Rainbow cake

Prep: 2 hrs Cook: 1 hr

A challenge

Cuts into 18 slices
A stunning celebration cake of six or seven colourful layers and cream cheese frosting - an impressive showstopper.

Nutrition and extra info

  • Freeze un-iced sponges only

Nutrition: per slice

  • kcal601
  • fat29g
  • saturates18g
  • carbs73g
  • sugars47g
  • fibre2g
  • protein11g
  • salt0.6g
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    You'll need 3 x these ingredients for six sponges

    • 125g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing



      Butter is made when lactic-acid producing bacteria are added to cream and churned to make an…

    • 225g plain flour
    • 150g golden caster sugar
    • 3 medium egg (very important to use the correct size)
    • 1 tsp baking powder
      Baking powder

      Baking powder

      bay-king pow-dah

      Baking powder is a raising agent that is commonly used in cake-making. It is made from an alkali…

    • pinch of salt
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • edible food colouring - red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, plus optional pink (see below)

    For the icing

    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 3 x 250g tubs cream cheese or mascarpone
    • 350g icing sugar


    1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Grease 2 x 20cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Tip all the sponge ingredients, apart from the food colouring, into a mixing bowl, then beat with an electric whisk until smooth.

    2. Working quickly, weigh the mixture into another bowl to work out the total weight, then weigh exactly half the mixture back into the mixing bowl. Pick 2 of your colours and stir a little into each mix. Keep going until you are happy with the colour – the colour of the batter now will be very similar to the finished cake, so be brave! Scrape the different batters into the tins, trying to spread and smooth as much as possible – but try not to waste a drop of the batter – a rubber spatula will help you. Bake on the same oven shelf for 12 mins until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean.

    3. Gently turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool. Wash the tins and bowls thoroughly, and start again from step 1 – this time using another 2 colours. Unless you’re making the optional pink layer, repeat one more time to get 6 sponges, all of different colours. Leave them all to cool.

    4. To make the icing, very briefly beat the vanilla and cream cheese or mascarpone with an electric whisk until smooth. Sift in the icing sugar and gently fold in with a spatula. Be careful – the more you work it, the runnier it will get, increasing the chance of splitting.

    5. Smear a little icing on your cake stand or plate – just a splodge to stick the first sponge. Start with the red, then spread with some icing right to the very edge. Repeat, sandwiching on top the orange, yellow, green, blue and finally purple sponges. Spread the remaining icing thickly all over the sides and top of the cake. For more tips and expert advice on how to create the perfect rainbow cake, check out our tips, below.

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    Comments, questions and tips

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    Comments (141)

    EJChocolate's picture

    Before making this cake, I looked at the comments and lots of people were saying that I shouldn't do the cream cheese frosting, so I made a white chocolate ganache instead to cover and sandwich the cake layers together. I made it by following this simple recipe;
    600g white chocolate
    300ml pouring cream
    Break up the white chocolate as small as possible, with your fingers or a knife. Then put the cream in a saucepan and cook over a low heat. When the cream begins to boil, turn the heat off and stir the white chocolate untill it's smooth. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge over night. The next day, put it in the microwave for 1.5 mins (or until its spreadable) and cover your cake!
    Going back to this cake recipe, everyone really enjoyed the overall appearance of the cake. The only other thing I changed with the recipe was that I cooked each layer for 20- 25 mins rather than 12 mins. I gave this recipe 4 stars because the cake was rather dense.

    sophieredican's picture

    My first practice run at his cake for my step-daughters 18th birthday was not very good so I bought the gel food colourings and used a Victoria sponge recipe instead. Considering it was also gluten free it came out perfectly. To make the cream cheese icing more robust I added butter. In the end it was perfect and everyone loved it and said how tasty it was. I would definitely recommend using the gel colourings not the liquid ones as they taste horrible (and the sponge will turn out a little less dense) and adding butter to the icing.

    jfn1's picture

    My daughter had insisted on a rainbow cake and although the sponge works well, I would avoid the cream cheese icing. The teens I served this too were not impressed with a cake that smelt of cheese! No amount of icing sugar will hide it and the outside will not look like the picture. I would advise that you use butter icing instead.

    sophieredican's picture

    If you add butter to the cream cheese icing it comes out much tastier, more robust and doesn't smell so strongly of cheese!!!

