Friday, February 27, 2015

Checkerboard Cake Troubles and Tips

Have you seen those amazing looking checkerboard cakes? They are so fun looking, and a fun way to get intermixed flavors in there. There are special pans you can buy to help make them, but you don't have to have the fancy pans to be able to do this, according to this pin:

(photo source and tutorial here)
The instructions sound pretty legit. Cut circles, switch cake rings, stack, eat. Mmmm. Brandy gave this a try for her husband's birthday cake. Here's her story: 

"Here is my recent pinstrosity.A birthday cake for my husband, Nehemiah. Living at approx 4000 feet I used recipes that are for my elevation. First I made the vanilla layer and it came out wonderfully. Then I made the chocolate. I forgot that my recipe calls for 9" round pans and all I own are 8" round pans. The cake rose beautifully up and over the edge nearly igniting in the bottom of the oven. I scraped the glowing chocolate embers out and placed a cookie sheet beneath my cake to catch any more drips. After a lot of coaxing the chocolate cakes came out of the pans, but they weren't as firm as the vanilla ( crumbly chunks). I cut the rings, but couldn't lift them in one piece as I began to stack. I should have used the large vanilla on the bottom as it held it's shape well, but I didn't. I don't think I have ever made a pretty cake that came out pretty, but it tasted great. Also, it did checkerboard, but my own lack of engineering skills prevailed. As one friend said: It was epic in its failure."

I really really really love this photo. Nice capture Brandy!

Hooray for cake...even when it's not pretty it can still taste amazing!

But this intrigued me. I wanted to see if it was possible to get the checkerboard cake from the original tutorial and if I could figure it out. So I decided to put this to the test. I wimped out and used cake mixes rather than mixing cakes from scratch.

Step 1: I mixed the cakes up and baked them according to the box directions (completely spacing the high altitude directions -we're at 6,000 ft-but they came out great anyway). I baked them in two 8 inch pans because I wanted taller layers.

The vanilla cake came out great, but the red velvet puffed up a lot. I'd recently bought a cake leveler from Walmart for $3 and used that to get the cakes all to the same level. It was sad to have to cut so much off the tops of the red velvet, but to get the right checkerboard look you do need to have level cakes, and have each layer of cake be the same level. So off it went!

The original instructions suggest to make the cakes a day ahead, wrap them, and let them sit in the fridge overnight to help cut down on the crumbliness. I'd forgotten that part. So I stuck the cakes in the freezer for about 40 minutes. That helped, but it would have helped more if they had been able to stay in there longer.

Step 2: The instructions say to take a bowl or lid and use it to make a mark on the cake and then cut a circle out with a sharp knife. I wanted even 2" circles and I couldn't find bowls the sizes I wanted. Instead I pulled up Microsoft Word and used the "Insert Shape" tool to draw circles. After you draw your circle you can right click the circle, select "More Layout Options", and then select the size tab. From there you can make your circles the right size. I made a 6", 4", and 2" circle (one inside the other to save space). Once printing those out I cut the paper to the size of the 6" circle, laid the paper on top of the cakes, and cut the first circle. Then I cut the paper down to the 4" and did the same. The 2" circle then was done the same way. This gave me even circles.

Step 3: Time to switch the layers all around. This part was tricky! Here's the original instructions:
Diagram by Fauzia M. Afif 
I knew that getting the largest circle without it falling apart was going to be the most tough, and it was. Spread your fingers out as wide as you can to give the cake layer as much support as you can and gently lift it up and out. I had 8" cardboard circles to put the layers on but you can use parchment paper, wax paper, regular paper, or anything that will let you move it and lift it easily. The inner layers were much easier to move around.

I did great with three of them, but the last one fell apart.

Step 4: Time to stack them. I first tried spreading frosting on the top of the bottom cake layer but that started to tear apart the outer layer. At that point I microwaved the can of frosting for 40 seconds until it was liquid. I poured frosting over the layer. This allowed the frosting to seep between the layers and give a good coat on top. I quickly but carefully put the next cake layer on and then stuck those two layers in the freezer for 5 minutes. This let the frosting set back up, adhering everything together. I then did the same thing with the next layer, pouring the melted frosting over the layer, and then adding the next cake on top, and freezing it. This is how it looked at the end of the assembly:

I poured the remainder of the hot frosting over the top, smoothed it out, and put it in the freezer to set for a few minutes.

Step 5: Time to frost the whole cake. I removed it from the freezer and gave it a good crumb coat, and then put it back in the freezer.

Finally I gave it a second coat, and added sprinkles. Not the most beautifully decorated cake I know, but not bad for this being my first stacked layer cake and for using the sprinkles I had on hand.

Later that night at our youth activity we finally got to cut into it to see if it worked...

It did! Not as clean cut as the original, but the DIY instructions work! This takes a lot of patience, and many trips back and forth from the counter to the freezer. It definitely had wow factor. The teenagers thought this was the coolest cake ever. Score! Not an incredibly easy cake, but it's doable.


  1. That's awesome!! Yours turned out really well. I can tell you right now, mine wouldn't look that good!!!
    Grace Anne

  2. This is super-gutsy! I've never had the nerve to try making a checkerboard cake -- and I may still not have it, since I'm not good with cake -- but it is quite thrilling to see one in person, constructed by somebody who is not doing dozens of these and then photoshopping the best one.

    1. It took me a while to get the guts up to try this...but I'm glad I did! It's worth giving a try. I figure if this all fell apart I'd just smash the cake and frosting up and make cake balls.

  3. That's way too much effort for me! But it looks pretty good!

  4. Bake the cakes together in the rings that you need for each laer and they won't crumble ot seperate.

    That's how you do it with the special pan, which my mom actually had when I was a kid, heh. The pans have seperator rings that you fill with the alternating colors of cake mix, remove the seperator rings and bake as one layer.

    Much easier than trying to cut each ring and arrange them after the cakes are baked and you can do the same thing with rings made from tinfoil.

  5. Jenn from Cookies, Cupcakes, and Cardio as well as Elise from My Cupcake Addiction both have killer checkerboard cake recipes. I think the biggest component in making this work, is cutting the cake when it is frozen, and then putting a little bitty bit of icing between each of the rings to add a little stability to the cakes and I think it makes it a little bit easier to slide the cake into each layer.



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