How to... make an Ombre Cake

Britt Box from She Who Bakes shares her foolproof step-by-step guide to getting it right when it comes to ombre cakes... An ombre cake is usually a

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Want to create a striking ombre cake? It's easier than you might think!

Britt Box from She Who Bakes shares her foolproof step-by-step guide to getting it right when it comes to ombre cakes... Ombre, (meaning 'shaded' in French), is the gradual blending of one colour hue to another, usually moving shades from light to dark. An ombre cake is usually a colourful cake comprising of sponge, buttercream, or both, graduating through a colour. I think they are so lovely to look at and really add something special to a bake, plus the good news is that they are really simple to do! I’ve gone with a purple ombre for this cake, but this method can be used for any colour. You’ll need to start with a standard cake mix. You can use any light coloured mix but I find a Madeira to be best for this; not only does it hold the colour well, but it also is a bit firmer which will come in handy as we are making shallow cakes, meaning they won’t break up when we turn them out of the tin and stack them. This recipe is specifically for 10x18cm (4x7in) thin round cakes to be stacked. This recipe is not suitable for one 18cm (7in) round deep cake as it would overflow the normal tin. For any other sizes, I recommend converting the recipe using an online cake calculator. Firstly I recommend lining the tins using a circle of greaseproof paper for the base and a strip of greaseproof paper for the inside. I stick these down using a little Cake Release.How to: Make an ombre cake How to: Make an ombre cake 2

White buttercream


  • 500 g unsalted butter
  • 1 kg icing sugar
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla
  • purple gel colouring
  1. Start by creaming the butter on a high speed for about 5 minutes. This will aerate it and make it lovely and pale in colour. Once this is done, mix in the icing sugar slowly. Don’t be tempted to add any liquid at this stage. It will look quite firm and lumpy but stay strong, keep mixing and be patient.

  2. Once fully incorporated, add the vanilla and mix on a high speed until a nice creamy consistency has formed.

  3. To turn it white, we’re going to use purple. Sounds weird but I promise you it works. Take a TINY amount of purple gel colouring on the end of a cocktail stick and add it into the buttercream and mix well. The purple will neutralise the yellow and you’ll be left with a lovely white buttercream. Too little and it’ll go a light yellow, too much and it will go grey – WAY too much and it will go purple. You only need the smallest amount. If in doubt, start tiny and work your way up.


How to: Make an ombre cake 3 How to: Make an ombre cake

To stack and decorate


  1. Once your cake layers are firm and your buttercream is made, it’s time to put it together. Unwrap your cake layers and level them using a cake leveller or sharp serrated knife. Then trim the edges off. I don’t tend to do this for normal cakes but I will with colourful cakes as the outside, top and bottom tend to go a slightly different colour to the actual sponge when it’s being baked. When we cut into the cake we want to see the lovely bright surprise!

  2. Start with the darkest cake layer and place this onto a thin cake card the same size as the cake on a ‘working board’, securing with a little buttercream. Spread a layer of white buttercream onto the darkest layer, making sure it’s nice and even. Top with the second darkest layer and repeat. Add on the third darkest layer and repeat, then finally place the lightest cake layer on top. Once this is done, scrape off any excess buttercream around the edges and place in the fridge to firm up for 10 minutes.

  3. After this time, take it out and spread on a crumb coat – this is a thin buttercream layer on the outside of the cake to hold in any crumbs. Place this back in the fridge for a further 10 minutes.

  4. Finally, do a second thin crumb coat layer and chill for another 10 minutes.

  5. While the cake is chilling, divide the remaining buttercream into four bowls. Just as with the cake mix, colour the four bowls different shades of purple starting with a really light shade, then one a little darker, one a little darker than that and finally a deep purple.

  6. If you’re using a separate buttercream or filling for the cake to what you’re using on the outside, I would still recommend colouring the buttercream white first before making purple, as it’s easier to start with a nice neutral shade than a bright yellow.

  7. Move the cake carefully to where it will be when it is cut up, either on a cake stand or iced cake board. Once the dots have been piped onto the sides, it can be a little tricky to move about without damaging the design.

