I love elaborate cakes, but I rarely have an occasion to feed crowds of people. This recipe is all the fun of a big party cake but only uses one box of cake mix! Overachievers can use their own white cake recipe instead for a personal touch. The final result is a four-tier, 6" wide cake with vanilla and chocolate frosting and chocolate bark. Mixing, baking, and decorating took me about five hours from start to finish. I encourage the ambitious bakers to try this project with strawberry, chocolate, and red velvet cake instead!
Step 1: Gather Materials
You will need:
- 1 box of white cake mix, or an equivalent amount of your own homemade white cake batter
- 6" cake pans
- Milk chocolate or dark chocolate wafers/chips
- Red, black, and brown gel coloring
- Parchment paper
- Vanilla frosting
- Chocolate frosting (optional)
- Powdered sugar (optional)
Gel coloring is preferred over liquid food coloring, as liquid food coloring can water down the batter. My cake pans are quite shallow, but taller pans will work as well; just fill them with 0.5 - 0.75 inches of batter.
Step 2: Prepare Cake Batter
Prepare your white cake batter either according to the box directions or your own recipe. You'll need about five total cups of batter. Split the batter evenly between three bowls. In the first bowl, add two drops of red gel; in the second bowl, add two drops of black gel; in the last bowl, add one drop of red and one drop of black gel. You want the colors to be nice and vibrant, so add more gel as necessary.
You will need two 6" cakes of each color for a total of six layers. Only three are pictured because of my limited pans. If you find yourself running short on batter, you can short change the black or the red slightly, as these are less used than the burgundy.
When filling your pans, aim for the final baked height of each layer to be slightly less than an inch tall. Bake for roughly 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Step 3: Carve and Stack
Be sure to level your cakes before proceeding! Making sure the tops are nice and flat will go a long way towards a successful plaid.
After the cakes have cooled, it's time to carve concentric circles to create the plaid effect. I've created a template that you can save and print, or you can create your own. Each ring should be 1" wide. Cut out your template rings and hold them in place with toothpicks. Use a sharp knife to carve around each ring on all cakes. Then, carefully mix and match the colors to form bullseyes as shown in the photos. Two cakes should be burgundy, black, burgundy, and two cakes should be red, burgundy, red. You'll have red and black rings left over.
Add some black gel coloring to chocolate or vanilla frosting and spread a very thin layer between the bullseyes. This frosting will help hold the cake together. Stack the layers in alternating colors.
Step 4: Frost
Give your cake a quick frost on its sides and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes to form a nice firm crumb coat. Then frost the top with vanilla, and the sides with chocolate, or vanilla dyed brown. This will be our base for the log decoration.
To create rings on the top, fill a Ziploc baggie with a combination of chocolate and vanilla frosting and cut open one corner to serve as a piping bag. Create 3-4 widely spaced rings. Then lightly place your offset spatula on top of your cake and spin while applying gentle pressure. This will blend the brown and white frosting in a nice ring pattern. If you'd like, you can go back in with a paintbrush and watered-down brown gel and paint in more detail, such as cracks and dark spots. I'm using a toothpick as a center reference throughout my decorating.
Step 5: Make Bark
Now it's time for the bark exterior! Tear off a large sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle down some powdered sugar. This will add interesting color and texture to your bark. Melt your chocolate in the microwave and spread a thin layer of chocolate across the parchment sheet. Then roll the parchment paper into a tube with roughly 1-2" diameter and secure with a rubber band. Place the roll in the fridge until the chocolate is completely hardened. For comparison, I tried the same process with crumpled foil; you can take a look at my pictures and decide which texture you prefer. I found the parchment roll to look a little more realistic.
When you unroll the hardened chocolate, the pieces will shatter. This is exactly what we want! Arrange the shattered strips along the side of the cake by pressing them directly into the frosting. Go back and touch up any powdered sugar areas with a paintbrush, if you'd like.
Step 6: Show Off!
Remember the toothpick center reference from the frosting step? Aiming for that center with a knife will help you get the perfect photogenic cut. Serve up your slices and show off your work!