Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Last night, not long after dark, we had one of the worst thunderstorms I've heard in years.  It went on and on and on . . . .  and then I realized that some nearby community was shooting off their Fourth of July fireworks on the third!

We had been hoping for a day at the lake today (Grandma is not up for what passes for a parade here - the politicians come out in droves to stand on the steps of the state capitol and speechify) but the day has dawned gray and overcast, sure to turn to rain sooner or later.  Grandma's youngest and her hubby are painting their kitchen instead and we'll perhaps find some fireworks later today.

Grandma had planned to make a special Dutch Apple Pancake for brunch (and the blog) this morning, but bright and early one of her friends posted this picture on Facebook and asked if Grandma knows how to do this:

Rainbow Cake

Why, yes, I do just happen to know how to make this cake, so follow along and Grandma will Bake It Easy.

When Grandma was a girl, the mother of one of her best friends used to make a cake like this with three layers colored pastel pink, yellow (the natural cake color) and green.  We called it Ribbon Cake and adored it frosted with Chocolate Malted Frosting.  (Grandma still adores that cake.)  This is nearly identical.

First, the cake:

You're going to need some special equipment.

To get super-bright colors like this you will need to use either a white or a yellow cake batter (or a mix if you must) plus food coloring and several cake pans.  Most of the time Grandma uses a 9-Inch round cake pan for layer cakes, but for this many layers you might want to consider using an 8-Inch round cake pan instead.  Ideally, you would need 6 pans, but who keeps 6 layer cake pans?  Even Grandma-The-Cake-Pan-Junky does not have six layer cake pans!  You can make do with 2 or 3 and simply reuse them to do several bakings or you can buy aluminum foil disposable pans at many grocery stores.

There are several different kinds of food coloring that you can use.  The first of course is the kind that comes in the little bottles or tubes at the grocery store.  These are inexpensive and readily available, but the color selection  is very limited and they are not very concentrated colors.  These are fine for making a quick pale pink frosting or coloring your Key Lime Pie green, but you will need quite a bit of this kind of food coloring to get colors this intense.

A much better choice are food colorings intended specifically for cake decorating and candy making.  These come in two types:

 This Wilton 1/2-Ounce Certified-Kosher Icing Colors, Set of 12 is the kind that Grandma has in her kitchen.  These are readily available at any craft store or in the cake decorating section of the craft aisle at Walmart, as well as on Amazon.

WARNING:  A tiny amount of this color goes a very long way - and it gets everywhere if you are not careful.  Do not take the entire foil seal off the top of the jar  - just make a small hole with the tip of a knife.  Use a toothpick (clean every time) to take out  a small amount of color at a time.  Keep in mind that frosting will become darker as it "ages",  but baked goods will be a bit lighter.

Ateco from the UK puts out a line of gel food colors like this Ateco 12-Color Food Coloring Kit.   Grandma has used Ateco products for 50 years or so and has never been disappointed.  These are a bit harder to find - if you don't have a store devoted specifically to cake decorating you will probably have to order them - but they are not quite so messy to use and no toothpicks are required.  They are not quite as intense as the paste colors, however.

Americolor also puts out a line of gel colors.  This AmeriColor Student Soft Gel Paste Food Color 12 Pack Kit is comparable to the Ateco colors above and slightly cheaper in price, at least on Amazon.  However, Grandma has never used Americolor products so she cannot vouch for them.  This is another item you'll need to order if you don't have a cake decorating supply house nearby.

The Cake

You could, of course, simply use a white or yellow cake mix.  If you do, please add 1 teaspoon of REAL vanilla or Grandma will know!  Truthfully, though, cake mixes are pretty much a waste of money.  You still have to add eggs and oil, which is much of the cost of the mix.  This is Grandma's First Choice recipe always for a yellow cake:

1-2-3-4 Cake

If you've read Grandma's "About Me" you might have noticed that I baked my first cake (with a little heavy lifting from my Mama) at the ripe old age of two.  This is that cake!  Our next door neighbor, who I called Auntie Beulah, had all rough and tumble boys (a whole houseful!) so she was more than happy to have a little girl come to help bake.  Those boys, like all boys, ate a lot, so Auntie Beulah made this cake quite often (always with real fudge frosting!) and Grandma was always allowed to help.  When my parents bought their first house and we moved away I desperately missed Auntie Beulah's cake so Mama ran the mixer while I sat on the counter measuring, adding stuff to the bowl and telling her (repeatedly) "that's not how Auntie Beulah does it!"  From that day to this, this is THE cake that enters my mind 90% of the time.

Note:  You can make this cake with all-purpose flour or pastry flour or cake flour.  All purpose flour will give you a picnic type of cake with a fairly coarse crumb that is just fine for 9x13 cakes and cupcakes.  It is also reasonably acceptable for layer cakes.  (Be sure to spoon the flour into the measuring cup, not pack it in!)  Pastry flour or cake flour will give you a much lighter, spongier cake with a finer crumb that is ideal for cake layers.  Either way, this recipe makes plenty of batter for 3 dozen cupcakes or three 9-inch cake layers (or 6 thin ones).

1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

You see where the name comes from, right?  One of the best things about this recipe is that it is easy to remember!

About an hour before you intend to bake remove your butter and eggs from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter.  (You don't want your butter soft, just malleable.)

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Beat the butter until it is smooth and very fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue to beat until well combined (a minute or two) then begin to add your eggs one at a time, beating for a minute or two after each egg.  Add the salt, baking powder and vanilla, then beat thoroughly.  Add the flour a cup at a time, alternating with half of the milk.  Beat another minute or two after the final addition of flour.

For this cake only:  In order to get even layers, each with their own color you will need to "scale" the dough - divide it into 6 equal portions.  You can, with a bit of fiddling around, do this by eye.  The easier way is to use a digital scale.

