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How to make a checkered cake?

Let’s face it: cakes are about appearance as much as they are about taste. We all want a perfectly baked cake with a tender crumb, but we also want to bake something that will wow our fellow cake-eaters before they take the first bite.

Some cakes, however, are all show and no taste, relying on sugary decorations, excessive frosting, and cascading drips to dazzle their audience. Therefore I’m here to teach you how to make a checkerboard cake, which adds a “wow” aspect to your cake without sacrificing quality. It’s a basic approach that depends on the cake itself to create a treat that’s as appealing on the inside as it is on the surface. Who doesn’t like a lovely surprise when they bite into a cake? (The answer is no one.)

A checkerboard cake is made up of at least two layers of contrasting cake colors cut and reassembled to reveal a beautiful pattern. You may tint your layers with food colour or create two whole distinct varieties of cake, such as chocolate and vanilla. You’re OK to go as long as the colors contrast and the tastes complement one other.

To showcase this technique, I’m making a version that’s colorful, adventurous, and summery: a pink-hued strawberry cake, a tangy yellow lemon cake, lemon curd filling, and basil Italian buttercream. After you’ve mastered the technique, the possibilities are limitless.

Checkerboard cake with crumb coating

Choosing your recipe

You can use any cake recipe(s) you love here (as long as the flavors play nicely together!), but I’m making King Arthur’s very own Tender White Cake. It’s a terrific basis for flavor variations and always yields a gorgeous, silky, fine-crumbed cake.

You may build a checkerboard cake with two or four layers overall — just make sure each flavor/color has the equal amount of tiers. I prefer to create a tall cake, so I’m using the Tender White Cake recipe to make four 6″ cake layers. I’ll divide the batter in half and flavor each half individually.

What you’ll need to make a checkerboard cake

  • One or two circular layers of cake in two distinct colors (again, the equal quantity of each flavor/color is required).
  • One batch of your favorite frosting
  • One batch of your favorite cake filling (optional)
  • Large serrated knife
  • If you’re using 6″ pans, you’ll need a 2″ and 4″ round cookie/biscuit cutter (1 1/2″ and 3 1/2″ will work too). 2″, 4″, and 6″ rounds are required for 8″ or 9″ cakes “cutters.
  • Cake board (also known as a cake round)
  • Pastry bag fitted with a large round tip
  • Offset spatula

Prepare the colors for your cake layers

The first step is to choose and prepare the color and taste of your cakes. It’s a good idea to get the flavorings ready before you start mixing the cake batter, so you can flavor and bake the cakes quickly.

Cake batter next to prepared colors
Preparing your cake colorings and flavorings before mixing and dividing your batter is easier.

Crush freeze-dried strawberries in a mill and pestle till fine powder to create a strawberry cake as I did. (Alternatively, mix in a food processor or smash the berries in a bag with a rolling pin to keep them confined). I used 1/3 cup (7g) strawberry powder to color and flavor half of the Tender White Cake recipe.

Add 2 tablespoons (18g) Lemon Juice Powder and 1/8 teaspoon turmeric to the lemon cake. The turmeric is optional, but without it the cake will remain white, and it’s nice to add a little color for visual contrast in your checkerboard! It will not seem yellow in the batter, but it will become a wonderful pale-yellow after baking. And don’t worry — it’s such a small amount of turmeric that you won’t notice the flavor.

Divide and color the cake batter

The simplest approach to create this cake is to make one batch of cake batter, split it, and then add flavors and colors as desired. If you’re making two different cake flavors (like chocolate and vanilla), there’s no need to divide the batter — just make two recipes with roughly equal volumes of batter (tip: pick recipes that use approximately the same amount of flour) and bake the same number of layers for each flavor.

The Tender White Cake recipe yields about 1200g of batter, so once you’re done mixing, divide into two bowls with 600g of batter each. You may estimate this, but try to ensure that each pan has the same quantity of batter.