    Niamhfoy's picture

    I made this for my little girls 3rd birthday and it was fab! I was initially worried that the cakes were too dense and flat but it worked out so well when they were stacked up and iced. It's a real 'Wow' cake. She's already looking for it for her 4th birthday!

    helenhomespun's picture

    Absolutely brilliant. Have made three times now - once for my daughter's birthday as written and then twice more as ombre cakes with gradations of pink colour... Used Wilton paste colours and iced with buttercream. Great technique is making them in pairs and freezing wrapped in cling film as you can get them all out the night before the event to speedily ice and you're away. Can't speak highly enough - follow to the letter and you'll be delighted!

    hannahmolloy's picture

    The cakes were really good but the icing was awful. We followed the recipe and it was far too runny and wouldn't spread over the cake so we had to make a last minute run to the shop to get some fondant icing. I'd completely recommend finding a separate icing recipe.

    sophieredican's picture

    If you add butter to the cream cheese icing it makes it more robust and much tastier.

    Beveli's picture

    After reading some reviews I was scared, but I wanted to make this cake for my daughters 4 th birthday rainbow party and being a denser cake it was the only option in creating a really tall cake.
    And it was amazing. I did a test run initially weeks back and did the half measure but it was too fidly as thicker batter and even though I measured perfectly they came out uneven so I opted to make them individually using two thirds of the mixture (83g butter, 150 g flour, 100 g caster sugar, 2 eggs, two thirds teaspoon of baking powder and vanilla, still a pinch of salt).
    Made them over 2 nights, froze all of them and bought them out the day before for icing. Just needed to cut a little of the top to even it out.
    Cream cheese Icing was the correct amount however I only used a little in between as you need a lot to hide over the top and sides to hide the colours. I'm in oz so it was a very hot day so kept icing in fridge to keep cool and workable whilst icing.
    Using this amount though it is a huge tall cake, however everyone loved it. And the effect of the colours was amazing (used queen gel and you only need a couple drops which doesn't alter taste at all)
    Cut it into 2cm by 2cm pieces vertical and stuck a skewer stick down the middle for the kids so everyone got to have all the colours.

    Louise Campbell's picture

    I just made this for my daughter's birthday and decorated with rainbows and my little ponies. Thank you to everyone for their comments. I froze the cakes before icing them and made an icing with 2 packs of butter, icing sugar and a tub of marscarpone (which was delicious). I thought the cakes tasted great and I got lots of compliments!

    Smithy252's picture

    I decided to make this cake as a surprise for my wife. I followed this recipe by the letter and wish I had read the comments beforehand.

    "Tip all the ingredients in, bake for 12 minutes". In my gut it didn't feel right but went along anyway. Cakes rose well but sank straight after coming out the oven. The cakes don't taste particularly appetising and are very dense. They're edible but you don't be l need a big piece to soon fill up!

    Mascarpone icing worked well in that it didn't turn runny and it set even better once the cake had 10 minutes in the fridge. It didn't look pretty though so covered it in ready to roll icing and added some decorative piped icing.

    It's quite a large cake and with it being so dense, it feels even bigger. I fear this one will be going in the bin. All in all, poor recipe with disappointing results.

    green cupboard's picture

    It is good you should make it now

    marychef's picture

    I'm having a go at a bit of this. I only want 2 layers so I'm going for green and pink. The sponges are out of the oven and I should have put more colouring in for a more vibrant colour - we are now going for a more pastel look. I also added chopped hazelnuts to the green layer and freeze dried strawberries to the pink layer. The mixture was very thick and I wonder if my eggs weren't the right size. It's reading all the comments that have prompted me to have a go (and it's another rainy Bank Holiday), hence adding more flavour to the sponges. I'm confused by those who complained that it's a big cake. With six or seven layers what did they envisage?

