Rainbow Jelly Cream Cake

May  9, 2023
0 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 4 hours 45 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour
  • Serves 12
Author Notes

This nostalgic fever dream of a cake was inspired by the wondrous Raspberry Cake with Whipped Cream Filling from Shilpa Uskokovic, first published in Bon Appétit in March 2021 (and now as a Genius Recipe on Food52). It’s inspired by the layered fruit and cream cakes in often found in Japanese bakeries, and it's abundantly make-ahead-friendly with layers of delicate, fluffy textures that are all perfectly fine being abandoned in the fridge for hours (and in fact, might prefer it).

Here’s how it came to be: When I first made Shilpa’s cake for my daughter’s third birthday (after she had asked for a pink strawberry cake for months—and yes, Shilpa's cake tastes equally good in strawberry), everyone at the party fell in love with it, except for her. Overwhelmed by her first big gathering, she wanted none of it. She only had eyes for the gelatinas (brightly colored gelatins) brought by our friend Desiree, and tried one in every color. What happened next is how I hope all disagreements with my daughter will go—with understanding, respect, and, ultimately, the discovery of something new.

After I shrugged off my disappointment that we wouldn’t be polishing off Shilpa’s cake together, I remembered a magical jelly experience from my own childhood. The goblets of Jell-O parfait—bouncy, bright cubes suspended in whipped cream like stained glass—in the refrigerated case at a local cafeteria. I couldn’t imagine a more mesmerizing or appetizing dessert then, or even now.

So, to show how riffable Shilpa’s Genius cake template is, I not only wanted to play with the flavors, but add in another light pop of texture that also loves to be served cold. (For the record, at her fourth birthday this year, my daughter devoured Shilpa’s pink cake.) Her first reaction to my riff? No, thank you. But, the second time I made it, she tried it and liked it—just not as much as Shilpa’s original pink wonder.

A few tips: Agar agar is used in many desserts in Asian cuisines, from Filipino halo-halo to Taiwanese bubble tea, as well as vegan baking—because it’s derived from red algae, it's a great vegetarian alternative to gelatin. I also find it easier and more forgiving to work with than gelatin. You can buy agar agar online, at Asian grocery stores, and at health food stores (sometimes in the bulk bins). It’s worth seeking out the powder form so it’s easiest to work with, but make sure agar is the only ingredient for full-gelling potency. (If you can only find other forms, there are helpful tutorials online.) Agar won’t have the same bounce as gelatin, but a delightful texture of its own. If you want the bounce, feel free to make old-fashioned Jell-O, or try a homemade version like the one in Amanda Hesser’s Blackberry Jello Fluff.

Have fun playing with different juices and fruits and other mix-ins, but use caution when it comes to highly acidic juices like citrus because these may not set at all, or you might need to add more agar. If all else fails, you can test the set by putting a couple spoonfuls in the freezer briefly and, unlike gelatin, you can always re-melt, tweak the ratio of agar to liquid, and set again. —Kristen Miglore

Test Kitchen Notes

Cake adapted from Shilpa Uskokovic for Bon Appétit. Jellies adapted from Manjula’s Kitchen.

Do ahead: Cake can be baked 1 day ahead; store tightly wrapped at room temperature, or freeze up to 1 week. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using. Cake (without crushed raspberry topping) can be assembled 1 day ahead; cover loosely and chill. Any extra jellies will keep for up to a week tightly sealed in the fridge.

What You'll Need
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Rainbow Jelly Cream Cake
  • For the jellies:
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 teaspoons agar powder, divided
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
  • 2 cups carrot juice
  • For the cake:
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature, separated
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (125 grams) cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • For the frosting:
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups (37 grams) freeze-dried peaches or mangoes
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  1. Make the jellies: Set two heat-safe dishes (loaf pans and 8x8-inch cake pans work well) by the stove. In a small pot, whisk together the pineapple juice, ¼ cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons agar powder. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then boil for 6 to 8 minutes, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat, stir in 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and pour into one of the heat-safe dishes. Repeat with the carrot juice. When no longer steaming, transfer to the fridge to chill while you make the frosting.
  2. Make the cake: Position a rack in the middle of the oven; heat to 350°F. Line two 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper rounds (do not grease). Beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and ½ cup (100 grams) sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-low speed until the egg whites are broken up, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the meringue is glossy and holds firm peaks, which can take up to 10 minutes (but most importantly, watch for those visual cues).
  3. Whisk the egg yolks and remaining ½ cup (100 grams) sugar by hand in a large bowl until pale, well combined, and ribbony; about 2 minutes. Whisk in the oil, vanilla, and ⅓ cup room-temperature water. Sift the cake flour and baking powder into the mixture and whisk vigorously to combine.
  4. Add ¼ of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture and mix thoroughly to incorporate (this will lighten the batter). Add the remaining meringue in 3 batches, gently folding after each addition until only a few streaks of meringue remain (err on the side of mixing slightly less rather than more to keep the batter billowy).
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and gently smooth the surface. Bake the cakes 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue baking until golden brown and the tops spring back when gently pressed, up to 40 minutes more (start peeking through the closed oven door around 20 minutes). Remove from the oven; invert the pans onto a wire rack. Let the cakes cool in their pans (cooling them upside down reduces shrinkage), 60 to 70 minutes. Turn the cakes over and run an offset spatula around the sides of cakes to loosen, then invert cakes onto the wire rack. Peel away the parchment.
  6. Make the frosting: Finely grind sugar and 1 ½ cups (37 grams) freeze-dried fruit in a food processor. Add cream, vanilla, and salt and pulse just until the cream is no longer sloshy but firm enough to hold a shape.
  7. Make the filling: When the jellies are firm, loosen the edges with a knife then unmold onto a cutting board. Dice finely in ⅓-inch pieces. Scoop a heaping cupful of the frosting into a small bowl, then fold in a heaping ½ cup of each flavor of the jelly cubes. (Reserve the rest of the jelly cubes for topping the cake and snacks for kids who are only in it for the jellies.)
  8. Assemble the cake: At least 2 hours before serving, place one cake on a cake platter or large plate. Scoop the filling on top; spread evenly with an offset spatula, leaving a 1-inch border to give the filling room to spread. Place second cake layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the frosting still in the bowl. Scatter the reserved jelly cubes around the top of the cake, and bottom too, if you like. Chill the cake, uncovered, at least 2 hours.
  9. To serve, slice the cake with a serrated knife, wiping clean with a towel between cuts.

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