Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes for the DailyBuzz Moms 9×9

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Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Natural Dye RainbowRainbow Cake Batter with Natural DyesRainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Rainbow Cake with Natural DyesRainbow Cake with Natural DyesRainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Rainbow Cake with Natural DyesRainbow Cake with Natural DyesRainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Brighten up your winter with the colors of the rainbow.  Let the rainbow inspire your project this month.  These were the submission guidelines for the DailyBuzz Moms February 9×9 Somewhere Over the Rainbow project.  I didn’t have to think twice about entering the contest because I already had a rainbow cake on my baking list.

Rainbow cakes are everywhere these days.  I made one last summer and my family and guests loved the bright, vibrant colors.  But in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think of the negative discussion and controversy surrounding chemical food coloring.  My husband was actually the one to challenge me to make a rainbow cake with natural food dyes.

My first experiment with natural food dyes was when I was a child.  While making blueberry muffins I inadvertently realized that the more I stirred the batter the more the berry juice bled, making blue muffins.  Fast forward to two years ago and I completed my first intentional experiment, coloring Easter eggs with natural dyes.  I was intrigued with the beautiful colors that resulted from using everyday fruits, veggies and spices.  I have since dabbled in cooking experiments, including using spinach to make Green Eggs and Ham and coloring buttercream frosting with natural dyes.

I have to admit that coloring sweets with natural dyes can get kind of tricky.  There are lots of ingredients that would make great dyes but many of them drastically alter the taste, often introducing an unwelcome flavor to the baked good or treat.  I know what you’re thinking: dyeing eggs with spinach might work because it is not uncommon to combine spinach and eggs, but spinach juice in a cake?!

Well, now I can confidently say, yes, it’s ok!  You end up using such a small amount of the vegetable juice that the flavor of the dye will probably go completely unnoticed for most people, especially when you add some frosting.  My son, who is my toughest critic, ate it {while exclaiming, It’s beautiful, Mommy!}  The rest of my family concurred that surprisingly it tasted just like cake and that it seemed much more palatable than the typical bright rainbow cake made with synthetic dyes.  So, I considered the baking experiment a success.  I would much rather serve my loved ones a beet or carrot-colored cake than an artificially-colored alternative.

As with the Easter eggs and other natural dye projects, a rainbow cake made with natural dyes can be an incredible and fun learning experience for your kids.  They can brainstorm fruits, veggies and other colorful foods and then experiment with creating a beautiful and natural rainbow.  Not only is it educational but it can also help your kids learn to appreciate the natural beauty of foods.  And the process can be translated into many other cooking projects or non-edible projects such as homemade finger paints and homemade playdough.

I used a basic Cooking Light white cake that I have used for years and a vanilla buttercream frosting.  I then coated the exterior of the layered cake with a whipped cream frosting.  Combining the dense buttery buttercream frosting with the light and fluffy whipped cream is one of my new favorite frosting techniques and provided the perfect combo of richness and sweetness for this cake.

Initially, I did a batch of cupcakes to experiment with different natural dye options and then I selected the six rainbow finalists {indicated with an asterisk} based on a combination of color and flavor.  For reference, I have included my notes on the other ingredients that I tried because depending on your project they could work well in other scenarios where flavor isn’t as important of a factor.  When I made the cake I reduced the amount of milk so that the addition of the juices wouldn’t affect the consistency of the cake batter as much.

Red: *Beet juice; pomegranate, strawberry and raspberry juices were more muted in color

Orange: *Carrot juice; pumpkin puree also works but imparts more of a flavor

Yellow: *Egg yolk; saffron gave an unpleasant flavor; orange and yellow bell pepper juice produced a more vibrant yellow but had a strong peppery flavor; orange juice had a strong orange flavor; golden beets, despite their brilliant color, produced a juice/dye that was earthy brown in color

Green: *Spinach juice

Blue: *Blueberry juice {A note on blueberry juice:  I have since tried using blueberry juice to make blue frosting and the result is more purple.  The bluish-purple frosting is still beautiful, I just haven’t been able to make a true blue yet!  I am not a scientist, but after doing some resesarch I think the cake is blue due to a chemical reaction with the juice and the baking soda.  I am still working on the frosting part and will keep you updated.}

Purple: *Blackberry juice; grape juice concentrate gave a great color but a strong grape flavor.  If you choose grape juice, be sure to use one that doesn’t have artificial coloring.