    jc1000's picture

    Showstopper of a cake!!!! Made this for daughters 18th birthday buffet for family & friends and it was a great success. Having read the previous comments I was a bit nervous - I'm not very good with cakes usually. Followed cake recipe exactly and although it's a bit time consuming it's very straightforward. I used Wilton colouring gels from Lakeland and the colours were fabulous with no taste to them. Made the cakes the day before, wrapped them in clingfilm & stored in tins over night before assembling just before the party. I used mascarpone for the icing - absolutely delicious but could have done with a bit more. Also used full fat as have been advised that the low fat is more likely to split & get runny. The one thing I would suggest is that you ice the cake in 2 goes - by the time I had assembled it and covered the top, the icing was very soft for doing the sides. Could have done with re-chilling but I was running out of time. However, no-one but me seemed to notice the inexpert icing! The cake is denser than a victoria sponge - but it wasn't heavy or dry & the balance with the sweet creamy icing was perfect. Would have been a 5 with more icing! Don't be put off by bad reviews - this cake is a real winner!

    ljarmstrong14's picture

    I made this cake for my daughters 1st birthday party, & was absolutely thrilled with the results. It looked so impressive, and tasted lovely too. I only did 6 layers, but it still resulted I a tall cake! I used the Sugarflair gel colours which give wonderfully vibrant colours, but without needing to use too much of it. I will definitely make this cake again

    Susiebluetoo's picture

    My son made this without help, when I saw the plain flour out I thought he had made a mistake but no that's what the recipient says.... Self raising would make more sense . Then the timer went off ...said to bake for 12 mins ?? Not long enough,20 mins more like !
    Made a very dense cake , not light and fluffy like a sponge should be .
    Would be better off coloring a Victoria sandwich recipe or ANY other recipie but this one to make a better cake .

    suzannerooke's picture

    I made this a couple of years ago, found it relatively easy, looked beautiful, but like many other reviews it tasted disgusting! My daughter is desperate for me to make it again, I used the Dr Oetker colouring gels last time, an am wondering if all of the bad reviews were because of this, and the Wilton colouring pastes don't cause the bad taste?!

    jimbobroberts's picture

    Cakes worked well - colouring wasn't exactly as I was hoping, use more than you expect.
    Icing was an epic fail - I had two attempts, both of which failed and turned runny, despite being very careful when mixing it. Find an alternative! (Note every other cream cheese frosting recipe has butter in it).

    Ee1's picture

    Not as difficult to make as I expected... I don't think the amounts for the icing were sufficient and I can still see the colours if the sponges through the the icing a wee bit - I'm going to add multi-coloured sprinkles to it, though, to hide it (don't have time to go to the shops to get more cream cheese!!).


    Questions (20)

    raebarrow's picture

    I made this cake and it looked very impressive however I agree with many of the comments that the taste was not great. Not terrible but not great. Has anyone tried replacing the vanilla with lemon? I wonder whether this would make it taste any better?

    Umarkhan's picture

    Can you use caster sugar or does it have to be golden caster sugar

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi there, thanks for getting in touch. White caster sugar should be fine to use instead of golden caster sugar.

    Clairecutecake's picture

    Hi guys!
    I really want to make this cake! But my tins measure 26cm x H6.7cm
    I am terrible at trying to work out measurements to adjust to me tin, and don't want to spend ages making a mixture that doesn't fit the tins :( I would be so SO SO GRATEFUL if anyone could give me the correct measurements for this tin size!!! :) hope to hear from well anyone soon!!!

    green cupboard's picture

    I know it is good because I have masked it be for

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi Clairecutecake, thanks for getting in touch and really glad you're thinking of baking this cake. We haven't tested this recipe using a larger tin so for perfect results we would suggest purchasing the correct size tin as changing the size could alter the structure of the cake drastically. We're hestitant to give estimated quantities as we wouldn't want you to waste ingredients. 

