Cake

This Unicorn Cake Took Me 7 Hours to Make & I'll Never Be the Same

Beware the power of rainbows and sprinkles.

April 26, 2019

Amirah Kassem believes in the power of sprinkles. And not just because it's the name of her just-released debut "cakebook."

Her six-tiered rainbow cakes, complete with exploding sprinkle surprise centers, have been enjoyed—and thoroughly documented on Instagram—by some of the most important celebrities of our time (notably, North West and Penelope Disick). This, plus a string of big-brand partnerships, has turned Amirah's New York City bakery Flour Shop into a multi-million-dollar cake-pire and social media phenomenon.

Cara the unicorn (cake) likes long trots on the beach and glittery disco balls. Photo by The Power of Sprinkles, Courtesy of Abrams

I, on the other hand, am less inclined to believe in the power of sprinkles, or even cake for that matter. It's not because I hate the pure, frivolous joy they inspire; I'm just more of a savory-foods girl. I'll take a bucket of fried chicken or extra-cheesy pizza or pork belly ramen over something sweet any day of the week. So my attitude toward Flour Shop's myriad creations (including, but not limited to, cakes that look like cheeseburgers, sushi, and pancakes) has been apathetic at best.

Anyway, wasn't the rainbow cake just another example of my generation's most pervasive affliction: "doing it for the Gram"? I was not going to get tricked into playing along this time, as I have many, many times before. So why on earth would I want to make one of these cakes at home?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My greatest accomplishment is still the ducky cake for my BFF's baby shower because I packed frozen Italian meringue buttercream, flew across the country (with said frosting & all my baking equipment), and fashioned cattails out of uncooked spaghetti & Tootsie rolls. I still love to look the photos from that day.”
— HalfPint
Comment

It boils down to: spite. I wanted to prove that pulling off one of these picture-perfect confections—with their smooth, frosted edges and flawless decorative piping—was actually impossible to achieve at home. So I went beyond Amirah's signature sprinkles-covered cake and chose something even more difficult: the fabled unicorn cake, which (to no one's surprise) was the top Google search for food in 2018.

But first I asked for help from the queen of sprinkles herself. Her general advice was simple: "Don't be afraid to make the mess as long as you get to eat cake and share sprinkles and smiles." (I was sure I would make a mess, unsure about the smiles.) Her baking and decorating tips, though, would surely come in handy:

  • "Don't overmix the batter."
  • "Flip your top layer bottom-side up to get a perfect edge."
  • "Add a step by crumb coating and refrigerating before adding your final layer of frosting."

Noted.

Making a unicorn cake is no joke. Photo by Erin Alexander

Armed with the gospel of cake (The Power of Sprinkles) and Amirah's tips, I set out to buy all of the ingredients and necessary tools, of which I lacked many. This would turn out to be a bit of an investment, but to be fair, I now have a scale, 12 shades of food coloring, piping tips, and two types of gel frosting (black and sparkly pink) that should all last me a lifetime. I borrowed a single cake pan (yes, for a six-tier cake) and icing spatula from my editor, Eric, and also stocked up on lots of butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and the like.

Baking and spreading sprinkle joy is all about the process.
Amirah Kassem

I saved the deed for a Sunday, and made sure to start off the morning with a yoga session so that I could be "present and centered" for what was sure to be chaos. At 12:03 p.m. I began, tackling the "Bonilla Vanilla Cake" batter first (inspired by the recipe Amirah's mother used to make for her growing up). The recipe was simple enough, but using the scale—and some very suspect math—to measure out six equal portions of batter for each tier was a bit messier (though ultimately worth it).

Layers, glorious layers. Photo by Erin Alexander

After mixing a different color in each bowl of batter (pink, red, yellow, green, blue, purple), it was time to toss my rainbow babies in the oven. But since I foolishly only had one cake pan, it took me two movies (Crazy Rich Asians and Mama Mia! Here We Go Again, both modern classics) to bake and cool all of them. To make room for the sprinkle explosion hole (sorry), I used my favorite shot glass to cut holes into the center of five of the six cakes (you need a uniform top layer, otherwise your cake will have a sink-hole roof).

The cream cheese frosting—which I splattered across my kitchen because my budget hand mixer's lowest speed is fiendishly quick—was thick and sweet and delicious. It was also two sticks of butter and two pounds of powdered sugar, so...that adds up.

So far things were looking up. Even the cake itself turned out well; I sampled a few bites of the cake holes (I would save the rest for cake balls, an admittedly genius recommendation from Amirah), and they were moist and vanilla-y. But this was the easy part: Anyone can follow a recipe. The decorating, I knew, would be much more challenging—and I was right.

Fact: Your kitchen will look like a rainbow explosion, too. Photo by Erin Alexander

I layered my cake, with a generous swath of frosting in between each layer, and dumped an entire container of sprinkles down the slightly lopsided yet functional cavity. Frosting the outside of the cake was harder. After about five minutes of trying to smooth out the layer of frosting over the "crumb coat" (a preliminary base layer of frosting so the second layer is cleaner), even with the extra step of refrigeration, I gave up on perfection; a few lumps, bumps, and sags here and there would be fine, I reminded myself (and I'm sure Amirah would agree).

