Rainbow cake

Rainbow cake

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(74 ratings)

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 (140)

    tinylily's picture

    I was planning to make this cake for my birthday party on Sunday, so I made two test layers last night, which were awful. The texture is awful - reminds me of an overdone microwave cake (remember those?) and tastes synthetic, despite using good paste colourings.

    As an experienced cook, I also don't need patronising reminders about cake tin sizes and measuring ingredients - with so many negative comments surely you must accept there is a problem with this recipe.

    If I try this again I will definitely flavour the cakes, but I might just using victoria sponge and buttercream.

    Two stars, really for the inspiration to make a beautiful cake - I do agree that it looks very impressive so it certainly fulfils that brief.

    helen1907's picture

    I made the rainbow cake for my daughters 10th birthday, I am a cook by trade and an experienced baker, but I have to agree the cakes came out dense and strange tasting with the texture of playdoh....it looked amazing, but who wants a cake that looks great but tastes horrible. The children picked at it, bless them, then then whole lot went in the bin :(

    leane67's picture

    I read all the comments before trying this cake and as such used a Victoria sandwich recipe. I also used gel food colouring which meant i could get very vibrant colours using very little gel and therefore no weird flavour. I also covered the outside with home made butter icing and layered it alternately with jam and butter icing. The cost was no more than any other cake I would make. Overall the cake was a huge success, I would definitely make it again albeit not using the recipe suggested on the site. Thanks for your comments, they made this cake a success for me. Definitely worth adapting the recipe and trying again.

    pikolet's picture

    I made this today for my daughter's school's spring fair baking competition and after reading the other reviews I was convinced I would come in last. However I won second place in both the appearance and the taste categories. I followed the recipe exactly except I used full fat cream cheese for the frosting. I was very pleased with the results. The cakes were very moist and the frosting delicious. And of course the colours were stunning.( I ordered the colours from squires as recommended). So I must have done something right. Thank you Good Food!

    clarepallett's picture

    Purchased the food colour pastes from the site suggested in the magazine and I have to say that they were amazing; the cake was a gorgeous colour. Nonetheless the cake recipe was most disappointing. In fact it can hardly be described as a cake as the mixture produced a cake that was dense and unpleasurable to eat. Checked it against the Classic Victoria Sponge recipe on here that always produces excellent results and the only thing I can think of it that self raising flour would have been best. Wouldn't make again but will definately use my food colour pastes for further recipes.

    sierralimamike's picture

    I made this cake today. Many people have said they bought expensive food colouring to get good intensity of colour. I have just used standard food colouring and gotten good intensity. Waitrose food colours are quite thick so seem to do the job well.

    As for the cake being dense, it is made with plain flour rather than self raising so that is to be expected. I didnt use the all-in-one mix like the recipe says and got rise on my layers so I would suggest using the standard method.

    My only issue was that there wasnt enough cream cheese frosting to cover the entire cake nicely and there probably isnt a 'standard' cake tin big enough to actually hold my cake.

    Victoria_Jane's picture

    My sister in law made this for a 40th birthday, it went down like Marmite. You either loved it or hated it. I happened to love this cake, both look and taste. Quite an interesting texture to the sponge.

    supermom01's picture

    I must say that I agree with the comments regarding the patronising tone of the tips. I have been disappointed by Good Food's response to the negative comments that this recipe has elicited. This cake is unpleasant and relatively costly - a total waste of my time over the Easter holiday - really do wish I hadn't bothered. I have also rated it as one star to bring its rating down, although it does not deserve that at all. Rant over!

    jojomid's picture

    I have to pick up for this recipe a bit. Yes, the layers of cake are a bit more dense however the recipe is designed this way in order to get more even layers so you don't have to cut the cakes to even them out. The overall flavour is really good. Each step is explained perfectly & clearly & my end result was really good. I had a room full of 7 year olds + parents who were really impressed. I didn't use the icing recipe however. I had one that I have used before that I liked so I used it instead. 500 grams of philadelphia cream cheese (rm temp), 500 grams of mascarpone cheese (rm temp), 300 mls double cream (whipped), 2 cups icing sugar, 2 tsp real vanilla extract. Whip cheeses until smooth, add the whipped cream & vanilla extract and mix again until smooth.

    maymoore's picture

    This cake is definitely worth the effort if you want wow factor when you slice it open, but don't expect it to be the most delicious you have tasted. The cakes are dense and a bit tasteless so cut the slices thin, the icing is really nice but I didn't find there was enough so I would recommend making more than the recipe states. I had to spread the icing very thinly between the layers which didn't look as good when it was cut open. Definitely agree with other comments that you are best to buy the expensive colourings.