  8. Fit a piping bag with a plain, small round nozzle. Fill with the darkest shade of purple and, holding the bag level to the bottom of the cake, pipe a small round circle of buttercream onto the side of the cake at the bottom. Then, using a cranked palette knife, press into the round of buttercream and swipe sharply to the right, creating a scooped shape. Scrape the excess off the palette knife into the buttercream bowl. Pipe a second circle of buttercream, just where the scoop ends, then repeat. Continue this all the way around the circumference of the bottom of the cake.

  9. Next, fit another piping bag with the same nozzle and fill with buttercream one shade up. Start again just above the darkest buttercream line and continue all the way around the cake. Repeat for the next shade up, then finally in the lightest shade; don’t worry too much about getting a perfect finish where the dots meet up, this is really difficult and this can simply become the back of the cake!

  10. Once the sides of the cake are decorated, continue this pattern all the way around the top edge of the cake and into the top centre. Add any other toppings or decorations you like at this stage, then leave to set.

  11. Cut the cake into slices and reveal the surprise inside – I love how these look once you’ve cut into them! This cake will last 4-5 days once covered in a layer of buttercream and 2 days once it's cut into. Make sure to wrap any exposed sponge in clingfilm to help keep it fresher for longer. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge (as this will dry out the cake), just a cool dry room.


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You will need

  • 350 g self-raising flour
  • 95 g plain flour
  • 350 g Stork/ unsalted butter
  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 6 free-range eggs
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla
  • Sugarflair Grape Violet


Preheat the oven to 160°C/Gas Mark 2½. Cream together the Stork/butter and the sugar. Add in the eggs and mix well, then add the flours and mix again. Finally add the vanilla and mix on a medium speed until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
This is where things start to get colourful! For the colour, I highly recommend using concentrated gel food colouring because you only need to use a small amount to get a strong colour. They don’t change the taste or consistency of the cake or the buttercream, they last absolutely ages and they don’t fade out when baked. They are a little more expensive than the water-based colours you can pick up in the supermarket, but they are so worth it. You can pick them up easily online or in your local cake decorating store.
Divide your cake mix into four bowls. Using a little colouring on the end of a palette knife or cocktail stick, add colour to the bowls of cake mix in varying amounts. I go with a tiny amount for the first bowl, a little bit more for the second, a bit more for the third and the biggest amount for the fourth. Mix them up, then adjust if necessary. When I was making this one, my first colour was a little too pale and my second and third were too close in shade, so I added in a little more colour to make four distinct shades of purple.
While you don’t have to work at the speed of light here, it’s worth noting that the longer a cake mix is left out the less it can rise in the oven. Try to have everything out and ready to use so you’re not rifling through the cupboards when you should be mixing. I had the four lined tins, the four bowls, four spoons, colouring and palette knife all to hand to make this bit as swift as possible.
Once you have mixed your colours, pour into the four lined tins and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. I like to bake ‘low and slow’ as I find this makes for a more even bake and nice flat tops. Having a flatter top cake is great for decorating, but I find it even more important with single shallow cake layers like these as there will be a bare minimum to cut off (if that), so we don’t lose any more height than we need to.
Once baked, I turn out the cakes, after a few minutes out of the oven, onto a sheet of greaseproof paper. I do this instead of a wire rack so as not to make any indents on the sides of the cake. By leaving to cool on a flat surface, it levels them nicely. When they are completely cool, wrap each layer well in clingfilm and leave in a cool, dry place overnight. I find it best to give it time to firm up so it doesn’t break apart when we want to cut, trim and layer it. You can, of course, go straight into the decorating part once the cake layers are completely cool, but if you’ve got time to leave it overnight I highly recommend it.
When you’re ready, it’s time to make the buttercream. For this I’m going to start by making white buttercream – this will make a lovely contrast to the colourful cake layers and the colourful buttercream we will decorate it with later. Also by starting with white buttercream, it’s easier to then turn it into another colour.

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