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Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

Appreciate the natural beauty of colorful fruits and vegetables by making this Rainbow Cake with natural dyes.
By Kelsey Hilts

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

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 artificial food coloring.  My husband was actually the one to challenge me to make a rainbow cake with natural food dyes.

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes
Natural Dyes
Rainbow Cake with Natural 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.

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

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 an earthy brown juice/dye

Green: *Spinach juice

Blue: *Blueberry juice

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.

Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes
 
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
 
Appreciate the natural beauty of colorful fruits and vegetables by making this Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes.
Author:
Recipe Type: Dessert
Serves: 8+
Ingredients
Natural Dyes
  • 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 mL) beet juice
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) carrot juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) spinach juice
  • 1+ Tbsp (15+ mL) blueberry juice
  • 1+ Tbsp (15+ mL) blackberry juice
White Cake {Courtesy of Cooking Light}
  • 3½ cups (348g) flour
  • 2 tsp (7,5g) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2g) baking soda
  • 1¾ cups (335g) sugar
  • ¼ cup (57g) butter
  • 1½ Tbsp (20g) oil
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1⅔ cups (394 mL) milk, divided
  • ½ cup (60g) plain, fat-free yogurt
  • 2½ tsp (12 mL) vanilla
Buttercream Frosting
  • 3¾ cups (488g) powdered sugar
  • ½ cup (115g) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 3 Tbsp (45 mL) milk
Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2 cups (473 mL) heavy cream
  • ¼ cup (33g) powdered sugar
  • ⅛ tsp (0,5g) salt
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Instructions
Natural Dyes
  1. Juice beets in a juicer or use the liquid in canned beets.
  2. Juice carrots in a juicer or buy carrot juice.
  3. Juice spinach in a juicer.
  4. Microwave roughly ¼ cup (25g) frozen blueberries in 30 second intervals until they start to burst, straining out 1+ Tbsp (15+ mL) of blueberry juice.
  5. Microwave roughly ¼ cup (25g) frozen blackberries in 30 second intervals until they start to burst, straining out 1+ Tbsp (15+ mL) 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 (237 mL) 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 (30g) beet juice, 1½ Tbsp (20g) carrot juice, 1 egg yolk + 1 Tbsp (15g) milk, 1 Tbsp (15g) spinach juice, 1 Tbsp (15g) blueberry juice and 1 Tbsp (15g) 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 (67 mL) 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.

 

Kelsey Hilts

Kelsey Hilts

Kelsey Hilts is the founder of Itsy Bitsy Foodies, an online resource for families looking for ways to spend more time together enjoying food and exploring the world beyond the children’s menu.

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Originally Published: February 28, 2012

23 Responses to Rainbow Cake with Natural Dyes

  1. Priya Mahadevan

    Priya Mahadevan Reply

    February 28, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Kelsey this looks fabulous! I love the natural dyes and the next time,. I will be using your idea for my next time- but here’s a look see at my first attempt at a rainbow cheese cake :) –
    http://priyasnowserving.blogspot.com/2011/09/celebration-begins-with-rainbow.html

  2. Michael pan-larsen Reply

    February 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    Beautiful cake:) thanks for the recipe
    We use a lot of pandanjuice (fresh pandan leaves blended/or pounded with a little water. Not only is the colour bright green(best to use a strong blender) also the fantastic aroma is so suitable for all cakes. Annato seeds are beautiful yellow. One of our clients is Chr. Hansen , the leading company in the world on bright natural derived colors obtained from hibiscus, turmeric etc.
    Nice article , keep up baking and enjoy

  3. Alexia Kannas

    Alexia Kannas Reply

    February 29, 2012 at 3:05 am

    This is seriously cool: thank you!

  4. Kelsey Hilts

    Kelsey Hilts Reply

    February 29, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Thanks, Alexia. Priya, I love your idea for a rainbow cheesecake. And Michael, thank you for all of the other natural dye suggestions. I am especially intrigued by the pandan juice and the annato seeds!

  5. Radhika Penagonda

    Radhika @ Just Home Made Reply

    March 5, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Kelsey,

    Awesome natural dye suggestions!
    It is great to know what works best and what not based on your trials…
    Thank you!

