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. Smitha says:

    Loved your rainbow cake with natural coloring. I tried it however, the red color did not turn out. It was still red when I removed the cake pan outside, however by the time the cake cooled it turned brown :-(. I had made only 3 colors and the green and orange were fantastic. I added a lil over 1 tbsp of spinach and carrot juice and boy were they good.

  2. kelsey says:

    Smitha, I’m glad that you liked the green and orange layers. I’m not sure what happened with your red layer. Did you use the juice from canned beets or did you juice raw beets? I used the juice from canned beets and the color stayed stable (pinkish-red) even after being refrigerated for a couple days. I wonder if using a little more of the dye would help keep the color stable for you. And I guess sometimes it’s hard dealing with natural ingredients because of inconsistencies in color, etc.

  3. Smitha says:

    I have a juicer and juiced fresh beets, probably the salt in canned beets had something to do with the color I guess. I had made two versions, one with 2 tbsp and other with 4 tbsp still the same. I guess I will try adding a lil salt and try another time. I am determined to get a red :-D. Will keep you updated.

  4. kelsey says:

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I’ve used fresh beet juice on other projects and it worked so I was assuming that it would be fine in the cake. But I never thought about the salt content affecting it…it’s hard to keep track of all of the chemical reaction outcomes when dealing with natural dyes! I will make a note of this in the actual recipe so that other readers are aware of the difference. I’m eager to know how it works for you if you try it again with salt!

  5. Candice says:

    This is wonderful! I would love to make this cake for my daughter’s 2nd birthday, and a rainbow cake would be a perfect match to the Sesame Street theme, without all the food coloring. What size pans would you recommend if I were to double the recipe? I still want to keep the layers thin, so as not to have a leaning Tower of Pisa.

  6. kelsey says:

    Candice, I’m not really sure on the cake pan size. Looking at the pans that I have, I guess I would probably try a 7 or 8-inch pan. Let me know what you end up deciding and how it goes because I’d love to make a note of that in my recipe!

  7. Food Stories says:

    Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can’t wait to see what your next post will be!

  8. Leona says:

    Hello, I’m so glad you did this! I really love rainbow cake, though the only time I made it I had to use SO much liquid food dye to get a colour, and the whole thing left a chemical taste in my mouth. I did make red velvet cupcakes with beetroot juice and if was heavenly. I was wondering, has anyone tried cherry juice or turmeric? I’m going to experiment with the two and see how they turn out. X

  9. Leona says:

    Hmm. Working out the measurements will be tricky, we don’t use cups here.. I hope it turns out okay! I’m sure there’s a cups to grams / liters converters somewhere.

  10. kelsey says:

    Mallory, I’d love to know how the turmeric and cherry juice turn out for you!

  11. li says:

    hi, i found your site after my very surprising accident and wanted to find more info. on different colouring. I usually make carrot cakes with granted carrots and have never had an orange cake. I had some left over purple cabbage and orange juice pulp and the cabbage didn’t have a strong taste, so i decide to make somewhat of orange cupacakes with some cabbage. When I was done with the batter, it was nice and purple and i thought…that was cool pretty purple cakes. Before after baking they turned to green which was a nice suprise and thought I’d share. Not sure what reacted to change the colour but it was beautiful.

    I was also wondering if you’ve experimented with different combinations of veggie or fruits which gave you different colours?

  12. Tiffany Cheri says:

    I have a question about step #3 for the white cake. It says to “add the vanilla, 1 cup milk and yogurt alternately with the flour, baking powder and baking soda.” I’m not sure what you mean by “alternately.” I’m very new to cooking from scratch, and I’m trying to bake this cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday. I was raised to eat unhealthy, processed foods, but I’ve only ever fed her natural, organic foods. Can you explain that step more clearly?

  13. kelsey says:

    Tiffany, you are technically supposed to mix the dry and wet ingredients that you listed separately, and then add the dry and wet ingredients alternately to the cake batter. To do so, add roughly 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the cake batter, mix, then add 1/3 of the wet ingredients, etc. In simplified terms, this helps so that you don’t end up overmixing the batter. But there is also more stuff going in that the fat in the batter (butter/eggs) coats the initial 1/3 dry ingredients which then helps prohibit the formation of gluten in the batter.

  14. maharani says:

    Hi, i’m trying to make your recipe, but i realize that in white cake recipe you write 1 2/3 cup milk divided.. and then you seem to only use 1 cup of milk.

    what the 2/3 cup is for?

  15. kelsey says:

    The original recipe for a plain white cake calls for 1 2/3 cups milk. For the rainbow cake I reduced the amount of milk to 1 cup, replacing the remaining 2/3 milk with the natural liquid dyes. This turned out to be roughly 1 Tbsp milk per layer with 4 1/2 Tbsp milk for the remaining batter. In some instances you may add more than 1 Tbsp of dye per layer (depending on the desired color intensity) but by removing 1 Tbsp milk it helped to keep the batter from becoming too runny.