    Having said all this, the cake stands tall and looks impressive! It does look good when you cut it open, so it's worth all the hard work. I used a mix of mascarpone and full fat cream cheese for the icing and it was very tasty. I would also recommend decorating it with chocolate buttons or something sweet to add to the taste!

    lkebble's picture

    I wish I had read these reviews before I tried making the cake. The icing was far too runny and I couldn't construct the cake so tasted the cakes which were pretty grim...tasteless and dense. This isn't a cheap cake to make and therefore extremely disappointing that the recipe didn't work. If I make this again I will use my own sponge recipe and buttercream not this disaster...can't believe it was a cover recipe!!!

    carrieblue's picture

    I've come back to this as I was so annoyed about this recipe. The "tips" in the blog are really quite patronising considering this recipe is billed as for the keen cook - I'm well aware that using the correct size tin and having the oven at the correct temperature and not opening the door are good things to do when baking. Believe me, I followed this recipe to the letter- apart from the colours since I know that liquid colours have nothing like the effect shown here and as an experienced cake maker I had a good supply of paste colours. It seems that if no stars are given then the rating is not included in the average, so in the interests of pulling it down from 3 stars I'll rate as 1, but it really doesn't deserve it - and with that I think I will ban my self from this site and stay well away from the magazine if I spy it in the shops!

    olliebarber125's picture

    I've made this cake a couple of times - first time a three layer (green, orange, plain) for St Patricks, and then the rainbow cake. i have to be honest with the second cake I cheated and bought cake mix as it was way too much weighing and mixing for me (two kids under 3 in the way!) - the cake I would admit tastes 'odd' for the first one i made due to food dye - used dr oetker first time and you need soooo much!) - second time added in orange blossom flavour to zing it up a bit and was much much nicer...all in all an impressive looking cake but you DO need to buy the expensive dyes - so a fab cake if you want to invest in the the dyes, and looks fab, but tastes... odd!

    lbreedon's picture

    The issue with the frosting I found was that it used simply far too much icing sugar. It was nothing to do with beating it too much at all. When making this and following the recipe, the frosting as suggested was far too runny, and had to be thrown away because it was unusable - a complete unacceptable waste of ingredients. I remade the frosting using an american recipe I had used a while back, which used 12oz of full fat cream cheese, half a cup of icing sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. You simply put all the ingredients together and then put it in a stand mixer with a paddle on low for 1 minute, then to a medium speed for a further 3. This does not make it runny, and gave it the perfect consistency for icing the cake with ease.

    hpugsley's picture

    I made this for my daughters birthday and decorated it with flowers and butterflies. I used food colourings from Squires which were excellent. It's a stunning cake to look at, but rather dense and heavy, not the best tasting cake in the world, but the effect makes up for it.

    goodfoodteam's picture

    Hi there everyone. In response to all your questions about the Rainbow cake, the recipe's creator Sarah Cook has put together a detailed troubleshooting guide. We've inserted links to the guide in the method and tips section of the recipe above, but here it is again: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/blog/823_rainbow_cake/. If you follow the link you'll find plenty of advice on frosting, flavour, stacking techniques and more. Please let us know if you have any other questions- we're regularly checking on all your comments. All the best, BBC Good Food web team

    gfnatalie's picture

    Hi there everyone. In response to all your questions about the Rainbow cake, the recipe's creator Sarah Cook has put together a detailed troubleshooting guide. We've inserted links to the guide in the method and tips section of the recipe above, but here it is again: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/blog/823_rainbow_cake/. If you follow the link you'll find plenty of advice on frosting, flavour, stacking techniques and more. Please let us know if you have any other questions- we're regularly checking on all your comments. All the best, BBC Good Food web team

    izmills's picture

    I find it hard to believe I have made the same cake. The recipe states that the cake is going to be dense and I found my cake tasted nicely of vanilla (I used extract not essence). I do a lot of cake decorating so I had all the paste colours already but you do not need to use that much. Maybe too much colour altered the taste? I used mascarpone because a). it was in the recipe and b). if I am making a cake I want to taste nice I use the best tasting ingredients. I had no problems with the icing. My children all helped make it, all loved the cake and want if for their birthdays. There will be none for the birds in my house!

    sabrinaduck's picture

    If you're thinking about making this cake - don't. I had the same problem with everyone else. Cake was hard, icing too runny (I had to use a metal skewer to hold the layers in place), and Dr Oetker's food colouring tubes were very weak. Perhaps less flour was needed? Cream cheese should be full fat for it to set? Use white Caster sugar instead? I don't know.

    carrieblue's picture

    This was a horrible disappointment - looked great but tasted awful, which is after all the most important part. I followed the recipe to the letter, which I don't always do but really wanted this to work out but to no avail. Dense, greasy inedible cake and I too am really disappointed by the lack of response. A 'sorry' would go a long way! I only bought the magazine for this recipe, really wish I hadn't bothered. No stars at all from me, and only because it seems I can't give minus stars!


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