How to make a rainbow cake: 3 simple methods

  • Rainbow cakes are festive desserts decorated from the inside.
  • We tried three different methods for making rainbow cakes and our favorite was the tie-dye effect.
  • The tie-dye pattern was surprisingly easy to make and striking to cut out.

Cakes are festive desserts; as many visual feasts as they are edible. A rainbow cake is a colorful twist on the classic layer cake and a perfect way to ring in the pride.

Building any layer cake takes time, from baking multiple layers to decorating the finished dessert. And if you’ve watched as many baking shows as I have, you know that icing a hot cake spells disaster, so you’ll want to factor in cooling time as well. Still, the work is worth a delicious and spectacular dessert.

In my quest for the best colorful confection, I baked rainbow cakes using three different methods and spoke with the authors of Fabulous Modern CookiesChris Taylor and Paul Arguin, on how to use food coloring and the best dustings for Funfetti.

We’ve ranked the three cakes based on how much work it takes to bake them and their visual appeal.

Easy: tie-dye rainbow cake

A slice of tie-dye rainbow cake cut from a whole cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

Embrace your inner cake artist with a tie-dye rainbow cake. The design takes more time (and bowls) to make than some other cakes, but the swirling colors are so awesome you don’t need lots of layers to make a statement.

How to do

Once you know what colors go in a layer, separate the batter into separate bowls and use food coloring to color the individual portions. Since you’re opting for a swirl effect, you can be less precise when distributing the batter. Remember that you are working with smaller portions of dough, so adjust the amount of coloring you use; Chefs Taylor and Arguin suggest starting with one drop and adding more if the color isn’t vibrant enough.

cups of cake batter died in different colors as part of a tie-dye rainbow cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

When your colors are ready, pour or pour the first color into the center of the prepared cake pan. Continue adding colors to the middle of the previous ball of dough until your layer is complete.

cake batter is poured into a pan to make a tie-dye rainbow cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

To achieve the swirl effect, I slid a butter knife from the center of the design to the edge five times.

A hand holding a butter knife, using it to swirl tie-dye cake batter into a cake pan

Crystal Cox / Insider

Whether you’re pouring or pouring the batter, you can’t even out the layer like you would with a one-color cake. To keep the pattern intact, I gently tilted the pan to spread the batter, but still didn’t get an even rise. It just means you have to cut the tops more to make them flat.

The results

an overhead view of a tie-dye rainbow cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

Despite the extra dishes, this was my favorite cake to make. The pattern was fascinating and I love how you can create a different pattern each time you bake it.

Easier: rainbow dusted cake

a head shot of rainbow sprinkled cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

Any cake can be a rainbow cake, but the volume of colorful sprinkles is what makes this one special. Since the Funfetti interior isn’t as striking as tie-dye or a full rainbow, it’s easy to upgrade the decor.

How to do

Instead of using a Funfetti mix, I prefer to use regular batter and add my own sprinkles. The sprinkles add color to your cake, but to avoid bleeding, Taylor and Arguin suggest gently stirring the sprinkles into the batter just before pouring the batter into the cake pans.

Sprinkles don’t add too much flavor, so Taylor and Arguin recommend adding flavor extracts or citrus zest. This amplifies the flavor without darkening the color of the batter – a light batter shows off the mixtures better.

a hand pulling a slice of funfetti cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

You can have more fun with the color on the outside of the cake. I covered almost every inch of this cake with rainbow sprinkles – not only was it fun to pour handfuls over the cake, it was also quick and effective. A fair amount of sprinkles missed the cake and fell to the floor, so buy extras and keep a broom handy.

The results

A hand holding a bite of rainbow funfetti cake

Crystal Cox / Insider

Although this was the least exciting cake to cut, it was by far the quickest and easiest to make. Funfetti cakes are nostalgic and appealing, but the effect doesn’t show as much as a full rainbow slice.

A little more challenging: classic layered rainbow cake

A hand holding a fork cutting into a slice of a layered rainbow cake, with the whole cake in the background

Crystal Cox / Insider

When you think of a rainbow cake, it’s the classic that comes to mind. The finished product looks professional, but it doesn’t require too much baking skill to make. Don’t underestimate the time commitment – even if you’re using boxed mix and pre-made frosting, you still need to bake, chill, cut and stack six layers.

How to do

Most boxes of cake mix make two 9-inch rounds, so I used three boxes of cake mix to bake all six layers of this cake. Before coloring, I divided each batter into two bowls using a measuring cup and kitchen scale to make sure the layers were even, which is key to this cake. Chances are you don’t have six cake pans, so you’ll need to bake the layers in multiple batches. Be sure to use cake pans of the same size and color – a darker pan will absorb more heat, resulting in thicker, darker crusts.

Assembling the full rainbow cake is all about cutting your cakes evenly and being generous with the frosting. A layer of smooth frosting between the layers adds moisture and stability to the whole cake. For decoration, I opted for plain vanilla frosting because I liked contrasting the simple exterior with the super bright interior.

The results

A hand holding a slice of a six layer rainbow cake with the full cake behind

Crystal Cox / Insider

This is a cake for a party and a crowd. Building up six layers is no mean feat (and results in a big helping of cake), but it’s worth it for the sensational moment of cutting that first slice of the rainbow.

Insider’s Takeaways

Baking a rainbow cake is less daunting than it looks. The tie-dye cake was our favorite, but anything colorful will do. You can speed up the process by using boxed cake mix or opting for simple decorations. As long as the colors are bright and the flavor is sweet, any rainbow cake is sure to be a hit.


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