Totally cool tie-dye cake


I’m not one for perfectly decorated cakes. While a cleverly-designed fondant-covered creation may look very tempting, the taste and texture often disappoint. I much rather prefer dense (or light, I’m not picky), moist layer cakes with big, fluffy uneven swirls of frosting—that’s perfection to me. I find them so inviting I have to keep myself from taking a fork and digging right in. My goal is always to bake the tastiest cake possible—decoration becomes an afterthought.

My daughter posed a challenge when she asked if we could make “a totally cool cake with marshmallow frosting” for her tie-dye party. I’m sure many of you have seen those rainbow layer cakes all over the Web. Martha featured one on her show.  The Better Homes & Gardens May cover featured a sweet lemonade cake with variegated pink layers. I’ve been looking for an excuse to make one of these and thought this was my chance.

Photo from Oven Love

Camilla found an image that was even more interesting though. Instead of uniform, stacked layers, the cake she wanted combined colors in one layer like real tie-dye. “So totally cool,” she said. And it was.

For more on Tie-dye parties, click over to my post at

Totally Cool Tie-Dye Cake

This recipe makes a dense, moist golden cake. I did use a standard seven-minute frosting because Camilla wanted something marshmallow-like. However, for ease of decorating, I would recommend a heavier butter cream, for which I have given the recipe.

2-1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

5 large eggs at room temperature

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 cup whole milk

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch pans.

2. Stir together the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream for 3 minutes on high until light and fluffy, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vinegar and mix until full incorporated. Next add the milk and flour mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat well after each addition, for about 20 seconds, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly combined, again stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the vanilla extract.

5. Divide the batter into 6 different bowls using the following amounts: 2 cups batter (purple), 1-1/2 cups batter (blue,) 1 cup batter (green), 3/4 cup batter (yellow), 1/2 cup batter (orange), 1/2 cup batter (red). Add food coloring to each bowl, stirring and adding until desired color is reached.

NOTE: You may substitute any colors. If using the amounts/colors above, the 2-cup purple batter becomes the outermost layer, with the other colors working their way in to the center of the cake, which will be red.

I did not give number of drops of food coloring as the amount depends on if you use gels, liquid, etc.

Begin by dividing the 2 cups of batter (purple in this case) between the two prepared pans.

Continue to divide the individual batters between the two pans leaving a one- to two-inch circle of each color showing (see below). This is actually easier than it may seem. The batter is very agreeable to this method, it doesn’t run or spread.

Continue spreading the batter in this manner until all the batters/colors are used.

6. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Don’t be alarmed if the color of your cake looks brown or deep, deep purple. I promise it’ll be gorgeous when you cut it. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

7. Frost when fully cool with Buttercream frosting and decorate with gel colors for a tie-dye effect.

Culinary Institute of America Buttercream Frosting

This standard buttercream recipe comes from the CIA in Hyde Park, NY.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
8 large egg whites
4 cups unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the sugar with the water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking without stirring to the soft ball stage (240°F).

2. Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment.

3. When the sugar syrup has reached approximately 230°F, whip the egg whites on medium speed to soft peak consistency. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat until the egg whites hold to medium peaks.

4. When the sugar syrup reaches 240°F, immediately pour it into a heatproof glass measuring cup with a pouring spout. This will allow better control of the flow of the hot syrup into the egg whites. You can also stream the hot syrup into the egg whites directly from the pot, if desired. Pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites with the mixer running on medium speed. As soon as all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and continue to whip until the meringue has cooled to room temperature.

5. Add the cubed butter gradually, mixing after each addition until fully incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Blend in the vanilla. The buttercream is ready for use or may be tightly covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.


1. Place 1 layer, flat side up, in the middle of a plate or cake stand. Using a knife or offset spatula, spread enough frosting to make a 1/4 to 1/2-inch layer. Carefully set the other layer on top, flat side up, and repeat. Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting.

2. Using small tubes of gel decorating colors, make 6 concentric circles, as shown below.

3. Using a pastry brush (or a flat, unused paint brush), start at the center gently pull the brush outward through each colored ring until you reach the outer edge.

Clean the brush, make sure it’s fully dry, and repeat the process next to the area you just pulled. Continue until the entire cake has been “tie-dyed.”

It’s just like opening a present when you cut into this cake…oohs and ahhs will abound. Even better if you can keep a secret until the cake is cut (not so easy in my case unfortunately!). Have fun.

