In the psychedelic era, simple things could blow people’s minds. Listen to Mick while you’re baking and get inspired: Vanilla cake needn’t be vanilla — it comes in colors.
My vanilla cupcake recipe is a great palette for color, and a rainbow cake is the ultimate trip: When you cut the first slice, you’ll alter reality for your party guests.
This cake takes some planning and a lot of bowls, but it’s not exactly hard: In fact, it was pretty much invented by a teenager. At bottom it’s just a vanilla cake with vanilla butter cream frosting. Beyond that it’s all about layers and logistics, so you’ll want to get comfortable with the techniques of trimming/levelling and stacking, plus the basics of crumb-coating and icing.
The recipe below fits into a 5-quart stand mixer and makes three layers for a 7- or 8-inch cake. Make a six-layer cake over a few days: Bake three layers on the first day, let them cool, wrap them in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge. The next day bake the remaining layers, cool and chill them, and make your buttercream. On the third day (or later on the second day), level, stack, and ice.
Level each layer so it’s fairly thin: Six layers add up quickly, and this cake can turn into a tower. (On the other hand, a tower can be cute: I’ve used a single batch of this recipe to make six 3″ layers. I then sliced those in half and made two mini cakes. Fun–but tricky to slice!) You don’t want to make the layers so thin that they’ll tear when you try to stack and ice them.
A word about colors: Butter and eggs make this cake taste great, but they also make the batter yellowish. Most colors will work fine, but your blue layer may look a bit green (because, of course, yellow + blue = green). The solution is to add some white coloring. It’s absolutely worth buying professional-quality colors: A basic set from AmeriColor, plus white, will take you far.
And how exactly do you add color? Once the batter is ready, I divide it equally (by weight) into three bowls, then fold in each color by hand using a spatula. Use as little color as possible: Start with two drops and see how it looks — adjust by adding one small drop at a time. The color of the batter is a decent guide to the final cake color. (The final color will be more vibrant but also a little darker.)
These vanilla cupcakes were year-round best sellers at our bakery. When you make a recipe every single day, it must be bulletproof: Customers expect consistent deliciousness, and you must deliver it regardless of daily variations in humidity, oven performance, and the like.
This recipe took some experimentation to get just right. Vanilla cake is not always as easy as it should be, and often ends up dry. When we hit upon this formula, though, we knew we were set. The cake has a perfect balance that comes from quality ingredients — pure Madagascar vanilla extract, butter, whole milk — simply combined. It’s not hard to make, and the resulting structure is great, so it’s easy to ice as cupcakes or to use for layer cakes.
At the bakery we played up the recipe’s simplicity by icing our cupcakes with vanilla buttercream peaks, but you shouldn’t feel constrained. Vanilla cake tastes amazing with chocolate ganache, for instance — or you can use colored buttercream icing, or add sprinkles or mini chocolate chips on top.
This recipe is your foundation; the sky’s the limit on elaboration.
I started by selling cookies at the farmers' market. Then, in 2006, I rented a few small rooms in an old Victorian building in historic downtown Leesburg, Virginia, and turned them into the bakery of my dreams.
We baked everything in our open kitchen using no preservatives and no artificial flavors — because that's how it tastes best.
Lola's was featured on The Rachael Ray Show and Fox 5 TV; in Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine; and on the cover of Loudoun Magazine.
In 2013 our building was sold and converted to office spaces, so we closed — at least for the moment. So many customers asked for our recipes that I started this blog in response.