An American flag surprise cake is a fun and fairly simple cake to do. I'm just now getting into cakes and cake decorating, and I was able to complete it in about six hours (including baking, cooling, and assembling!).
Joy, the Pier 9 Coordinator, found this American flag cake in In Style magazine and copied the recipe for me so I could give it a go and I'm so happy I did. For a minimal amount of work it really does look FANTASTIC when you cut into it. :)
This American flag cake is perfect for 4th of July parties, too! :D
P.S. If you want to go above and beyond with your American flag cake, try the Captain America Shield-style Independence Day Surprise Cake from stevequag. It's beyond gorgeous!!
Step 1: Ingredients + Tools
Because the majority of this cake is assembly, I decided to go the lazy route and use mixes and ready made frosting. It still tasted pretty great but would be much better with homemade frosting. If you have a favorite frosting recipe that chills well, I'd say it'd be a good idea to use that instead. :)
- 1 box red velvet cake mix
- 1 box white cake mix
- canola/vegetable oil
- blue gel food coloring
- 3-4 containers white frosting
I say 3-4 containers of the white frosting because I managed to use all three of mine. If you and frosting don't always get along, buy an extra one. :D
Step 2: Tips for Baking Better Cakes
For this to work the best, you really want the cakes to bake as flat as possible and stay nice and moist. You'll also want to chill them well for easier frosting and cutting. Here are some other steps I took to make this whole process easier:
- When baking, bake the cakes at 325 F instead of the higher temperatures suggested on the box. Bake them for the maximum time listed and then check them. Mine were fine, but you may need to cook them for longer depending on your oven. This will help the cakes shrink less.
- If you're using a regular pan (not nonstick), make sure to grease the pan well to keep it from sticking. I went a bit further and lined the bottoms with parchment, too!
- Tap the pans on the counter 5-10 times before putting them in the oven. Knock out the air bubbles!
- Use a strip of wet cloth or a strip of aluminum foil folded over several times and tied around the pan to keep the sides of the cake from overcooking and shrinking away from the edges as much.
- Cool the cakes well before cutting and frosting. Let them cool in the pan for a few minutes and then remove them from the pan and cover with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. I let mine cool for an hour or so, but better is longer!
Step 3: Bake the Red Velvet Cakes
Mix up the cake mix and pour into prepared pans. I used a kitchen scale to make sure the same amount was in each.
I baked mine at 325 F for about 35 minutes.
Cool them in the pans for a few minutes (just until they're cool enough that you can touch them!) and then remove them, cover them, and put them in the fridge.
Step 4: Bake the White and Blue Cakes
Mix up the white cake batter according to the directions and divide between two prepared pans.
Add blue food coloring to one of the pans - I used 3/4 teaspoon of blue, but it came out a little light. Just add until it looks right to you, but keep in mind it will get darker as it bakes. I used a spatula to gently stir my food coloring in.
I baked the white cake mix at 325 F for about 30 minutes.
Once they're done, cool them in the pans briefly and then cool them in the fridge as well.
Step 5: Cool and Then Cut the Cakes!
Once they're nice and cool you can start trimming and cutting the cakes. I put each cake on an individual piece of parchment or aluminum foil to make them easier to move around, too. We'll be cutting them thin, and you don't want to make them crack by handling them too much.
If the cakes have domed tops, level them off with the serrated knife. Go slow and easy - if you rush this part you could end up cutting off too much. Use the knife and gently cut through the cake horizontally while placing your other hand firmly on top of the cake to keep it from shifting.
Once the tops are leveled out, you will want to cut the white cake and both red cakes in half but leave the blue cake whole.
I just eyeballed it, but there are tools like cake levelers to make this easier! You can also try to find items around your house that are half the height of the cake to help guide the knife and keep it level.
When all is set and done, you should be left with one whole blue cake, two layers of white cake, and four layers of red cake.
Step 6: Cut Smaller Circles Into the Top Three Layers
I used the largest cutter out of this set, but you can also use a 4 inch round paper template and a serrated knife.
Cut out the very center of one white layer, one red layer, and then blue cake.
Keep the outside ring of the blue cake and the inner circles of the white and red cakes.
Step 7: Assemble!
For easier clean up after frosting, put a little parchment or wax paper just under the outer edges of the first layer you put down. :)
Here's how to assemble the cake!
- Place your first red layer down and add a layer of frosting on top.
- Place a white layer on top and frost again.
- Now place the second red layer and frost - make sure things are looking nice and straight!
- Place the blue cake ring on the cake and make sure it's centered.
- Frost the top of the tiny white cake very thinly and place it down into the center of the blue cake ring.
- Add the tiny red cake on top of the frosted white one in the middle of the ring.
Once you have all your layers in place, lightly frost the whole outside of the cake. Don't worry too much about crumbs - this thin layer of frosting is called the crumb coat and should catch all those little guys!
Once the crumb coat is on you will want to put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will harden the crumb coat and allow you to frost it properly.
Step 8: Final Frosting + Chilling Before Cutting
Once the crumb coat is on and the cake is nice and chilled, you can apply a thicker final coat of frosting.
When the frosting looks nice, gently pull the parchment or wax paper you placed underneath out. Then you can use a butterknife or an offset spatula to nicely clean up the bottom edge. Use a moist cloth or paper towels to wipe away any excess frosting.
And this point you can keep decorating if you want but I decided to keep it simple. :)
Once the frosting is as perfect as it's gonna get, put it back in the fridge for at least an hour. I left mine overnight. The longer the cake chills, the cleaner the cuts will be.
A warm/room temperature cake = runny frosting, so all the colors will bleed as you cut it. Be warned!
Step 9: Cut and Enjoy!
Use a sharp knife and make nice straight cuts, wiping the knife down after every cut.
Once it's cut, you can sit back and enjoy people freaking out over it. :D
If you end up with leftovers, store those in the fridge to keep the colors nice!