This rainbow swirl cake is a layered vanilla cake that has food dye swirled into each layer! The cake is topped with cream cheese frosting and decorated with rainbow frosting. Instead of each cake layer being a solid color, the food dye swirled into the vanilla cake batter. Which makes each cake unique!
This rainbow swirl cake is basically sunshine in a cake. When I was designing the cake, sometimes coloring a lot of bowls of cake batter with food dye can cause the batter to be overworked.
This method makes for a very fluffy rainbow cake! It is perfect paired with cream cheese buttercream. This cake is perfect for a special occasion like for a birthday!
Why This Recipe Works
- Moist vanilla cake- The vanilla cake layers are super soft and tender. The method to make it requires the wet ingredients to be beaten on high speed for a total of 5 minutes.
- Rainbow swirl- The rainbow swirl is made by dropping gel food coloring into the cake pan. Then, a knife swirls it together. It creates the most beautiful pattern.
- Cream cheese frosting- In my opinion, cream cheese frosting is the best! It goes so well with the cake.
- Rainbow frosting- The cake is decorated with a rainbow frosting on the top of the cake.
Here are some notes about the ingredients for this layered cake. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Unsalted butter- Make sure the butter for the cake batter is pulled out 2 hours before baking. The butter for the frosting needs to slightly cold before using. This makes it the perfect texture for decorating.
- Oil- You can use vegetable oil or canola oil.
- Sour cream- Use full sour cream. Pull this out 2 hours before baking.
- Eggs- Pull the large eggs out 2 hours before baking.
- Buttermilk- Pull this out 2 hours before baking. Whole or reduced fat buttermilk the best for this recipe.
- Clear vanilla- The clear vanilla gives it a sweeter vanilla flavor.
- Cream cheese- Use full fat cream cheese. Pull this out 2 hours before baking.
- Powdered sugar- Make sure it is sifted before using. This prevents a gritty frosting.
- Food coloring- Use a food gel coloring. These are my favorite ones.
Sour cream- You can use full fat regular yogurt instead.
Buttermilk- Pull out 1 cup of whole milk and add 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice. Let it sit for 10 minutes before using.
Cream cheese- Instead of cream cheese frosting, you can increase the butter to 3 cups.
Vanilla extract- You can use pure vanilla extract instead.
Step By Step Instructions
Here is how to make and bake this colorful cake. For this recipe, use a stand mixer or a hand mixer (electric mixer).
STEP 1: Mix the dry ingredients together. First, sift the flour into a large bowl. Then, add in baking powder and salt.
STEP 2: Beat the butter, oil, and sugar. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, oil, and white sugar on high speed for 3 minutes. Then, mix in sour cream and vanilla.
STEP 3: Add in the eggs. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on high for 2 minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl using a rubber spatula.
STEP 4: Add in the flour and buttermilk. Next, alternate between the flour mixture and buttermilk and mix on low speed.
STEP 5: Pour the batter. Pour the batter into three 8-inch cake pans. Place a 8-inch parchment paper circle in the bottom of the cake tins.
STEP 6: Swirl the food coloring. Take your food coloring and do small drops through out the cake layers. I used red, orange, blue, yellow, and green.
Then, use a butter knife to swirl the colors.
STEP 7: Bake the cake. Bake the cake for 18-20 minutes. Cool the cake layers on a cooling rack.
STEP 8: Beat the cream cheese and butter. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and slightly cold butter and mix on high speed for 2 minutes. Then, add in the sifted powdered sugar.
Next, add in vanilla, salt, and heavy cream. Beat on high speed until fluffy.
Assembling The Cake
- First, make sure the cake layers are even. If there is a dome, use a serrated knife to make the cake layers even. You can also place the cake layers in the freezer for 20 minutes. A cold cake is so much easier to decorated.
- Next, spread 1 cup of frosting over the first cake layer using a small offset spatula. Repeat with the second layer.
- For the third cake layer, flip it so the bottom of the cake is on top. This gives the cake the flattest top.
- Now, frost the cake in a light layer of frosting. Freeze for 15 minutes to lock the crumbs in place.
- Frost the rest of the cake.
Decorating The Cake
First, lay a sheet of plastic wrap down. Then, color 4-5 frosting in separate bowls. Pipe or spread the frosting colors in vertical lines.
