We were watching a TV show a few weeks back and on it they were making a checkerboard cake. Key half jokingly said ‘I want that for my birthday.’
Key’s birthday was last week and I do love a cooking challenge so I thought I’d have a go at making it. I have made a lot of cupcakes in the past and I’ve certainly baked cakes before (last year Key’s cake looked like Lego blocks) but I’ve never attempted something of this size or complexity before.
It took me two days and I must have read this post at least 50 times but I was very pleased with the results.
This isn’t really a recipe but a guide on what you will need to make a checkerboard cake. I’ve also included some hints and tips for best results and some changes that I would make if I was to make this cake again.
Don’t be feel bad about using a packet mix. When you are making a cake this fiddly, making a cake from scratch just adds a whole other element that personally, I can do without. I used packet mixes for my cakes and frosting. I did add extra elements into each mix though for flavour and colour. I do recommend using a cake mix that you are familiar with if possible. I used this brand as it really does yield good results every time. It’s also great for making cupcakes and it produces a really moist cake that is dense and easy to work with.
Key loves white chocolate so I wanted to do a white chocolate flavour base. I decided on the strawberry layer as I knew the flavours would work well. I used red gel colouring instead of just normal food colouring that you can buy from the supermarket. I knew that Key probably wouldn’t have appreciated a white and pink cake and the gel colouring gives a much stronger colour. Gel food colouring is available from baking shops. I know that Cooking Coordinates and Latorta in Canberra definitely have them and I got mine from Phoon Huat in Singapore for a really good price. Another idea would be to just do white cake and chocolate cake layers so that you don’t have to fiddle with food colouring.
To add a more ‘real’ strawberry flavour to the red cakes, I added some ground up freeze dried strawberries. I just ground the whole freeze dried strawberries until I got a powder consistency.
They did add flavour but not as much as I wanted, so I also fell back to some bottled flavouring. If you can’t get freeze dried berries, just use the flavouring.
I had slight rising issues. My cakes rose with quite a high dome so I ended up having to trim a lot of the top of the cakes off. I had initially planned to make just 2 cakes and cut these in half for the 4 layers. I could see that my first two cakes hadn’t risen enough to allow for halving them though. I’m sure a professional cake baker could have done it, but I knew that if I cut them in half they would be too delicate for me to work with. So I just ended up making 4 separate cakes and then trimming all of them to equal heights.
I did end up with a lot of leftover trimmed cake though. I froze this and I plan to make cake pops with them in the coming weeks.
Seek out even cake rings or scone cutters for this. You want each circle within the main diameter of the cake to decrease in even sizes so that when you cut into the finished cake, the checks are even.
Cutting the rings and circles and then reassembling each layer with alternating colours is what forms the checks.
Don’t scrimp on the jam and icing in between the layers. Not only was the flavour excellent but it kept the cakes moist and holds them together.
Add the other layers of the cake by placing the rings back onto the base, in alternating colours to what is underneath it. For example, the outer white ring of the base will now have an outer red ring on it and the next red ring underneath will have a white ring on top of it.
This cake is big and heavy. Like REALLY big. After I’d finished making it and we ate the first piece we both kind of looked at each other and wondered how on earth we were going to eat it all. We cut it in half almost immediately and now have a giant chunk of frozen cake in our freezer as well as the 2 plastic baggies of the off cuts.
Having two cake pans with the exact same dimensions would have dramatically decreased the time that it took me to make this cake. A lot of my time was just spent on waiting for cakes to cool down. As I only had one cake tin, I had to wait for each cake to cool enough to remove the collar and then the base of the spring form tin each time, before I could cook another cake. I really didn’t want to buy two spring form tins here as I already have two in storage at home, but if you are a keen cake baker, I highly recommend buying 2 spring form tins of the exact size.
Let each cake cool completely before attempting to trim them or to assemble the layers. I cooled two of my cakes overnight in the fridge and these were a lot easier to handle than the cakes that I had made in the morning of the day that I assembled.
Key thought of it after I’d already put my top layer on so I didn’t do it, but on the top layer, I recommend flipping the rings and circle over so that the original bottom of the cake is exposed instead of the part that has been cut into. This will give you a much smoother top and you won’t have to worry about crumb coating the top as much.
Crumb coat the cake before you give it its final frosting. Crumb coating is an initial thin layer of frosting all over the exposed parts of the cake. As you crumb coat, you will notice that some crumbs come off the cake and stick in the icing somewhat ruining the clean icing look. Placing the cake in the fridge and setting the initial crumb coat will ensure that when you put your final frosting layer on, the existing crumbs will be covered.
A long palette knife is not only helpful for frosting but to help you lift each layer when you are rebuilding the cake.
Because it’s so big, storage and transportation (if needed) could be tricky. This would not fit in a normal cake carrier. We just ended up covering it in plastic wrap and it kept really well for the 5 or so days that it lasted in the fridge before we gobbled up the half we didn’t freeze. On a side note, I definitely gained cake-eating weight last week and I am scared to defrost that other half.
How To Make a Checkerboard Cake – Adapted From A Subtle Revelry
Ingredients – Makes 1 large cake
- 4 boxes of white (or pale) cake mix plus the ingredients required for these like eggs
- 3 large cans of pre-made frosting
- red gel food dye
- 1 vanilla pod
- white chocolate chips
- freeze dried strawberries processed to a fine powder
- strawberry flavouring or essence
- strawberry jam
- fresh strawberries to decorate
- Cake base or serving dish. If like me you don’t have either of these, just use a chopping board
- At least 1 spring form cake tin
- Cake cooling rack
- 2 circular cutters in decreasing sizes
- palette knife for icing and lifting layers
- Make your cake mixes as per the instructions on the box. I added half a cup of white chocolate chips into each white layer and a tablespoon of freeze dried strawberry powder, 1/3 tsp of red gel colouring and 2 tsp of strawberry flavouring into each red layer. The only other change I made to my cake mixes, is that I used whole eggs instead of just egg whites as indicated on the box.
- Bake each cake as per packet instructions in the same spring form cake pan or the exact same sized cake pan. I only made and baked one cake at a time and I made the cakes over two days.
- Once each cake has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate for at least an hour to make the cakes easier to work with. If refrigerating overnight, wrap the cake in plastic wrap to keep it moist.
- Once ready to assemble, trim the cakes with a long serrated knife so that they are all the same height.
- Cut each layer into 2 rings and 1 circle and gently take apart the rings and middle circles and set aside.
- Reassemble the bottom layer on your serving plate or board so that 2 rings and 1 circle make the same sized cake but in alternating colours. For example, outside ring is white cake, next ring is red cake and inner circle is white again.
- Spread the top with frosting and jam. Now start adding the other layers by placing rings back on, in alternating colours to what is underneath it. For example, the outer white ring of the base will now have an outer red ring on it and the next red ring underneath will have a white ring on top of it. Continue spreading each layer with jam and frosting and rebuilding the layers with the rings until all are used.
- Crumb coat the cake and then refrigerate for at least an hour.
- Add the vanilla seeds to the frosting and then finish icing the cake with it. Decorate with strawberries.
- Keeps well in the covered tightly in fridge for at least 4 days.