Since I couldn't find edible gold paint for the horn (aka ice cream cone), I doused it in sparkly pink gel frosting using my hands—it still looked nice—and ceremoniously plopped it atop my unicorn's head. I used that same pink frosting to paint the inside of the white chocolate ears (which were also lopsided, but looked like they would stand up on their own).

At this point, I was on my third movie (My Father the Hero, a strange film with a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and ready to pipe. Mixing the food coloring in individual bowls and slopping the frosting into piping bags was sloppy and disorganized, but I managed to pull off a knockoff version of the photo in the book. Using the black gel frosting, I only somewhat fudged her eyes, but from the right angle you can't even tell.

Still, she was...cute. I was impressed with myself. Even more so when I cut a slice, revealing a rainbow-colored spectrum of layers and a deluge of sprinkles spilling out from the center. I rabidly snapped at least 100 photos of my unicorn child, from every angle, like a mom-ager desperate to get her kid a Disney Channel gig.

Is this what magic feels like?

View this post on Instagram

glamour shots 🦄🌈🍰

A post shared by Erin Alexander (@you_feta_believe_it) on

I got my answer when I toted her to work the next morning, in a bag, in an Uber Pool (i.e., hell). Few thought she would survive the journey, but my girl is tough.

Photo by Erin Alexander

In the office, she was treated like a celebrity. (Cue the "sprinkle joy" Amirah told me about.) People whispered around her as they came in to get a closer look and snapped photos for Instagram stories. Someone even asked for a selfie.

But as we collectively cut her to pieces, slice by slice, anyone who caught a glimpse of her rainbow mane and sparkly unicorn horn couldn't help but smile.

And, ugh, neither could I.

What's your greatest baking accomplishment—or your most spectacular failure? Tell me in the comments below!

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lynn McCullough Prakas
    Lynn McCullough Prakas
  • Sandy Alexander
    Sandy Alexander
  • Nancy
    Nancy
  • g. marks
    g. marks
  • Jennifer Spencer
    Jennifer Spencer
Comment
Erin Alexander is the Assistant Editor of Partner Content at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.

17 Comments

Lynn M. May 4, 2019
Loved this! Your creativity and descriptive words never cease to amaze me Miss Erin! The unicorn was so adorable & looked really yummy. Your binge watching afternoon really brightened my, and many others, day. Just wish you could have sent a piece home to us. Anxiously awaiting the next masterpiece from your cool little NYC kitchen 😘
 
Author Comment
Erin A. May 4, 2019
Awww thank you Miss Lynn! Miss you and can't wait for you to come visit NYC ❤️
 
Sandy A. April 29, 2019
Great job 👍 I’m equally impressed that you did all that in a NYC sized apartment with NYC sized appliances - BRAVO!! 🦄
 
Nancy April 27, 2019
Fun stiry!
Schvarzwalder kirschtorte for a brother's birthday. It required two kinds of cherries, two batches (separately flavored) of whipped cream, a 3-layer chocolate sponge cake, clear cherry brandy, sugar syrip, shaved chocolate curls and 12 piped rosettes of vanilla whipped cream as settings for some of those cherries.
Brother loved it ;)
CIA gets the credit. Or blame.
(The one on the Hudson.)
 
Nancy April 27, 2019
Story (Not stiry)
 
Author Comment
Erin A. April 29, 2019
Ohhhh that cake sounds delicious; cherries and chocolate are the best combo.
 
g. M. April 27, 2019
Loved this piece in every single way there is to love it!! Loved the pic of the cake, banana and jelly beans (?) And loved the description of Uber...all too true!!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. April 29, 2019
Thank you! And yep, those were jelly beans :)
 
Jennifer S. April 27, 2019
I flew across the country with a chocolate layer cake I made the day before. It’s a sour cream and boiling water cake recipe with five eggs, real ganache frosting that requires an ice bath, and it’s the best cake recipe I have. I bought a cardboard round and a pink box from my local bakery, tied the box up with string, and defended the cake from the TSA and half the passengers on the plane once the chocolate smell began to waft about the cabin. Cake candles were in my purse. My sweetheart never forgot that birthday!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. April 29, 2019
Aww what a journey! I'm so glad your cake made it past TSA—I've lost many delicious treats to them :(
 
Eric K. April 27, 2019
Wow.
 
Brinda A. April 26, 2019
Giggled the whole time I read this (and remain very, VERY sad I missed her joy IRL).
 
Eric K. April 27, 2019
Me too!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. April 29, 2019
She missed you too, Brinda!
 
HalfPint April 26, 2019
My greatest accomplishment is still the ducky cake for my BFF's baby shower because I packed frozen Italian meringue buttercream, flew across the country (with said frosting & all my baking equipment), and fashioned cattails out of uncooked spaghetti & Tootsie rolls. I still love to look the photos from that day.
 
Author Comment
Erin A. April 29, 2019
Woah! A cross country journey is far more impressive than a 20-minute Uber Pool. I'd love to see pics of that cake!
 
HalfPint April 29, 2019
Hope this works:
https://pix.sfly.com/q3UYAv