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Vanilla Bean Rainbow Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Vanilla Bean Rainbow Layer Cake

You wouldn’t know it by looking at this blog, but cakes are one of my favorite things to make. I’ve made several decorated cakes for family and friends, and I love watching their faces when they see the cake for the first time. Clara’s not even four months old, and I’m already brainstorming ideas for her first birthday cake. I didn’t think I’d have an occasion to make a cake anytime soon, so I was elated when my friend and neighbor Kristi asked me to make her daughter’s first birthday cake. She wanted a rainbow cake but gave me free reign on flavors and decoration.

This is a standard cake recipe that is slightly more time consuming than normal due to the fact that it has to be divided into six portions and tinted before being baked. The more cake pans you have, the faster this process will go. Other than tinting the batter, this recipe is straight forward and yields a delicious vanilla cake. It uses only egg whites, making the cake incredibly light. So many people think flavor is lacking in white cake, but that is certainly not the case with this one. Instead of using the tablespoon of vanilla extract the recipe calls for, I substituted vanilla bean paste and almond extract. The almond isn’t strong, but it gives this cake that fresh from a bakery flavor. I struggled with what type of frosting to use – Swiss meringue, seven minute or buttercream. I ultimately decided to use a vanilla bean buttercream, and it complemented this cake perfectly. I wanted to give the cake that fluffy cloud look on the outside, and the buttercream was perfect for that technique. Even though the birthday girl wasn’t really into the cake, all the guests seemed to love it. Kristi, thanks for letting me help celebrate Isla’s birthday in such a special way!

Vanilla Bean Rainbow Layer Cake

Vanilla Bean Rainbow Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

Yield: 1 8-inch round cake

Vanilla Bean Rainbow Layer Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting

This recipe includes both weight and volume. If you have a kitchen scale (I definitely recommend having one), I find it much easier to weigh the ingredients for this cake because I can just place the mixing bowl on the scale and pour the ingredients in. I used Americolor and Wilton gel food colorings to create the rainbow. You’ll want to use concentrated colors like this so that your cake is vibrant. I doubled the frosting (my changes are reflected) because I used it to fill the cake as well as frost it, but you can make less if you’re filling the cake with something else.


For the cake:
2 cups (8 ounces) cake flour
1¾ cups plus 1½ teaspoons (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks; 8 ounces) unsalted butter, plus additional for pans
3 cups (21 ounces) granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 cup (8 ounces; about 7 eggs) egg whites
1½ cups (12 ounces) whole milk
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple gel food coloring
For the frosting:
3¼ cups (6 sticks plus 4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 350º. Brush the bottoms and sides of 8-inch cake pans with melted butter and line with parchment paper. (I have three cake pans and simply had to repeat this process after the first layers had baked bad cooled.) In a large bowl, sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Mix in the salt, vanilla bean paste and almond extract. Reduce speed to low and gradually add the egg whites, scraping often, and mix until incorporated. Alternately add the flour mixture and milk to the mixer in two batches, starting with the flour. Scrape down the bowl after each addition and beat until thoroughly combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat for about 20 seconds, then stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Divide the batter evenly into six bowls (if you have a scale, you’ll want about 11 ounces in each bowl). Tint the batter until your desired colors are reached. Remember, you can always add more but can’t take it away. Once the batter is tinted, pour into prepared cake pans and bake for about 15 minutes. Place on a wire rack and cool for about 15 minutes before removing from the pan, then cool completely on a wire rack. If not frosting right away, the cakes can be tightly wrapped (once completely cool) in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 5 days.

To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the bowl and add in the salt. Continue beating on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and heavy cream and beat on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4 minutes.

To assemble the cake, place the bottom layer onto a cake board. Spread a scant cup of frosting almost to the edges and top with the next layer. Repeat until all layers are stacked. Frost the top and sides as desired.


Cake recipe from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook, Frosting from Sweetapolita via Annie’s Eats, Rainbow cake inspired by Whisk Kid

  • Jen @

    What a beautiful cake! I really love making cakes too and need to try decorating one like this. I love seeing people’s faces too when you cut into a cake. Especially if the inside contains a colorful surprise like this.

  • Ashley

    Oh my gosh this cake is gorgeous! I know the feeling – I’m always trying to find a reason to make decorated cakes…

  • Christina @ Oven Adventures

    so pretty! i love vanilla cake

  • Julie @ Table for Two

    this is gorgeous, Courtney!!