    Vaishnavi_dede's picture

    Is it okay if I don't use the ..instead use baking powder...????

    watsonp's picture

    I have added gel food colouring to cake mix now looks curdled

    Comablackmm's picture

    Whenever you make a basic sponge recipe, use soft butter and cream it first. Then add the sugar and mix for a couple of minutes until well combined and it goes a lighter colour. Then add your eggs and mix very thoroughly for a further couple of minutes. Often the mixture does curdle a little in my experience, but if you have the flour ready weighed out, sift a little in and combine. This stops the curdling process. Then continue to add your flour. It shouldn't make any difference providing it'd not left in the curdled state for a long length of time. Hope this helps

    nch's picture

    Does the quantity for the cream cheese icing have to be x3 as well?


    Comablackmm's picture

    No, this is for the whole cake. You only have to treble the cake quantities to make the 6 layers.
    I would recommend having extra cream cheese as well as the 3 tubs of 250g, though, as hiding the beautiful colours underneath is quite challenging!

    delmorse's picture

    Having to type again as posted in comments incorrectly. My question is why is the recipe described as having buttercream when the icing uses cream cheese?

    Sarah Dimech's picture

    I need to know exactly the amount used for the purple colouring because it always comes out grey or at most very light purple. Last time I tried making a dozen cupcakes using Dr O's purple but I was not happy with the end result of the colour... can someone help me pls?

    jjmccrae's picture

    I want to make this cake for my other half, birthday is next week (18th March)... I only have this Friday off, but I was wondering, does anyone know how long this would last?

    4 Days before the first slice is cut? Would that be ok?
    Thanks for any help or advice.

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi there. We wouldn't advise making the cake that far in advance, 1-2 days would be much better.

    NatCantBake's picture

    I'm rubbish at baking but my sister-in-law wants me to make a cake for my nieces birthday in September. I'm thinking of doing something like this but can this be covered in fondant icing? She's mad on The Little Mermaid so was going to use aqua/purple/pink layers and then do some sea themed decorations on the fondant but will it work?

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hey there, thanks for getting in touch. Yes, those layers sound great - it should work well. Hope it turns out nicely.

    Djgillen@btinternet.com's picture

    If you're making the pink layer, how do you half 3 eggs?

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi there, thanks for getting in touch.  In this case, we'd beat three eggs together, weigh the total and then halve it. You can freeze the leftover eggs for another time or eat them for breakfast.

    missmissmoss's picture

    Hi, I am hoping to make the Rainbow Cake for my son's 1st birthday, I've had my heart set on it so have taken on all the feedback here and remain determined!! I was just wondering if anyone who used the Sugarflair colours would have the time to tell me which shades they used? Thanks x

    Tips (2)

    stia_616's picture

    After reading the comments on here I still decided to make this for a birthday, and it's come out great . I did, however, make a few changes.

    I used a basic Victoria Sponge mix (found on this website also), making each layer with 100g selfraising flour, 100g butter, 100g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 tsp of baking powder and a tsp of vanilla essence. You will have to trim the top of the cakes slightly before layering, but it's a small price to pay for a better tasting cake.

    I used Dr Oetker food colour gel. The colours don't come out as bright in the picture here, but they still come out pretty well. They don't seem to leave the after taste that so many people have complained out, even though pretty much the whole tubes were used in each layer to achieve a bright colour. DO NOT use the Dr Oetker liquid food colour (in the bottles like the essence) as these WILL leave an after taste, especially the red one.

    I will admit, I cheated with the outside icing, buying it ready made as I'm not overly great with icing, but with cost it worked out the same to buy ready made cream cheese flavour icing as it was to make it from scratch. I made a simple butter icing to sandwich between the layers, which could also be used to cover the outside, to save the issue of runny icing.

    Using these steps this cake worked like a treat and went down very well with everyone who tried it, even with the kitchen staff of the restaurant we used

    I hope these tips help anyone else thinking of making this cake for a special occasion.

    Kerry Cooks's picture

    Hello everyone!

    I have developed a very successful rainbow cake recipe on my blog - see all the positive reviews from people who've made it for their kids parties!


    It's just a Victoria sponge mix, with gel colours, and baked in disposable tins. The frosting is cream cheese, and the whole thing is DELICIOUS! Hope you enjoy, if you have any questions, leave me a comment on my blog and I'll try and help.