  6. michele Reply

    March 6, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Trying to change to healthy cooking and baking. This is good stuff.

  7. Christina @ The Hungry Australian Reply

    March 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I love this – what a wonderful way to have your cake and eat it too! Gorgeous – I am definitely trying this one out. Thank you so much for this recipe!

  8. Jelena Reply

    March 19, 2012 at 4:14 am

    Dear Kelsey, THANKS so much for this recipe and all your ideas, I will definatelly use this kind of natural colourings, I’ve been looking for an alternatives to syntetic colours for a while and you just made my day!!!! My next rainbow cake is dedicated to you!! <3

  9. Sofia Reply

    March 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Kelsey. It’s my 1st time on this site and I really like the rainbow cake recipe (and my husband too).
    I’ll do it to my little 6 years old brother.

    Sorry for my English, I’m from Argentina.

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  13. belinda Reply

    April 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Love your rainbow cake, just wondering if this can be made the day before a bday party? Would you ice the cake the day before?

    thanks
    Belinda

  14. Kelsey Hilts

    Kelsey Hilts | Itsy Bitsy Foodies Reply

    April 29, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Belinda,

    You could definitely make this the day before. Especially if you use whipped cream frosting I would be sure to refrigerate it (if you are icing it the day before).

  15. muthia Reply

    May 7, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I am gonna make it for my sister’s birthday. im wondering, can i use purple sweet potato juice fo the blue/purple color? thank you..

  16. muthia Reply

    May 7, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Oh i forgot this. in this recipe are you using regular tablespoon, or tablespoon in the measuring spoon? thank you in advance

  17. Kelsey Hilts

    Kelsey Hilts | Itsy Bitsy Foodies Reply

    May 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I have not worked with purple sweet potato juice so I’m not sure if that will work or not. When I’ve tried sweet potato/yam the color was very faint but I would love to know how it turned out for you for blue/purple. I use measuring spoon Tablespoons.

  18. S Reply

    June 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for posting this!! I’m excited to try it. I was actually going to buy one for my daughter’s first birthday, but no bakery would make it for me! They actually were very offended by my request! Do you know why that would be?

  19. Cassy Reply

    September 9, 2013 at 11:18 am

    If I wanted to make more vibrant colors, could I sub some of the milk in the cake recipe for more of the juice – for extra color? Has anyone tried this?

  20. Simone Reply

    September 10, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I didn’t have a round cake tin so just used my square one & followed the recipe closely. http://i34.photobucket.com/albums/d111/bouschka/IMG_2511.jpg It’s beautiful!!!
    Although strangely, the blackberries made blue & the blueberries made purple! I’m in australia.
    Thank you! Love this cake & my girlfriend was so surprised & impressed.

  21. Alice Reply

    September 29, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks for the recipe!

    I’ve tried an alternative cake recipe with buttermilk and whole eggs, I then used beet juice and carrot juice for red and carrot cake layers (I’m trying to make the rainbow cake for my sister’a tenth bday in 3 days) but they both turned out very yellow.

    I also baked with the convection baking option. I don’t think it’s the amount of juice because I’ve added about almost 5 tablespoons of each. Do you have any idea why the colours all went away?

    I’ll be trying your recipe tomorrow night for my next two layers! :) please if you have any ideas or tricks for keeping the colours in?

    P.s. I’ve never baked so many layers before! Haha

  22. Milena Reply

    January 17, 2014 at 6:39 am

    Love this cake! It tastes good and i so pretty with its delicate colors! I couldn’t quite understand part of the recipe though… It calls for 1 2/3 cups milk, separated, but the instructions only mention adding the 1 cup. Do you add the rest of it as well? I tried adding just the one cup and mine came out kind of dense, but I overbeat it too :)

  23. Kelsey Hilts

    Kelsey Hilts | Itsy Bitsy Foodies Reply

    January 22, 2014 at 1:42 am

    Milena,

    I’m glad you like the cake. The additional 2/3 cup milk is the amount of remaining liquid that should be in the batter. The natural liquid dyes are used in place of that milk. For the size of cake rounds that I used there would be some remaining batter so you would either need to add 4 1/2 Tbsp of dye or milk to reach the right consistency. And just to note, this cake recipe is more on the dense side anyway. Sorry for the confusion!

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