The Story of a Checkerboard Birthday Cake

I baked this checkerboard fantasy cake for my birthday girl last week. She was turning 9 years old. She likes marble cake and has been asking me to bake a marble cake for her 9th birthday. I am not sure if its the marble effect in the cake or the wonderful combination of chocolate and yellow cake flavor that fascinates her. Whenever she sees a pic of a marble cake, she reminds me to make it for her birthday.

One day she was going through the beautiful pictures in a book named “Cake Bible”. I have this book by the famous American baker and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum which was gifted to me by my sister. She was admiring the beautiful pics in that book. That is when she noticed the picture of this fantasy checkerboard cake covered with a chocolate buttercream frosting. All of a sudden she told me “I want this cake for my birthday!!!” I had bookmarked this cake recipe long back and was eagerly waiting for the perfect occasion to try it out. So I was equally happy to bake that cake for my birthday girl. A perfect fantasy cake for celebrating kids birthday with a beautiful and precise checkerboard pattern on each slice and a balanced flavor of yellow and chocolate cakes.

I was a bit tensed and was really excited to try the checkerboard pattern on the cake. I baked the cake, cut out the rings, stacked and finished frosting it. But my curiosity was still on until I could see the beautiful pattern on the cake slice. My birthday girl was very excited to see her cake and I could read that from her eyes. It was not that difficult to do as the pattern looks like. In fact it is a very easy process. Once you get the trick, you can extend this method to make even a rainbow cake with multiple colors.

Rose’s original recipe is for a 3- layer 9 inch checkerboard cake that uses a set of three 9 x 1 inch checkerboard cake pans. As I had no checker board cake pans with me, I decided to bake it in normal pans and assemble it in checkerboard pattern. I wanted to bake a 6 inch frosted birthday cake with 4 layers. So I baked one 6 inch yellow cake and one 6 inch chocolate cake, trimmed the top of the cakes to flatten it and sliced both the cakes in half. So I had 2 layers of yellow cake and 2 layers of chocolate cake(4 layers in total). I needed to cut 4 inch and 2 inch concentric circles on each of these cake layers. For this, I used lids of 4 inch and 2 inch diameter. I placed the lids on top of each cake layer and ran a knife around the lid.

Cutting 4 inch and 2 inch circles

Next I interchanged the middle ring of one yellow cake layer with the middle ring of one chocolate cake layer applying a thin coat of frosting in between to ensure that they stick to each other. The same procedure is repeated for the other set of yellow and chocolate cake layers. Now its just the matter of stacking these cake layers with a thin coating of filling in between each layers. I placed a layer with yellow cake in the outer edge (pattern 1) as the base, then a layer with chocolate cake in the outer edge (pattern 2) on top of it, followed by a layer with pattern 1 and finally the layer with pattern 2 on the top.

Stacking the rearranged cake layers

I used a custard buttercream frosting to fill and frost the cake. It is a very light, buttery and easy to make frosting and is perfect for piping. This is a very classy, medium sweet butter cake and is perfect for those who don’t want too much sweetness in their cake. I added a chocolate ganache drip on top of the cake which made it delicious. If you want a rich frosting for the cake, a semi sweet chocolate glaze, ganache or chocolate buttercream frosting would be a better option. The swirls on the top were also made using the custard buttercream to give an elegant look to the cake.

I used 3/4th quantity of the original recipe to bake the two cakes. Rose uses a very different mixing method which is quite new to me. I wanted to try it and see how it works. The only change I made in the recipe is using less baking powder as I filled around 2/3rd of the pans full and don’t want a spill out of the pans. (The original recipe calls for filling only 1/2 of the pans full.) I baked the cakes at 325 degree Celsius and the cakes were done in 40 minutes.

Please read the tips section to get more details on baking this cake to perfection.

For yellow cake and chocolate cake:

Ingredients:

  1. Semisweet chocolate 64 gm
  2. Eggs large at room temperature 2 (150 gm)
  3. Milk at room temperature 1 cup (240 gm)
  4. Vanilla extract 2.25 tsp
  5. Sifted cake flour 3 cups (300 gm)
  6. Sugar 1.5 cup (300 gm)
  7. Baking powder 4 tsp
  8. Salt 3/4 tsp
  9. Unsalted butter softened to room temperature 3/4 cup (170 gm)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degree Fahrenheit /163 degree Celsius. Butter and flour two 6 x 2 inch (15 x 5 cm) cake pans.
  2. Melt the semi sweet chocolate over hot water by using a double boiler method. Stir the chocolate frequently while melting. Remove it from the water. Let it cool.
  1. In a medium bowl, lightly combine eggs, 1/4 cup milk and vanilla extract.
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients(cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and mix on low speed for 30 seconds using a hand mixer or stand mixer.
  1. Add the softened butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.
  1. If you are using a hand mixer, increase the speed to high(medium for stand mixer) and beat for 11/2 minutes to aerate the mixture. Scrape down the sides.
  1. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches beating for 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape down the sides.
  1. Divide the batter approximately in half. Add the melted chocolate in to the smaller batch of batter and gently beat it on low speed until the chocolate is well mixed in the batter.
  1. Pour yellow batter in to one 6 inch pan and chocolate batter in to another 6 inch pan which will fill about 2/3rd of the cake pans. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the toothpick inserted in to the center of the cake comes out clean.
  1. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a spatula or knife and invert on to a greased wire rack.

Tips:

  1. I used home made cake flour for baking the cake. I have detailed the steps to make cake flour in my red velvet cupcake blog. Do check the tips section here to read this.
  2. I used Baker’s semisweet chocolate.
  3. Make sure to cut the cake layers in same size to ensure square patterns.
  4. When stacking the layers of the cake, make sure the bottom and top layer are the same pattern so you end up with the checkerboard pattern when you cut the cake.
  5. I brushed the layers with sugar syrup to ensure that they stay moist. For making sugar syrup, dissolve 2 tbsp sugar in 1/2 cup water and let it boil and simmer for few minutes. Let it cool to room temperature before applying it on cake.
  6. I used a custard buttercream frosting for filling and decorating the cake.
  7. Apply only a thin layer of frosting between the layers to have a neat checkerboard pattern.
  8. I added about 1 tsp of cocoa powder to 1 cup of custard buttercream frosting to flavor it and use as filling.
  9. Use a chocolate ganache or chocolate buttercream frosting if you want your cake to be sweeter and more rich in flavor.
  10. I froze the cakes for a while before cutting the circles. Lightly frozen cakes are easier to manage while trimming or cutting it.
  11. This cake can stay in room temperature for 2 days or stored in refrigerator for 5 days. It is best eaten on the first two days.
  12. This is a butter cake, so this needs to be thawed to room temperature before serving for best results.