It’s light, flavorful and just a delight. And the frosting is my standard (and scrumptious) vanilla buttercream recipe, developed over years and years of cake baking. Overall, it’s a cake you can’t go wrong with!
A few notes about the recipe:
>> This cake is made of 5 cake layers and I only have 2 8-inch rounds. Your cake pan situation is probably similar. Since they are all different colors, baking thicker layers and cutting them in half is not an option. Bake layers in batches, letting the cake pans cool and then re-buttering and flouring before baking another layer.
>> Gel food coloring is preferred to liquid food coloring as the latter adds extra liquid to the recipe, especially in recipes like this where a lot of food coloring is required to achieve the bright colors.
>> For the whitest-white in the white cake layer and frosting, use clear vanilla.
>> For even cake layers, use a digital kitchen scale to weigh and divide batter evenly.
>> To serve clean slices, chill the cake thoroughly before serving, at least one hour. Heat your serving knife in a bowl of steaming water, wipe dry with a towel, and then slice the cake. Reheat the knife in between each cut.
>> For more help on how to build a layer cake— on everything from preparing cake pans to frosting the cake— see my tutorial here.
Red, White and Blue Ombré Layer Cake
For the cake:
- 3 cups (340 grams) cake flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 cup butter (226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (237 ml) whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 5 large egg whites
- Red gel food coloring
- Blue gel food coloring
For the vanilla buttercream:
- 1 1/2 cup (340 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 6 cups (1 kg 360 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup + 2 (90 ml) tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- Sprinkles, if desired
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour 8-inch round pans and line with parchment paper. Since you'll need 5 layers total, use as many 8-inch pans as you have and bake in batches if necessary.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl combine the milk, vanilla and egg whites. Set both aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape bowl down with a spatula a few times as needed. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients, and ending with the dry. Mix only until incorporated.
- Divide batter between 5 small bowls. For even layers, weigh the batter and divide evenly. Leave one bowl of batter as is and using the gel food coloring, tint the remaining bowls as such: 1) bright red, 2) light red, 3) bright blue, 4) light blue.
- Pour batters into individual prepared cake pans and bake until centers spring back when touched, about 14-16 minutes. Bake in batches as needed to finish all 5 layers. Let cake layers cool in the pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the buttercream:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and whipping cream on medium speed until moistened and uniform. Increase speed to high and beat until light and creamy, about 4-5 minutes.
- !To assemble the layer cake: Place the bright blue cake layer on a display plate or cake stand. Cover with 1/2 cup of the buttercream. Top with the light blue cake layer. Repeat so that the cake layers are in the following order: bright blue, light blue, white, light red, bright red.
- Cover the layer cake with the remaining frosting and decorate as desired. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving to neat and clean slicing. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 5 days.