American Flag Cake

By • June 3, 2014 • 73 Comments



Author Notes: This is a simple white cake with a patriotic surprise inside. First thing's first, you need five 9-inch cakes: two white, two red, and one blue. You can use the recipe here, or any favorite white cake recipe that you have. After making a large amount of cake, the rest is pie (or at least easy as pie).

Please note that the recipe makes one single cake, so to make the flag cake you'll need to make it 5 times. A standard KitchenAid mixer comfortably handles 1 batch of batter.
erinmcdowell

Makes one 9-inch cake

  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cups buttermilk, room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the sifted flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt to combine. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Follow with 1/3 of the buttermilk and mix to combine. Repeat until all of the wet and dry ingredients are added, scrape well to ensure the batter is smooth.
  4. For the white cakes: do nothing! The batter can be baked as is. For the red cakes: add about 25 drops of liquid food coloring (or more if it looks too pale). For the blue cake: add about 20 drops of liquid food coloring (or more if it looks too pale).
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and cool completely.
  6. To assemble the cake, you'll need the frosting (recipe below). Cut the white and red cakes into even layers, between 3/4- to 1-inch thick. Now you should have 6 layers. Use a 5-inch circle cookie cutter (or trace around a 5-inch plate) to cut one of the white layers and one of the red layers into a smaller circle.
  7. Use the 5-inch cutter to remove the center of the thicker blue cake. This cake will remain in one thick layer.
  8. To build the cake, start with a large red layer and spread a thin coating of buttercream on top. Top with a white layer, and spread buttercream thinly on top. (The recipe is below.) Repeat with another red and another white layer -- four layers total.
  9. Top this white layer with the thick blue layer (center removed). Spread a thin amount of frosting on the 5-inch red layer, and top it with the 5-inch white layer. Now push and pat the 5-inch layers inside the hole of the blue layer. Now the cake has been assembled!
  10. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting, using a small offset spatula to make it swirly. All that’s left to do is eat it!

For the frosting:

  • 4 sticks softened unsalted butter
  • 8 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Add the cream gradually, mixing until a smooth, creamy texture.

Comments (73) Questions (2)

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16 days ago Shari

I made this cake for my mother's 81st birthday today and she was so amazed with it. The directions were great and the cake was wonderful. It was a lot of work but well worth it. I am so glad I made the layers from scratch, the flavor does not even compare to boxed.

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22 days ago Briana

I attempted this for Fourth of July and end result produced much oohing and aahing, but I don't know if I could do it again due to the amount of work involved. I baked the layers in advance and froze them so I would not have to spend my whole day off baking. I only have two cake pans of equal size, so I did it over the course of two evenings. I think this might have been my first cake from scratch, because I made the mistake of using all purpose when my grocery store did not have cake flour. They were not fluffy and this made the layers pretty thin, which made assembly of the cake much more difficult, but with an extra set of helping hands, I was able to cover up my mistake. I didn't use the buttercream recipe and instead used a half butter, half shortening recipe with almond milk instead of milk or cream, which was delicious. All in all, this cake took at least 7 hours to make and created a mountain of dirty dishes, but in the end, it looked and tasted great and the entire family was greatly impressed.

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22 days ago Alison Brown

Thumbs up for design. Thumbs down for taste. I'll use boxed cakes next time.

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22 days ago Sara Jane

I made this last week, and was so impressed with the result! I actually used a different recipe- the white velvet butter cake from the Cake Bible as well as her Neoclassic buttercream (they are fail-safe recipes for me). I made a 6" cake instead of 9" and cut the layers a little bit thinner. It was really fun to make, and so satisfying to cut into and see that it had worked!

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23 days ago Becca

I made this over the weekend! It turned out great. I found the instructions were easy to follow. I used 8" pans because that was all I had, so just added some time to the baking. I made the cakes one day and then assembled the next day and made the frosting! Thanks for this great idea that was definitely a crowd pleaser for the holiday!

