I don’t consider myself a real girly-girl, but I’ll admit it: I love Valentine’s Day.
I know it’s become a commercialized holiday, but look on the bright side: it’s the perfect excuse to eat chocolate, wear red and whip up pink-frosted cakes.
Ever the Johnny-Come-Lately (heh) with anything trendy, this was my first time making an ombre cake, and while the results weren’t exactly as I’d pictured, I love the way the cake turned out. It has a sort of unpolished look to it that appeals to me, but you can achieve a smoother/better-blended appearance by using the same approach. The technique is surprisingly simple, but the right tools are essential; I used two offset spatulas – a 9-inch and a 13-inch – and a turntable, and I couldn’t have achieved this look without them. A bench scraper tool is also recommended but not absolutely critical.
Now, a word of warning: the rest of this post is going to make me look like a total Sweetapolita groupie (bloggie?). You’ll have to excuse me, but I just discovered her blog, and I’m in love; I think it’s her liberal use of sprinkles and pastel frosting that hooked me. The cake recipe, frosting recipe and frosting technique all belong to Rosie, and I’ve linked you back to each one so you can check out the originals. I highly recommend checking out the video tutorial on the frosting technique – my cake turned out a little bit different than hers, but I used her approach and the video demonstrates it beautifully.
And if you’re a cake decorating novice, I’ve also included links to two excellent tutorials on filling, crumb-coating and frosting a cake; these helped me tremendously when I was learning the basics of cake decorating.
The reason I’m linking to the cake recipe rather than posting it here is because I strive to post only ‘make-again’ recipes on my blog. And while very good, it’s not the vanilla cake recipe I’ve been looking for. The flavor was great, but it was much denser than I expected, and I prefer a lighter, fluffier vanilla cake. This is merely a personal preference and not intended as a slight toward the recipe creator in any way. If you’re looking for a nice dense cake, I encourage you to try the same recipe I used; otherwise, feel free to use your favorite vanilla cake recipe.
Pink Vanilla Ombre Cake
1 Recipe of your favorite vanilla cake; or try the recipe I used: Classic Vanilla Butter Cake
Note that the recipe I used yields three 8-inch cake rounds, which is why the cake is taller than a typical 2-round cake.
Whipped Vanilla Bean Frosting (credit: Sweetapolita)
3 sticks plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
3 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp. milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped*
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used Penzey’s double vanilla)
Pinch of salt
*If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you can use 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract instead, for a total of 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla in the recipe.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter for 8 minutes on medium speed. Add remaining ingredients and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium speed for 6 minutes.
To assemble and frost the cake:
- Let the baked cakes cool completely. Wrap each layer individually in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for one to two hours.
- Remove the layers from the freezer and unwrap. Stack and fill the cake with the prepared frosting (detailed instructions here).
- Crumb coat the cake and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (instructions here).
- Divide the remaining frosting into individual bowls and tint with food coloring. I used 4 colors: white (untinted), a very pale pink, a medium strawberry pink and a deep red-pink.
To create the ombre effect:
**It didn’t even occur to me to take step-by-step photos of the frosting process, which would have been tremendously helpful – I promise I’ll do it next time! So before attempting the ombre effect, I highly recommend watching Sweetapolita’s video tutorial. Her demonstration is far better than any written instructions I can offer. But here’s the basic approach:
- With the crumb-coated cake on a turntable, dollop the white frosting directly on top and use your 9-inch offset spatula to smooth it out from the center until it’s just creeping over the edges. Spinning the turntable while holding the spatula in place will help create a smoother top.
- Dip the spatula in a bowl of hot water and wipe clean. Now dip the spatula into the darkest frosting and – inch-by-inch – cover the bottom third of the cake with a nice thick layer of frosting. Don’t worry about how it looks at this point, just work on getting the frosting on there! Repeat the process with the other colors, putting a ring of medium-pink frosting in the middle and a ring of pale pink around the top.
- Hold the 13-inch spatula vertically at a slight angle against the side of the cake (alternately, you could use the bench scraper for this step); the spatula should touch the surface of the frosting, but should NOT go deep enough to touch the cake itself. Without moving the spatula, rotate the turntable to smooth out the frosting all the way around the cake.
- If there is a ‘rim’ of frosting around the top, use your 9-inch spatula to gently smooth it toward the center of the cake, taking any excess with you.
- Dust the top of the cake with red and pink sprinkles.
- Be very generous when spreading on the frosting, especially on the sides of the cake. You’ll end up removing a lot of frosting when you smooth and blend the colors, and you want to make sure there’s still plenty leftover so the cake doesn’t show through.
- Don’t overwork the cake! Rosie says this several times in the video, and I can’t restate it enough. My cake originally looked much more like the one in the video (i.e. smoother) but I kept trying to fix tiny flaws in the frosting, which ended up being a major mistake, and explains why my cake looks more ‘ruffly’ and textured than the one in the video. I actually love the rustic look of my cake, but that’s not how I originally intended for it to turn out!
- Place a square of non-slip rubber mat under your turntable; otherwise it’ll be skidding all over the place when you’re trying to frost the cake.