Categories: Celebrate, Cook  |   
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  1. From Barbara on Monday, July 16th, 2012 at 11:34 am
    This is totally groovy, Rebecca! What a fun cake.
  2. From Amy Wallace on Friday, August 3rd, 2012 at 12:30 pm
    Lily and Vinny are planning on cooking this one up today despite the heat! Can't wait to see it!
    Amy Wallace
  3. From Angie on Monday, August 20th, 2012 at 12:15 pm
  4. From Melyssa Greene on Friday, December 14th, 2012 at 3:54 pm
    Do you think i could use Skim milk with it?
    • From Rebecca Miller Ffrench on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at 7:17 pm
      Absolutely, have done it many times. It will be ever-so-slightly less rich and dense, but still tasty. Let me know how it turns out. And thanks for stopping by
  5. From Joan Wolfe on Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 at 6:52 pm
    Jeannie's birthday.
  6. From Brooke Herbst on Friday, February 1st, 2013 at 11:09 am
    Thank you so much for this idea. I am making my son's 10th birthday party cake and the theme is tye dyed.
  7. From karen weighell on Friday, February 22nd, 2013 at 6:41 pm
    Hi i wonder if you could help? i have baked with different food colourings but have never got the vibrancy you have in your cake colourings which may i add have the wow factor and would love to replicate it, please could you let me know what company make your colourings as the ones i use tend to fade dramaticaly. hope to hear from you soon. Kind Regards, Karen.
    • From Rebecca Miller Ffrench on Wednesday, March 6th, 2013 at 7:15 pm
      Hmm, what brands have you been using? You also need to use lots more than you may think. I do like using gel paste, such as Americolor or Ateco.

      For an organic option, try India Tree colors. Looks like you’re in the UK though. Not sure what brands they have over there. Good luck to you!
  8. From Donna on Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 at 3:05 pm
    This cake looks awesome, I am going to try it for a 12 year old girls birthday party. I hope it comes out a good as yours! Thanks for the recipes!
  9. From Lori on Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
    This cake is totally awesome!! I made it for my daughter's birthday party. After having made it, I wondered about adding flavoring to each of the colors.. which was delicious!
  10. From Lucy rusden on Friday, June 28th, 2013 at 5:41 am
    I love it great idears thanks I'm making it for my brothers birthday thanks
  11. From Bridget on Monday, July 15th, 2013 at 1:41 pm
    Rebecca, what are your instructions on frosting this cake for a VERY beginner froster. I am SOL when it comes to frosting and could use some step by step instructions.
  12. From Bridget on Monday, July 15th, 2013 at 1:56 pm
    Hi Rebecca, one more question:

    What is the time frame of the whole process of making this cake? Seems like a good chunk of time with no pauses or breaks like 3 hours, but what would you say?
  13. From Lucy on Monday, August 5th, 2013 at 3:36 pm
    Hi Rebecca! Just wondering how tall this cake stands when completely frosted and all, how tall is the finished product? Trying to find a lid big enough to keep it fresh overnight. If you have any other tips to keep it fresh in the event I don't have a lid, that would be great. My cake stand did not come with a lid! So I am at a bit of a loss.
  14. From Tina Craft on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 at 8:54 am
    Made this cake 10-11-13 & followed your directions. I was somewhat disappointed by the had none. It was extremely dense, much like my Red Velvet Cake recipe. I now use the mix for the Red Velvet & it is much better than from scratch. I will use white cake mixes next time. The frosting was not at all sweet & had to be refrigerated to keep from melting. Once refrigerated, it was hard as a rock. I microwaved each slice for just a few seconds & it was edible. I will use my own frosting recipe for this next time.
    While the cake is visually interesting it is too labor intense for the flavor you get & in my opinion not worth all the work. I only hope my granddaughter does not ask me to make it again. Don't think she or anyone else will, as no one really enjoyed the taste.
  15. From Sharon Berry on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 at 11:59 am
    Love this cake. My grand-daughter will be 12 years old soon and when I asked what kind of cake she wanted this year her immediate response was "tie-dye". (last year it was red velvet) So, I was extremely happy to find your recipe and can't wait to make it. Thank you so much.
  16. From Anonymous on Sunday, November 24th, 2013 at 10:09 pm
    I think this is a beautifully done master piece. My daughter did one(checkered board) similar to this for my grand-daughters 1st birthday party, & it was a giant cupcake cake, I LOVE THIS IDEA! Can't wait to try......thank you
  17. From Marlee on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 at 9:41 am
    I love this it seems soooo fun to cook I am gonna cook it!!!:)
  18. From rosey on Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 at 10:49 am
    it is so cool do u hav a recipe for it
  19. From kim on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 at 10:03 pm
    Love tie dye cake looks great
    birthday cake time
  20. From kim on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 at 10:04 pm
    Love tie dye cake looks great
    birthday cake time
  21. From kim on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 at 10:05 pm
    Fabulous colors
  22. From kim on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 at 10:06 pm
  23. From on Sunday, May 31st, 2015 at 4:38 am
    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I'm not certain whether or not this put
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    trouble. You're incredible! Thanks!
  24. From Shanequa on Monday, July 13th, 2015 at 8:14 pm
    Will this recipe work for cupcakes as well?