Roll the plastic wrap into a log and swirl the plastic wrap ends together. Cut off one of the ends place in a large piping bag.
I used Wilton 1M tip and top the cake in swirls of frosting.
Yes you absolutely can!
Half the recipe to make 12 cupcakes. Bake for the same amount of time.
This cake can be made into a 9X13 inch pan. Half the frosting recipe. You can also half the recipe to make a 8X8 or 9X9 cake pan. This recipe also makes two 9-inch cakes, or 3 thick 6-inch cake layers.
Storing and Freezing
Store this rainbow swirl cake in an airtight container like a cake carrier. Store in the fridge and store up to 5 days.
Freeze the individual cake slices and store in an airtight container. Freeze up to 30 days. Thaw for 1-2 hours before eating.
You can make the cake layers ahead of time. After they are completely cooled, wrap each cake layer tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze up to 30 days.
Bring the cakes out for 1 hour before decorating.
Other Cake Recipes To Try
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Rainbow Swirl Cake
- 3 ½ cups All-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon Baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon Baking soda
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- ¾ cup Unsalted butter room temperature
- ¼ cup Oil canola or vegetable oil
- 1 ½ cups White granulated sugar
- ¼ cup Sour cream room temperature
- 1 tablespoon Clear imitation vanilla you can use pure vanilla extract
- 4 Large eggs room temperature
- 1 cup Buttermilk room temperature
- Food dye coloring red, orange, yellow, green, blue
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 cups Unsalted butter slightly cold
- 10 oz Cream cheese room temperature
- 8 ½ cups Powdered sugar sifted
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Pure vanilla extract
- ⅓ cup Heavy cream
- Food dye coloring to make rainbow frosting
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray three 8-inch cake pans with baking nonstick spray. Line the bottoms of the cake pans with 8-inch parchment paper circles. Spray again.
- In a medium bowl, sift the flour. Add in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.3 ½ cups All-purpose flour, 2 teaspoon Baking powder, 1 teaspoon Salt, ¾ teaspoon Baking soda
- Using a mixer, beat the butter, oil, and sugar on high speed for 3 minutes. It will be very fluffy. Scrape the bowl. Add in vanilla and sour cream and beat on medium until combined.¾ cup Unsalted butter, ¼ cup Oil, 1 ½ cups White granulated sugar, ¼ cup Sour cream, 1 tablespoon Clear imitation vanilla
- Add in the eggs one at a time and beat on high for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl.4 Large eggs
- Add in ⅓rd of the dry ingredients and half of the buttermilk. Mix on low. Add in another ⅓rd of the dry ingredients and the rest of the buttermilk. Finish with the rest of the dry ingredients.1 cup Buttermilk
- Pour the cake batter into the three cake pans. Use all of your food dyes and spread 2 drops per dye around the cake evenly. Use a butter knife to swirl the colors together.Food dye coloring
- Bake the cake for 18-23 minutes. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cakes sit in the hot pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Cool the cakes completely.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Pull the butter out on the counter for 30 minutes to be slightly cold. While you wait, sift the powdered sugar.2 cups Unsalted butter, 8 ½ cups Powdered sugar
- Using a mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese on high for 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and slowly add in the powdered sugar on low speed. It will be thick.10 oz Cream cheese
- Add in vanilla, salt, and heavy cream. Beat on low until combined, then switch to high speed. Beat for 1-2 minutes until fluffy.1 teaspoon Pure vanilla extract, ⅓ cup Heavy cream, ½ teaspoon Salt
- Separate out 1 ½ cups of frosting. Divide it into 4-5 bowls and color them the colors of the rainbow. Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap. Spoon or spread each color onto the plastic in vertical lines. Roll up the plastic wrap into a long and cut off one of the ends. Set aside.Food dye coloring
- Pipe a small amount of frosting on the board you are decorating on. Use a serrated knife to level off the cakes if they are domed.
- Place the first layer of cake down. Spread 1 cup of frosting evenly. Repeat with the second and third layer.
- Frost the cake in a very light layer of frosting. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes to set the crumbs. Frost the rest of the cake.
- Use a large piping bag with Wilton 1M tip. Pipe large swirls or a border on the top of the cake.