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23 days ago Jenny Tracy

When I saw this on facebook, I thought I would have to attempt it. I used mixes instead to save a little time. I wanted to add flavors also. so I used white cake mix and added dry coconut cream pudding mix with it, red was strawberry cake with small pieces of strawberry in it and blue was blue velvet cake. It did turn out looking correct but I had a lot of trouble serving it. It would fall apart when I cut it. I think I may have needed to freeze it for a short time to make it firmer. However there were no complaints on the taste! I had a few people who wanted to eat the whole cake. But sooooo rich! I will make this again. Thanks for the great recipe and cake!

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23 days ago Rebecca Kurzendoerfer

I made this cake for my daughter's 12th birthday yesterday (I started w/white on the bottom so the top stripe would be red), and it was a hit! Beautiful, delicious, and very impressive-looking! The amount of TIME baking all those cakes from scratch, however, was absolutely ponderous. I started at noon and finished frosting it at a quarter after six. Maybe boxed mixes next time? I would also highly recommend popping the layers in the freezer for about 10 minutes before slicing them.

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23 days ago Lorraine

A commenter on here is 100% correct about red being the top stripe on the flag. Find it curious that the creator of this cake recipe took detailed time and effort to write very good directions and excellent photos to go along with the directions and yet, in my eyes, made a pretty big mistake. Are there no editors to catch mistakes? Definitely will keep this recipe but plan to do some color changing and also figuring out which cake colors witlll need the doughnut holes.

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23 days ago wil freeman

Hey, didn't you notice that the stars are missing? So does it matter if the stripes are not exact either. It is just a cake to eat and resemble the 4th of July...I am enthused that someone created it so I could copy it. I made a nice family so happy that they got something for dessert for the 4th of July!

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24 days ago elaine

Impossible to do, the directions make no sense at all. make a 4 inch hole in the center of two layers? Right, a huge rip off. now I lost 2 cake mix boxes

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24 days ago Denisa

My daughter and I made this cake yesterday (4th of July) and took it to our local fire station. What a hit! The firefighters were taken aback. When I mentioned that I wasn't sure how to store the remaining cake, the four firefighters assured us that there would be no cake to be found in the station by morning. It was a great mother/daughter project. Thanks for sharing this idea!

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24 days ago Regine

Deedee, great and clear explanation. I will follow your suggestions.

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24 days ago Tara

I tried this today, by hand and tasted the batter for each batch seemed okay but two problems 1- this cake is huge and it was way too sweet any suggestions? I've gone over the recipe to make sure I didn't make errors and I am fairly certain I didn't? Help

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24 days ago wil freeman

Tara, I substituted boxed cake mixes, made the mix more dense. The mixes already had colors in them, such as Duncan Hines Velvet Series of reds and blues and then a french vanilla cake. Also, for the frosting, using only 6 cups of powdered sugar and 2 pkgs of cream cheese, 1/2 cup whipping cream and 2 tsp of vanilla. Not too sweet, just right. This method made 2 cakes one, like the picture and one that I call patch work, the scraps from making the American Flag Cake...they both turned out great. They are both multi-layer and tall cakes. I gave mine away to some friends, as I bake for fun and smiles!

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25 days ago salemao

Thanks so much for this recipe. just in the process of making this for my daughters 2nd birthday party tomorrow. So far the cakes look perfect and moist and the crumbs taste delicious. it may become my go-to cake recipe. I accidentally purchased sweet cream butter & that made the 1st 2 cakes too sweet but the next 2 seem fine. I think the instructions are missing when to add the vanilla. Has anyone else had a hard time finding red food color? Wilton seems to have pink and magenta, but no red...so I guess my cake is going to be dark pink, white & blue....should still look pretty (fingers crossed)!

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25 days ago salemao

..... looks like the vanilla has been added to the instructions. Thanks!

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25 days ago Kathy

Dee Dee, that plan leaves out the top 2 layers; white & red next to the blue.

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25 days ago wil freeman

I made the cake today and it is beautiful...thanks for posting the recipe. I only bake for fun, and the directions were just fine. All I needed was the picture to see how to assemble it. Can't wait for the lucky recipient to cut the first piece and then take a picture of it for me. Happy 4th of July in style! Created another masterpiece cake with the leftovers. It will be a patchwork cake. When I cut it, I will post a picture of it. So 2 cakes from one project! Nice!