Colored checkerboard cake batter
One batch of Delicate White Cake, split and turned into two tastes.

Next, for my cake, I mixed 1/3 cup strawberry powder into half the batter and 2 tablespoons Lemon Juice Powder and 1/8 teaspoon turmeric into the other half. Divide the batter into four greased 6″ cake pans: two pans with 300g of strawberry batter, and two with 300g of lemon batter.

Bake according to the directions on the package. At 350°F my 6″ cakes took about 30 minutes, but I recommend checking at 20 to 25 minutes, then every 5 minutes until your cake is nicely domed, fragrant, and just starting to pull away from the edges of the pan.

Prepare your frosting

Let the cake layers to fully cool. I know it’s hard to be patient when you’re excited, but this is very important — otherwise the cake will melt the filling and frosting, and it will be both unattractive and unstable.

While you’re waiting, whip up some icing! I created Italian Buttercream, adding basil to the recipe (I’m an incorrigible tinkerer). For an unexpected touch, I like to add herb tastes to fruity cakes, and basil pairs well with both strawberry and lemon.

Basil Italian Buttercream
I colored my frosting with natural food coloring to make it more green.

I simply crushed 12 basil leaves in a mill and pestle to get a paste, then mixed them into my buttercream. I love the visible flecks of basil in the frosting, but the green tint came out pretty subtle, so I added a few drops of natural food coloring.

Build your checkerboard cake

Now for the fun part: the cake puzzle! Take your cooled layers and slice the dome off the top so that each layer is level — this makes for easy stacking and a clean, uniform inside, which is essential for this cake.

Rings of cut cake
Be gentle when cutting your cake!

Then use round cutters to cut each piece into three concentric circles: an outer 6″ ring of cake, an inner 4″ ring of cake, and a little 2″ circle in the center. Frost the outside edges of all the 2″ and 4″ pieces lightly. (This is necessary so that the cake remains together when cut!) If you like, you may use filling instead of icing.

Assembled cake layers
You could forgo the checkerboard cake entirely and instead enjoy a scrumptious game of darts.

Reassemble the parts such that each one resembles a target. You should have two layers that alternate pink-yellow-pink and two layers that alternate yellow-pink-yellow.

Fill the cake

For a cake filled with just frosting, make a frosting “dam” (a big, piped ring of frosting) around the outside of the layer, then fill it in with more frosting. It’s advantageous if the dam is somewhat higher than the remainder of the frosting layer – cakes sometimes need a little additional icing around the perimeter to keep the layers level.

Cake layer with spiral of piped curd and buttercream
Swirling your frosting and filling in this manner will create a slight checkerboard pattern in both the filling and the cake layers.

To prevent the lemon curd filling from seeping into the cake, start with a thin layer of icing. Pipe a dam around the outside of the layer, then make a buttercream spiral inside the dam to add some stability (this way the layers won’t slide around, and the filling will look more checkerboard-y, too). Fill up the spiral’s empty spaces with lemon curd. Your taste senses will be grateful.

Stack and frost

Place the next layer on top (make sure you’re alternating colors with each layer), then frost and fill it the same way. After adding the last layer, you’re ready to frost the exterior.

Assembled, unfrosted checkerboard cake
Be care to alternate the cake layers when stacking (yellow-pink-yellow should only be touching pink-yellow-pink).

It’s a good idea to start with a crumb coat to make the cake seem lovely and tidy. Put the cake in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes before frosting and decorating it to your taste. I like a smooth finish, and I kept the decorations on mine pretty minimal to let the checkerboard pattern take center stage. To do this, frost the entire cake with an offset spatula, then use your bench knife to smooth the surface as you rotate the cake stand.

And there you have it – a simple-yet-snazzy cake to dazzle all your cake-loving pals.

Collage with un-cut decorated checkerboard cake and cut cake While it seems plain on the surface, this cake has an eye-catching design that is sure to wow.