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

    This is absolutely stunning! Awesome job!

  • Rachel @ Baked by Rachel

    oh my gosh. I love the rainbow layers – so super pretty. I actually made a mini petal cake like this yesterday prepping for an upcoming birthday!

  • Nikki

    Seriously stunning, Courtney. I can’t believe the birthday girl wasn’t into this cake, with all the vibrant colors! Glad the guests loved it, though! :)

  • branny

    Great job, Courtney!

  • megan @ whatmegansmaking

    This is beautiful! Your layers look perfect, and your frosting is impressive. I love it :)

  • Sasha @ The Procrastobaker

    This is so stunning, and a recipe I am definitely contemplating for my boyfriends looming birthday!

  • Kelsey

    Courtney, this is gorgeous! What little (or grown-up) girl wouldn’t love this for her birthday?

  • ally

    oh my gracious, this cake is a piece of art! stunning work… wow!

  • Krissy’s Creations

    I’ve been wanting to make this cake for such a long time! You’ve convinced with me with just how beautiful it is!

  • Kate

    Did you just use a standard 9 inch cake pan?

    • Courtney

      Kate, I used 8 inch pans. The recipe called for 9 inch, but I prefer the extra height I get from using 8 inch ones.

  • Louise

    aw pretty! youve got a beautiful blog here, fantastic pictures! I’ve nominated you for the versatile blogger awards, as your blog continues to impress me.

  • Nikki D

    It looks amazing :) if you freeze the cakes should you thaw them before frosting? Or after? And how is best to thaw them? Thanks so much xx

    • Courtney

      Nikki, I thaw them at room temperature before frosting.

  • Nikki

    Thankyou so much, I’m trying it tonight, my daughter is 2 on Wednesday so I’m giving myself a few days to try again if it is a disaster ha ha ha!

  • Jane

    Hi there, I want to make one of these for my daughter’s first birthday next week and am also debating what icing to use. The whisk kid/martha recipes uses swiss buttercream but i have never tasted it and am worried it will be too rich. i don’t see the point in making something that looks good but tastes sickly. So, my question is, how did this taste? Was it very rich?

    • Courtney

      I really enjoy Swiss meringue buttercream, but this recipe is just for standard buttercream. Swiss meringue is silkier and much richer than regular buttercream. It’s not sickeningly sweet and is quite delicious, but I still prefer standard buttercream when baking for children.

  • Jane

    Thanks so much for responding Courtney. How did you find the taste of this one? On another blog the baker said she couldn’t finish her piece of rainbow layer cake as it was too rich-I wouldn’t like that to happen!
    Another blogger put white choc ganache in the middle of each layer instead of more buttercream-do you have any thoughts on this idea?
    Thanks for any hep you can give me!

    • Courtney

      I loved this one. It wasn’t so sweet that I felt like I needed to have a glass of water or milk during/after eating the cake. I actually think the white chocolate ganache would make it sweeter. You could always put fruit preserves or something in between the layers if you didn’t want so much frosting.

  • Jane

    Thanks for that insight-I think it’d make it richer too, I was a bit surprised as well! I might just make up some of the buttercream and see how it tastes and if I could handle that much then decide. Thanks so much!

  • Casey

    Hi what could I use if I can’t get the cake flour?

    • Courtney

      I don’t recommend substituting the cake flour.

  • Casey

    Oh ok so there is nothing I can use ,, its just that I’m from Australia and I can’t get cake flour here?

  • wen

    Can I use pure vanilla extract instead of vanilla paste? Also, not a fan of almond – can I leave that out?

    • Courtney

      You can use vanilla extract. As far as the almond, that’s up to you. I think the almond flavor is what gives this cake that bakery-style flavor that so many people like, but you can certainly leave it out if you think you won’t enjoy it. It’s very subtle, though.

  • Courtney

    I piped dots in a column and then used a spoon to pull the dots horizontally, if that makes sense. Then I just piped another column of dots and repeated the whole way around.

  • Sue

    What do you think about using maybe lemon or orange extract for flavoring the layers? Love your blog!

    • Courtney

      I think that is a fabulous idea! Either one of those would be fantastic in this cake.

      • Sue

        Thanks, Courtney. Happy Birthday. Clara! Can’t wait to see what your creative Mom planned for your celebration! :)