There's no better way to celebrate an American holiday than with a flag cake—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). Just watch the video above to see how it's done.
**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.**
This recipe will have some cake and buttercream left over. With those extras you could make: cake pops/cake truffles, a trifle with freshly whipped cream and sliced berries, or toasted cake croutons to go on top of pudding or to serve alongside coffee. —Erin Jeanne McDowell
Test Kitchen Notes
“It looks really unassuming on the outside, but on the inside it’s a big surprise,” says Erin McDowell, Resident Baking BFF and the developer of this flag cake recipe. It looks super-complicated, but it’s actually just a matter of following the instructions. After baking and trimming the cakes, you’ll cut them into a few circles and rings, then layer them—sandwiched with American buttercream, of course—to create a sliceable flag-wedge, just waiting to be eaten. Cue the fireworks! But maybe you’re wondering, why is flag cake a thing? Who started this? I’ll tell you! I don’t know.
“Ina Garten thinks that she invented flag cake,” writes Sarah Jampel in a deep-dive into the subject published on this very site in 2016. (Within the story, you’ll find that Martha Stewart of course also thinks she was the first to make one.) Both Garten’s and Stewart’s versions are a bit more Pinterest than professional: they’re sheet cakes with white frosting-stripes and stars piped between red and blue berries—the cake is the flag, eat it, be merry. Apparently neither were actually the first, though: there’s evidence of petit fours painted with blue and red dye dating back to the early 1900s, and iterations made for decades following. There have been flag cakes made of Jello, ice cream flag cakes, and flag cakes made of red, white, and blue cake balls arranged into a flag shape. Does it really matter why this became a thing, or which is a true flag cake? Like most wacky traditions, they’re probably best just enjoyed. —The Editors
- Prep time 1 hour
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Makes one 9-inch cake
- For the cake:
butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups
eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups
cake flour, sifted
buttermilk, room temperature
- For the frosting:
sticks softened unsalted butter
sifted powdered sugar
- For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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. If you don't have 5 separate cake pans, you can continue to use the cake pans you have over and over again until you have 5 cakes.
- 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.
- Use the 5-inch cutter to remove the center of the thicker blue cake. This cake will remain in one thick layer.
- 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—you should have four layers total.
- 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!
- 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:
- 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.