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25 days ago Dee Dee

Buy two white cake mixes. Follow package directions to make the first cake. Pour one half into a pan. Add red food coloring to remaining batter, mix well and pour into a pan. Make the second boxed mix. Pour half into a pan and then add blue food coloring to the remainder. Pour into pan. Bake the four pans according to package direction. When cool split one white and one red to make two layers each. Take the blue and leave it whole. Assemble per directions with the frosting recipe or make your own white frosting. Simple. The remaining white layer can be frozen and used whenever you are looking for a quick snack cake.

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25 days ago David Vaughan

But also the bottom, Dennis.

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23 days ago Dennis Morgan

Oops, meant to say on top also.

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25 days ago Dennis Morgan

You do know that the stripes are wrong, don't you? Red stripe should be on top.

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25 days ago Aimee Boucher Rosenberg

How much salt for each cake recipe?

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23 days ago Rebecca Kurzendoerfer

a couple of shakes. I also put a quarter to half a teaspoon in the frosting, it's a great flavor enhancer.

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26 days ago Nancy Flowers

The directions are perfectly easy to follow...thanks for that. The visuals make it pretty simple. Don't forget that all of the leftover cake pieces make a great trifle!
That dish could be layered with pudding and berries (possibly blueberries, raspberries and strawberries...going with the red, white and blue theme), and you'd have a great second dessert! Be sure to put the trifle in a clear dish so that the colors show through.

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27 days ago bethomar

Maybe it's just me, but I read that you are taking the 4 inch circle out of the center, then filling the whole with alternate colored, frosted cake pieces. Right? Then, when I looked at the picture, it had the blue on the side, not the center. Why???

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27 days ago Alice Swenson

The layers in the center of the hole in the blue cake are the centers of the red and white cakes. So you cut the holes in the full size blue cake and in 2 of the torted cakes (1 red and 1 white); you put the blue cake with the hole in the center on top of the top white layer, and then stuff the red circle and the white circle into the hole in the blue cake.

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27 days ago erin mack

oops! Just saw the answer to my question:)

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27 days ago erin mack

When do you add the vanilla ? after adding the eggs I assume?

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27 days ago Alison Brown

How many people do you think this cake feeds?

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27 days ago Alison Brown

I answered my own question by going online and finding a cake serve guide. I think I can serve 16 people (sensible portions) with this 9" cake.

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28 days ago Anahi

I am planning on making this cake BUT I only own a 8 inch round pan. What what be the oven bake time change? or temperature change?

Thank you!

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27 days ago erinmcdowell

I would start by adding an extra 10 minutes to the baking time. Depending on your pans and your oven, it may take an additional 15-20 minutes!

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28 days ago Anahi

I am planning on making this cake BUT I only own a 8 inch round pan. What what be the oven time change?

Thank you!

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28 days ago Laine Chan

I've made a cake before nor have i used this buttercream recipe, is it really 8 cups of powdered sugar? it seems like a lot!

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27 days ago erinmcdowell

Yes, I'm afraid it is - it makes a LOT of frosting, this is one tall cake! You can use leftover frosting to make red white and blue cake pops/truffles with the scraps!

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28 days ago CandiceHope

How many batches of the frosting recipe are needed to make this cake?

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28 days ago Alice Swenson

Just one! It's a lot of frosting!

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29 days ago Amy Stewart

I'm wondering whether these sorts of cakes would keep for a day if cooled completely and wrapped in plastic wrap - so I can get a head start on making this earlier in the week!

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27 days ago erinmcdowell

Yes, absolutely! This cake freezes well too (unfrosted, that is)!

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about 1 month ago dja

A video w



A video would be nice!

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about 1 month ago Alice Swenson

When do you add the vanilla to the cake batter?

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28 days ago Steve

When you add eggs.

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27 days ago Alice Swenson

Erin, could you add this to the recipe?

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27 days ago Alice Swenson

oh, you already did!

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about 1 month ago Verdell

Thank you Jane Oswaks, I now understand that the last 2 layers inserted to the top blue layer, come from the 2nd white & red cakes. Whew!