4.7 from 15 reviews
Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes for the DailyBuzz Moms 9x9
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8+
Appreciate the natural beauty of colorful fruits and vegetables by making this Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes.
Natural Dyes
  • 1-2 Tbsp beet juice* {I used the liquid in a can of beets.}
  • 1 Tbsp carrot juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp spinach juice
  • 1+ Tbsp blueberry juice
  • 1+ Tbsp blackberry juice
White Cake {Courtesy of Cooking Light}
  • 3½ cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1½ Tbsp oil
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1⅔ cups milk, divided
  • ½ cup plain, fat-free yogurt
  • 2½ tsp vanilla
Buttercream Frosting
  • 3¾ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 Tbsp milk
Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Natural Dyes
  1. Use the liquid in canned beets or juice beets in a juicer.* {I had good luck with the liquid from canned beets. One reader who used fresh beet juice from the juice commented that the color turned more brown when it cooked. She is trying it again adding salt and will let us know how it turns out.}
  2. Juice carrots in a juicer or buy carrot juice.
  3. Juice spinach in a juicer.
  4. Microwave roughly ¼ cup frozen blueberries in 30 second intervals until they start to burst, straining out 1+ Tbsp of blueberry juice.
  5. Microwave roughly ¼ cup frozen blackberries in 30 second intervals until they start to burst, straining out 1+ Tbsp of blackberry juice.
White Cake {Courtesy of Cooking Light}
  1. Cream the butter, oil and sugar.
  2. Add the egg whites and beat well.
  3. Add the vanilla, 1 cup milk and yogurt alternately with the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
  4. Pour six ½-cup portions of cake batter into separate bowls.
  5. Mix the natural dye into each bowl {2 Tbsp beet juice, 1½ Tbsp carrot juice, 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp milk, 1 Tbsp spinach juice, 1 Tbsp blueberry juice and 1 Tbsp blackberry juice, adjusting the color by using more or less dye}.
  6. Reserve the remaining batter for a different use. {You will either need to add roughly 4½ Tbsp milk to the remaining batter or the equivalent in natural dye.}
  7. Pour each ½ cup colored batter into a greased and floured 5½-inch cake pan.
  8. Bake the cakes for 10-15 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Let the cakes cool for five minutes in the pan and then gently slide a knife around the edges and invert the cakes on a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. {You could also make cupcakes by layering the colored batter into each lined cupcake tin.}
Buttercream Frosting
  1. Mix the ingredients and beat for several minutes until a smooth, creamy frosting forms.
  2. Adjust the consistency by adding more powdered sugar or milk.
Whipped Cream Frosting
  1. Beat the cream, sugar and salt at medium speed until stiff peaks form.
  2. Fold in the vanilla extract.
Rainbow Cake
  1. Assemble the cake once the layers have completely cooled.
  2. Place the purple layer on the serving cake platter.
  3. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of buttercream frosting over the top of the layer, smoothing it until it is even.
  4. Place the blue layer on top and repeat the process until the red layer is on top.
  5. Place the layered cake in the freezer for five minutes to let the icing set so that when you ice the exterior of the cake the layers won't slide around.
  6. Using a knife, generously coat the top and sides of the cake with buttercream frosting, smoothing it with a spatula or a table knife, making sure that it is completely covered but getting rid of excess frosting.
  7. Then spread the whipped cream frosting on top for a finishing coat, either spreading it smooth with a knife or spatula or pulling it into soft peaks using a knife or the back of a spoon.
  8. Serve the cake immediately.

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

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136 Responses to “Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes for the DailyBuzz Moms 9×9”

  1. Amanda says:

    I just did a trial run for my Elmo, Cookie, Oscar cake for my son’s 2nd birthday next week. I had a similar issue like Rachael. My red turned out red on top and more yellow throughout. I used canned beet juice and did not heat. The batter was very pink and runny. Any tips?

    The other two colors were PERFECT!! Thanks for all your hard work and sharing it with us.

  2. kelsey says:

    Amanda, I’m not sure what happened for you. You could try adding some more beet juice to get a more intense color, unless you think the batter couldn’t handle getting any runnier. Good luck and happy birthday to your son! I did Sesame street cupcakes for my son’s 2nd birthday a couple years ago but I used artificial dyes for the frosting — yuck! — which ended up being part of the inspiration for my natural dye experiments because we were so disgusted with the artificial colors 🙂

  3. Auna says:

    Okay, so followed the recipe exactly but my cakes came out literally as flat as a pancake. I really wanna make this cake the right way. I dont live in high altitude and I used cake flour. Is it possible I may have mixe the ingredients too much? I baked the layers at 350 for 10-15 minutes each and they never even rose. Please help!

  4. kelsey says:

    Auna, I’ve never had that happen with any of my cakes so I’m not really sure what caused it. My only thought is that maybe there was something wrong with your baking soda and baking powder, or you used too much or too little. Or possibly using cake flour (this original white cake recipe from Cooking Light uses all-purpose flour) made a difference. I’m sorry that I can’t be more help beyond that.

  5. steph says:

    THANK YOU! I wanted to make a rainbow cake for my daughter’s Rainbow Dash birthday party, but wasn’t interested in adding chemicals to every bite of cake. I baked the cake tonight and the colours are just gorgeous!! I can’t believe how such a small amount of juice makes such a impressive colours. You have inspired me to try this with royal icing for sugar cookies next. I’m not sure if the icing will set, but I’m willing to try it out!

  6. Heather says:

    This might be a silly question, but how much egg yolk did you use for yellow? Just one? Did it change the texture of the cake at all? I know eggs can be binding, so I was just wondering if that layer stayed fluffy or turned out dense. Thanks!

  7. kelsey says:

    Heather, I just used one egg yolk because it was such a small layer (portion) of the cake. I didn’t notice a change in texture. However, just note that this white cake (even plain) is on the denser side of the spectrum.