  16. Sara says:

    Is the cake recipe you posted important for success?
    I just tried an organic yellow cake, and dyed half the batter with 2 tbsp super dark beet juice I boiled, then simmered for 5 hours, then had sitting in fridge for 12 more.
    I was worried about the taste of the beet juice if I added too much so my batter was a very light pink when I put it in–came out yellow and tastes like corn bread! Now I understand this is probably the recipe, not the dye, but what I really want to know is how much beet juice can I add before it begins to change the flavor?

  17. kelsey says:

    Hi Sara,
    The dyes should work in other recipes, too, but I specifically chose a white cake so that the colors would be more vibrant and true. I also reduced the amount of liquid to accommodate for the added liquid from the dyes. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a precise max amount of beet dye for your cake because some cake recipes can alter the flavors more than others, some people might be more sensitive to the flavor of beets than others, etc. In the cake recipe that I used, the people that ate my cake couldn’t taste the beets (or other dyes) at all but the amounts of dye that I used may not translate perfectly to other cake recipes. I’m sorry I can’t give you a more specific answer than to just try a few different amounts to find your own color/taste combo. Other vibrant red dye options are strawberry, raspberry, cherry and pomegranate if you don’t mind the fruit flavor coming through in your cake. Good luck with your cake and I hope this helps!

  18. sarah says:

    Hi there Kelsey- am super keen to try this cake this weekend for hubby’s bithday. Can you just clarify what type of flour you use for this cake please? I notice that you add both baking powder and baking soda so I am assuming you are just using plain flour rather than self raising? I’m an Aussie and that’s what our flours are called here- not sure what the US equivalent is? thanks, sarah

  19. kelsey says:

    Sarah, I used plain {all-purpose} flour.

  20. Monica says:

    Hi, Kelsey, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Wonder the white cake recipe calls for how many inch round cake pan?
    If I am going to cover the cake with fondant, whether it is able to hold the weight? I think I might just bake a white cake then cover with fondant…
    Thanks 🙂

  21. kelsey says:

    Monica, the original white cake recipe calls for 3 8-inch round cake pans. And it should hold up with the fondant. Good luck!

  22. Emily says:

    Guess I’m on the down side of this. While I can certainly appreciate the fun in experimenting with Natural dyes, I hope no one is truly worried about the minisule amount of food dye in the cake when there are 5 3/4 cups of sugar in it. Despite that it’s a beautiful cake! 🙂

  23. kelsey says:

    Emily, you have a good point about the sugar 🙂 Fortunately, most of the sugar is in the frosting so you can eliminate that or reduce that as much as desired. I think it was more that if you’re going to make a rainbow cake, why not make one without the artificial dyes, especially since a lot of people have varying degrees of intolerance to the synthetic dyes. And like you said, it was a fun experiment, as well as a great conversation-starter re: the harms of artificial dyes.

  24. Robyn says:

    Kelsey, Thanks for posting! I need to find an excuse to make this cake. I have a little boy and of course he’s more into super heroes than rainbows, but I’m sure I can come up with something to bake it for. :o) I’m actually writing because my son has a severe allergy to carrots. (Strange I know!) Searching for an alternative to the orange color, Did you feel the pumpkin had too strong of a flavor? You’re only using 1 Tbsp. so I’m wondering if it would overpower the rest of the cake. Are there any alternatives to carrots that you can think of for me to try?

  25. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the information on how to make your own dyes, Kelsey! I was wondering if you had tried using a “carrot top tea” (just steeping crushed carrot tops in hot water) for a yellow dye? I remember brewing some a while ago and the water having a pretty decent yellow tint to it. Just curious.

  26. kelsey says:

    Amanda, I have not tried carrot top tea. I’ll tuck that idea away for something to try. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it!

  27. Amanda says:

    Will do! I probably won’t get to it for a while, but if I do, I will definitely let you know

  28. Rachael says:

    Boo! My beets did not work! The cake came out white. :O What did I do wrong?? The rest of the colors were beautiful. <3 Thanks for this, the cake was a hit at the party even if it lacked the color red.

  29. kelsey says:

    Rachael, I’m not sure what happened with the beets because they are typically one of the strongest natural dyes that I’ve worked with. What form of beet juice did you use and how much did you add to the batter? Was the batter pink/red before cooking the cake? I’m glad the rest of the colors turned out for you!

  30. Carrie says:

    Am about done making the batter and just realized I’m missing the temperature at which to bake it. How am I missing it?

  31. kelsey says:

    Hi Carrie,
    Bake the cake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how it got cut out of the directions but thanks for the catch!

  32. Jess says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m making this for my daughter’s 5th birthday, but I’m only using 3 colors in 9 inch pans…
    grape juice concentrate made a lovely purple since i didnt have blackberries. I noticed the colors were lighter after being cooked than the batter. I’m so excited to taste it!