1.  Place your digital scale somewhere where you will not have to move it and will not jiggle it until you are done using it.

2.  Weigh your empty bowl.  Your scale should have a button to push that says "Tare" or "Zero".  That will remove the weight of your bowl from the total weight.

3.  Take the bowl off the scale and make your cake batter as directed above.

4.  Put the bowl full of batter back on the scale and get a total weight.  Remember, you zeroed out the weight of the bowl, so this is just the weight of your cake batter.

5.  Divide the total weight by 6 to get the amount of batter that will go into each cake layer.

6.  Get six small bowls, one for each portion of batter.  One at a time put a small bowl onto the scale, weight it, zero the scale, then spoon in cake batter until you get to the target weight of a layer.  You may lose a bit of weight between the batter that sticks to the bowl and the spoon, so you may need to play a teeny bit to get the bowls pretty even.

7.  Color each bowl of batter with a different food color.

Prepare your cake pans:

Nothing is more frustrating than to spend money and time and energy baking a cake only to have it stick to the pan and come out in pieces!  Here's  how to get your cake out in one piece every time:

First, take a roll of either waxed paper or parchment paper and cut six pieces, each just a bit wider than your cake pans.  Place a piece of paper on your counter, then put one of the cake pans on top of it and hold it firmly in place while you use the tip of a blade of scissors or a pencil to mark around the bottom of the pan, staying quite close to the pan.  If you are using waxed paper and are quite careful, you can do three or so layers at a time.  Carefully cut out the paper circles.

Using butter or solid shortening such as Crisco, generously grease the entire inside of the cake pan - even if it is a non-stick pan.

Place one of the paper circles you've cut out into the bottom of the pan, then turn it over and put it back in the pan with the ungreased side down.  Double check the top side of the paper to make sure that it is completely greased.

Put about 1-2 tablespoons of flour in the pan, then swirl and bang it on your hand to make sure that the entire inside is dusted with flour. If you have extra flour knock it out into the next pan.  Here is a video that shows how to do this.

NOTE:  Chef Crowley wastes quite some little bit of parchment paper (expensive!) with his method of cutting circles.  He also wastes time and flour dusting the pan with flour before he has put his parchment circle into the bottom.  Follow the method that Grandma outlines above, tracing the circles and placing them into the bottom of the pan before flouring the pan.

If you are using 6 disposable foil pans you can prepare them all at one time.  If you have only two or three pans and so need to do several bakings,  you can cut all of your parchment (or waxed paper, which works just as well and costs less) first, but you will need to wash and dry your pans between layers.

Spread the batter for each layer in the pan. Knock the pan on the counter once or twice to get out any air bubbles.

TIP FROM GRANDMA:  To get even layers, make the center of the batter you are spreading a little bit lower than the outer inch or so

Bake the layers at 350F.  These thin layers should take somewhere between 12-20 minutes.  You can put three pans on a rack in a standard oven, but do be sure to not place the pans on a rack above directly over them.  Halfway through the baking time quickly turn your pans and rotate them to a different place in the oven.

How to tell when your layers are done:

1.  The layers will be a light golden brown around the edge of the pan.  Do not bake until the entire top is that color.  You'll dry out the cake!

2.  The edge of the cake will have pulled away slightly from the edge of the pan.  You can see this quite clearly in this blowup of the Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffeecake that Grandma baked a few days ago:

3.  When you touch the cake layers very lightly with your fingertip, they will spring right back without leaving a dent where you touched them.

4.  Insert a toothpick or small skewer into the center of the cake.  It should come back out either completely clean or with just a few crumbs stuck to it.  If there is any damp batter on the toothpick the cake needs to bake longer.

TIP FROM GRANDMA:  If you can smell the cake or cookies baking in the oven then most of the time it is close to done.  

Remove the pans from the oven and allow them to cool for 2 minutes or so before turning the layers out of the pans.  Allow the layers to cool until they are completely cold.

Baking Times for Other Pan Sizes:

1 9 x 13 inch pan or 1 10-inch tube or bundt  - 40- 55 minutes
3 8 or 9 inch layers - 20-30 minutes
cupcakes - 20-25 minutes

Assembly and Frosting:

TIP FROM GRANDMA:  When you are working with brightly colored or dark cake layers and white frosting the easy way to keep cake crumbs out of the frosting is to freeze your layers for about an hour, then frost them while they are still frozen.

You will need two or three batches of your favorite white frosting to assemble this cake. You will also need 
Drape each of the strips of waxed paper over the edges of your cake plate so that the outer two or three inches of the cake plate is covered.

Put a small amount of frosting in the center of the plate (where there is no waxed paper) and spread it thinly, then place the bottom layer on the plate, centering the layer on the cake plate.  The edges of the cake should all be on top of the waxed paper.

Place 1/2 to 3/4 cup of frosting on the layer and spread it smoothly, working from the center out to the edges.

Top with another layer and repeat until all of your layers are stacked.

Pile two cups or so of frosting in the center of the top layer, then work around the cake pulling the frosting over the top and down the sides, adding extra frosting if you need to.  Smooth the frosting as much as possible with your icing spatula.

While your frosting is still damp sprinkle the decorations over the top of the cake.  To get the sprinkles on the sides of the cake, take a small amount in the palm of your hand (make sure your hand is dry) and press them gently against the frosting.  Repeat around.

When you're finished with your decorations gently pull the waxed paper strips out from under the cake, making sure to pull them straight out away from the cake so that the frosting smudges come along with the paper rather than dragging them underneath.

Happy Fourth of July!


  1. How long have you been reviewing stuff on amazon?

    1. Eight or nine years I think - perhaps a little bit longer than that. Since about the same time I started homeschooling my granddaughter when she was in second grade, now almost 16.


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