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about 1 month ago Kristin

I made this yesterday, adjusting for high altitude. The cake was beautiful. I noticed in the grocery store that you can buy red velvet and blue velvet cake mixes. I just might try that sometime! And I'll try cream cheese frosting. I found the instructions for constructing the cake to be very clear -- thanks! The extra pieces are in my freezer waiting for inspiration to hit me about the best way to serve them!

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about 1 month ago Jane Oswaks

This is what I found to be confusing about this recipe: there is no mention that you are going to end up with an unused layer of each the red and white cakes (#4 & #5 below) in addition to the blue 4" diameter remnant and the outer white and red ring remnants (from cakes #4 & #5). Here is what I calculated with the 5 cakes: #1: Blue cake - kept full height with 4" center diameter removed (which becomes a remnant for another use); #2: Red cake - cut in half horizontally to become 1st (bottom) and 3rd layer; #3 White cake - cut in half horizontally to become 2nd (from bottom) and 4th layer; #4 Red cake - cut in half horizontally; one of these layers is cut to a 4" diameter and used as the first insert into the missing center of blue cake. You will be left with the unused other half of this cake; #5 White cake - cut in half horizontally; using only one of these layers cut to a 4" diameter as second/last inserted piece into the blue (you will have the unused 1/2 of this cake to save/freeze for something else). Does this make sense or am I incorrect in my calculations?!

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Jane,

There are definitely cake scraps galore in this particular baking project. One of our awesome interns took some and made it into a trifle (easy, go-to summer dessert - what a great idea he had), and I would also recommend freezing extra cake layers to use later in last minute cake preparations, or you can make your own cake crumbs (awesome for triamisu and other desserts). Like many very decorated cakes, this one has some scrappage, but it's edible and useable! Hope that's helpful and thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

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about 1 month ago pamela joy

Hi Erin,
I had the same reaction as Arlene and Jane. If you don't mind a suggestion from an old editor, consistency is key. I was feeling uneasy about the leftover red and white layers primarily because you made no mention of them, but you were very explicit about the leftover 4-inch blue cake round and the leftover red and white cake rings (which I quite appreciated). And I second Joanna's comment: writing recipes definitely isn't easy!

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about 1 month ago Laura Barney

Thanks! If your mixer can hold the capacity, can you double the red and double the white and then bake 2-nine inch cakes at the same time to cut down on the baking time of 5 cakes? That would cut it to 3 bake times: the red layers, the white layers and one blue cake. Will this work and are there any needed adjustments to the recipes if done this way?

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Absolutely - I haven't tested it so I would just keep a close eye on the cake as I can't confirm the baking time of a double batch of cake, but I would guesstimate 50-65 minutes.

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about 1 month ago Laura Barney

The frosting recipe is no longer included with the cake recipe. Also, I accessed detailed pictures of how to prepare each layer but they also are gone. Please add the frosting recipe and the detailed pictures they were great!

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Laura,

Frosting recipe should be back up shortly (sorry for the computer error)!

You can find the detailed instructions in this article: https://food52.com/blog...

Thanks!

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about 1 month ago Tammy DeLuca

The recipe on the front page doesn't include the butter milk but it does include the recipe for the frosting. I love to cook but I'm also a writer/editor, would love to edit online content, the mistakes drive me coocoo!

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about 1 month ago Tammy DeLuca

See, Buttermilk!

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about 1 month ago Marlin Darlin

Whoa ladies...it's a cute cake. By the photo instructions you get the idea and how many cakes/layers you need to make this cake. The layout is the point here. Just make whatever the heck is your favorite white cake recipe in pan or pans that will get the job done. IMHO, I would use a taller pan for the red and white layers and slice in thirds, then make the appropriate height blue cake. I'd just do a bright white seven min. frosting with this.

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Great idea Marlin - and exactly, the layout is really the star here!

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about 1 month ago Shelly Sacco

Where's the recipe for the frosting. Am I missing something.

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Shelly,

The frosting recipe strangely disappeared - we're fixing it now!