  33. Summer says:

    Love this! Thank you for such detailed instructions.. the only thing I have a question about is the egg yolk. If I am going to use it to color frosting.. would I temper it? Or would that just make scrambled egg yolk? Lol.. thanks!

  34. kelsey says:

    Summer, for frosting I would try using something besides the yolk because of issues with raw egg. Pineapple or mango juice might work, although they might impart some fruit flavor. I still haven’t found a natural blue dye that works in frosting. (It has something to do with the chemical reaction with the baking soda and baking the cake which causes the blueberry juice to stay blue. In frosting, it turns more of a purple.)

  35. jessica says:

    Thank you for this great recipe! Made it for my daughter’s 3rd birthday & it was a HUGE hit. My family was so impressed.

  36. Holly says:

    I made this for my daughter’s 7th birthday in July. It was great!
    I made 9 inch round cakes and that recipe made 2 9 inch pans.
    I used beet juice from a can (and boiled a bit to concentrate it) for the red.
    It worked but was not as vibrant as yours. I used India tree natural food coloring for the orange. I used red and yellow. I used an egg yolk for the yellow.
    Red cabbage juice for the blue. It makes a really pretty robin egg blue.
    I just boiled a red cabbage for a while, took out the cabbage and boiled more to concentrate the liquid. I used red cabbage juice and yellow natural food dye for the green. It worked awesome! Purple I used blackberry and cherry juice.

    I am making one again this week for my other daughter’s 6th birthday.
    I might try the carrot and spinach juice this time. Where do you get carrot juice? Do you have to have a juicer?

  37. kelsey says:

    Holly, I’m glad you liked the cake! I love all of your dye suggestions. I’m especially curious to try the red cabbage for blue because I’ve used that for Easter egg dyes and they turned out beautiful but I wasn’t sure how the flavor would translate into a cake. But now it’s first on my list to try! 🙂 Thank you also for your notes on size when using 9-inch pans. For the carrot juice I used my juicer. I’m not sure that boiling carrots and using the water would produce a vibrant orange but you could probably use store-bought carrot juice (like Odwalla’s brand). Good luck and thanks again for your comments.

  38. Holly says:

    Here is a link to the pictures of my cake if you want to see how it turned out. I’m going to start making the next cake tomorrow. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150958074610897.409441.607650896&type=3

    Did you use beet juice from a can for your red or from fresh beets? All the juices you used, were they from juicing the food? I wonder if that is why yours is more vibrant than mine was. For the blackberry juice I used the juice that came out when microwaving frozen berries.
    I haven’t seen carrot juice in the store before. Do you think I could add baby food carrots instead?
    I might just do the green like I did before, it worked pretty well. I hope I can get my red more vibrant this time too!

  39. Summer says:

    I made this last weekend but used box cake. 🙂 I was able to get the blue from blueberries, purple from blackberries, and orange from carrots to turn out well. But the red and green didn’t turn out as well. I even used my immersion blender to puree the foods and then mashed out the juices. I did the same with the carrots, I heated them and then pureed and pushed them through a sieve. Overall, I was happy with the cake. OH! I also decided to put the leftover pulp, or some of it, into some buttercream to make different colors of frosting. It worked well and didn’t alter the flavor at all!

  40. kelsey says:

    Holly, thanks for sending the pictures. It turned out great! I used beet juice straight from the can (without boiling it). I played with the amounts a little bit and I remember that with the beets I ended up baking a 2nd cake round with more beet juice after the first one faded as it baked. For the blackberries, I also used the juice that came out from microwaving frozen berries. But I added blackberry juice until it reached the color that I wanted (although it is a fine line of adding too much liquid and drastically changing the consistency). I think I’ve seen an Odwalla carrot juice but I might be mistaken. Baby food carrots would definitely be worth a try.

  41. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for this idea. I found your website because I wanted to create a rainbow cake using natural dyes – you saved me all the hard work of having to figure it out for myself! The colours turned out really well, but I thought the cake was rather stodgy. Then again, children’s birthday cakes are all about appearance, aren’t they, rather than the taste. 🙂 Thanks again!

  42. Hi there – I saw this post for the first time a few months ago via Spoonfed and loved it! Your rainbow cake is just lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your color methods. The turning point for me to throw away ALL the artificial colors in our house was when my twins went to a friend’s birthday party where they served a Thomas Train cake iced in blue frosting… then pooped bright blue the next day. ICK.

    I design all-natural dessert tables for a living, and it is an ongoing challenge to find high-end candies and baked goods that are made without artificial colors/flavors. Hopefully, the more people speak up and demand all natural, the more companies will listen! Your post shows that natural can be both beautiful and delicious! Thanks again. Sweetly, Dawn

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