  8. Dhyana says:

    I used turmeric for yellow frosting. Too much doesn’t taste good though but it makes a nice light yellow.

  9. Jessica says:

    Hi, I’m so glad you have experimented this so vastly and so many reviews were posted. I’m trying to make an all natural cake and tried fruit juices last night but the colors were extremely faint. I can’t wait to try this round with your recipe. We cook all natural and don’t use dairy, sugar, eggs, or soy. I will post pics of the finished cake for you when it’s complete.

  10. kelsey says:

    Hi Jessica, I would love to see pictures of your cake!

  11. Cc says:

    Hi, I was just wondering if I can make this the night before and freeze it?

  12. kelsey says:

    Yes, you can make this the night before and if it’s just for a night or two, you can refrigerate instead of freeze it.

  13. Jessie says:

    How many does this cake serve? Sorry if you said somewhere or in the comment section but I can’t find the info. I’m going to make it for my daughter’s bday and we’re expecting approximately 14 kids (ages 4-6). Would this cake be enough?

  14. Jessie says:

    Oh whoops. Found it. Serves 8. 🙂

  15. Lisa says:

    What size round pans do I use?

  16. Lisa says:

    What size cake pans do I use?

  17. kelsey says:

    Lisa, for the quantities listed I used a 5 1/2 -inch cake pan simply because that’s the one I had. You could adjust accordingly to make a bigger cake if desired.

  18. Holly says:

    I’ve made this cake 3 times now. I use 9 inch round cake pans and the recipe makes two of those, so I make it 3 times to have 6 layers.

  19. Michele says:

    I have been searching for this exact recipe!
    Question: If I am making this with 9″ cake pans do I copy the recipe exactly but double it? I’m on a tight budget and don’t want to mess this up and have to buy new ingredients. Thanks so much!!

  20. kelsey says:

    Michele, I haven’t made it yet with 9-inch pans so I can’t say with 100% certainty. However, I think you would be safe to double it and have plenty of batter to work with (for thinner layers). That’s what I would do if I were trying it. However, it’s worth noting that I wanted thinner layers because my cake was small in diameter and pretty tall with all of the colors, so I used 1/2 cup batter per layer whereas the Wilton guide recommends 1 1/2-2 cups for a 5 1/2-inch pan. If you are wanting thicker cake layers (2-inch+ according to Wilton’s guide) then you will most likely need more batter. I would love to know what you end up doing and how it turns out for you! Good luck!

  21. Holly says:

    I have made this cake three times and I do 9 inch round cake pans each time.
    The recipe as written makes two 9 inch round pans, so I made the recipe 3 times to make all 6 layers.

    BUT, I also used a cake cutting tool to cut each cake almost in half horizontally so that each layer would be thinner, or the cake would be way too thick if not cut.
    So you could do less batter per pan and still have it work if you are planning to not cut the cakes so much.

    I used wet towel strips clipped to the outside of my pans to make the cakes bake level (It’s basically like using Wilton Bake even strips, look them up and you’ll see how they work). So if the cutting is perfect, you can actually get TWO of the same color layers out of one cake in a 9 inch pan, so therefore you could make TWO cakes. My family just nibbled the leftover cake that was cut away from the layer we used, but it would have worked to make two cakes had we wanted to.

  22. Voon Chee says:

    Hi, I would like to make this cake for my son’s first birthday in 2 weeks time. A few question I need your help:
    1. Do I need to steam the beet, carrot and spinach before juice them?
    2. I have no microwave but only oven. How should I obtain the blueberry juice?
    3. If I can’t find blackberry, what can I use to substitute it?

    Thank you so much!

  23. kelsey says:

    Hi Voon Chee:
    You do not need to steam the vegetables before juicing them. You could do a similar method in the oven to obtain the blueberry juice, or you could buy blueberry juice. As for the blackberry substitute, one reader used grape juice concentrate to get the purple color so that may be an option for you. I hope it turns out well for your son’s birthday!

  24. Joey says:

    Hi Kelsey, I just tried this recipe today. I was confused when I reached Step 6: “Reserve the remaining batter for a different use”. Different use that is not related to this cake? I had almost half of the batter left. Please enlighten =)

    I didn’t use the microwave for the blueberries and just mashed them fresh. The color turned out brownish. Was it because the berries were not cooked? We have to cook the berries to prevent oxidization?

  25. Marj says:

    Love the idea. Hopefully I could try to do the same. For the yellow coloring, I was wondering if you have tried anatto seeds? They impart color

  26. Marj says:

    Great idea. Hopefully I could

  27. sharene says:

    U mentioned egg yolk for yellow dye. Do i cooked the egg yolk or just add in raw?

  28. kelsey says:

    Add the egg yolk to the batter raw.

  29. Ashley says:

    Unless I’m not seeing it I don’t see a bake temp? Assuming 350, right? I doubled it and I have an insane amount of batter- 5 1/2qt bowl is full to the top lol!

  30. harshada says:

    hi,i am planning to bake a rainbow cake with natural food colours for my son’s birthday.my question is, since i can bake only layer at a time,how should the remaining batter be stored till all the layers are baked?

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