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about 1 month ago lynn ross

Hi Erin,

Thanks for making it more clear....that makes much more sense....With recipes, one can never assume anything. You have to be very detailed in everything. Like you are talking to a two year old. And I don't mean that as an insult to the readers. But I know that I want everything spelled out to me in a recipe. It's a gorgeous cake and a shame not to make it. But It's a lot of work to make 5 cakes. I'm just wondering if there was a way make it into an 8", increase the batter a bit. Then divide it, then color each batter. Then bake at the same time. Instead of making the batter 5 times. A lot of work. That way you can cut your layers in half that way. Just thinking out loud. Recipes are very tricky. I have tried dozens. some work, some need tweaking and some don't work at all. Also, every oven is different. So I always recommend to look at the cake 10 minutes before the recommended time...Then you have an idea when the cake will be done. In culinary school we knew the cake was done by look, touch and smell..... I looked at your web site and it is very nice. Beautiful pictures.

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about 1 month ago Patti Weiss

and based on the instructions and baking them one at a time, it would take over 3 hours to make these layers. LOL

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about 1 month ago Patti Weiss

If you have two white layers and two red, and you cut them in half, how the heck do you get 6 layers? You mention nothing about cutting the blue in half. The picture shows 3 white layers and 3 red???? How the heck did this make it onto Country Living???

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Patti, yes - it's a time consuming cake, but once the layers are baked it's SUPER easy to put it together. The recipe actually says to cut the cakes into 3/4-1 inch layers, and the blue doesn't get cut in half because it's deeper size makes the fat blue square (like the flag)! Check out the detailed article here: https://food52.com/blog... - it may clarify things for you, and thanks for your comments!

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about 1 month ago jenniebgood

Hi - Is it me or is the frosting recipe missing? Is there a link to it?

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Jennie, the frosting recipe is getting put back up now - sorry for the confusion!

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about 1 month ago lynn ross

Also, Regine is quite right, no mention of creaming the butter with the sugar. And for how long. Remember, you are dealing with people who are not professional bakers. But I even found it flawed. Then adding the eggs. Who is writing the recipe for you????? And she is correct that you do not differentiate between the cake recipe and the frosting. Baking is very precise. This is my first time on this site. I'm not that impressed so far. This is a basic cake. Not rocket science. I'm quite shocked at these instructions.

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about 1 month ago erinmcdowell

Hi Lynn,

Thanks for your comments! I've adjusted the recipe a bit to include what to do with the butter and sugar and how long to cream - thanks for pointing it out! Also, the yield on the cakes says it makes 1 cake - since most standard mixers won't accommodate much more than one batch of batter (and many home bakers don't have 5 cake pans of the same size), I figured it would be easier to do the recipe for 1 cake, and then the baker can make it 5 times when making this cake. This is reflected in the yield but perhaps wasn't clear, so I've edited the intro text as well. Thanks so much for pointing out these errors, it's much appreciated!

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about 1 month ago lynn ross

These are the WORST directions I have ever seen. I am a pastry chef. I mean, If I am confused, how is a lay person supposed to bake this cake? The ingredients for the cake do not look like there is enough to make 5 layers for 5 individual 9" cake pans. You do not mention that you need 5 INDIVIDUAL CAKE PANS!!!!!! That is a huge mistake. If you need 5 individual pans, 35-45 minutes is way way too long to bake those cakes!!!!! Based on your ingredients measurements, this is not a a lot of batter. so these layers will be very thin. So they will bake very quickly AND no way can you cut them in half.

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about 1 month ago KDLopez

Does the cake LOOK like it has really thin layers? I'm not a pastry chef and I figured out you need to make that recipe 5 times. How fortunate that we have access to Ms. McDowell to straighten things out for us so we can make this gorgeous cake! :-)

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about 1 month ago Joanna Ramos

Let's not be so mean. Not everyone has written recipes professionally before. It's not that easy.

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about 1 month ago Regine

Hmm. Pay me no mind. I guess the first 8 tbsp or 1 stick butter is to be mixed with the 11/4 cup sugar. For the icing it is the other 4 sticks butter. Thanks.

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about 1 month ago Regine

Incomplete instructions. Butter mixture is not explained. Also how much of the butter is for the cake versus the icing.