northstory + co

How to make an Easy Rainbow Cake – the Cheat Version!

I am about to teach you how to make the easy version of Rainbow Cake. This the cheat version folks. Because the first time I tried to do the famous Rainbow Cake started by Whisk Kid, it turned out like this:

Go ahead.

Take it in. Has your hand left covering your mouth yet so you can scream, “What the [email protected]#! happened?”

Yeah I cried. No really.

I was doing a test run of it for a family BBQ and it just imploded onto itself with my saucy homemade frosting.  I thought I could make frosting from icing sugar. Me. Oh that’s funny.

I was so mad after that waste of time that I actually whipped up a batch of rainbow cupcakes after the fact to prove that I could still actually bake something.

Ok there was hope yet. Ignore the crappy icing and the watermark that has my old blog name on it. I have no time edit them out.

So when it came time to do the actual “Rainbow Birthday Party” Rainbow cake, I went to what I like to call the Easy Rainbow cake – Cheat version that I modified from the Rainbow Cake recipe on the show Best Recipes Ever – which gave me the idea of using a color layer of the cake made from icing vs cake batter. I did this last year for my older daughter’s birthday and it worked so I figure if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.



This is the way you don’t have to make 6 layers of cake and 6 layers of icing and pray it doesn’t topple over with your dowels or straws plugged in holding it in place.

You only make 4 thin layers of cake and 2 layers of icing and still get the same Rainbow effect when you cut in.

This is a one day cake recipe. You know the kind that you go “Oh no that has to be done by tomorrow?” and panic sets in.


How modified is this version? Have you met my friend Betty Crocker? We go way back. Betty makes cake mixes and icing for your busy self and can almost guarantee that your end product will be edible. Unlike your from scratch recipe that you totally thought you rocked until you bit into it.

Side note – the back of this box tells you to use 3 egg whites for this and *if* you want, you can substitute whole eggs.

Use the whole eggs.

You need a binding agent and eggs do that. If you use egg whites, your cake batter after it is baked, will be vastly more light (read: crumbly) and it won’t hold together remotely as well. I have used this box many times and have tried both ways and I always use whole eggs with it now. Especially when you’re baking cake layers that you can’t afford to have fall apart.

If you’re a foodie or a baker that cringes at any possibility of using a boxed mix of anything, stop reading now.

It’s only going to get worse.

So here’s what you’ll need:

– 1 box of Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix in White (yes just one box)

– 4 containers (possibly 5) of Betty Crocker Whipped frosting (which is a very white, not cream coloured frosting/icing) ***Please note this comes in a Whipped cream flavour and a Vanilla one. We used the Vanilla but if you can’t find that one, the Whipped Cream one is a bright white too. It’s just a matter of what taste you want your cake to be.

– Wilton Gel Icing Colours in all 6 shades of the rainbow

– PAM or another non-stick spray

– Four 9″ round baking pans

Parchment or Wax paper

– Cake turntable and Icing Spatula / Smoothing tools or the whole entire kit


***Before you start this, clear out enough room in your freezer that can hold your cake. It’s part of the process.

Step 1

Write out your cake color layer list. Laugh all you want, when it’s 6 hours later and you’re tired, I promise you this chart will make you very happy to have it to refer to.

Step 2

Make up cake batter mix as per box instructions. Measure out 1 cup of the batter and pour them into your cake baking pans. That way you have an even amount of batter in each pan. If you have a scale you can do this by weight.

Step 3

Mix up your Red, Yellow, Blue and Green cake color batters.

Coat cake pans with Pam/cooking spray.

Pour in batter.


Bake 2 pans in the oven at a time for HALF THE TIME it says on the box. I repeat, half the time it says on the box.

Normally you wouldn’t have split up that batter into 4 pans – it would have been 2 pans – so each pan would have baked for approx 20-30 mins depending on your oven. (The Betty Crocker box says 25-30 mins for a 9″ pan.)

But because the batter is split up into 4 pans (again, not 2), you don’t need to bake them as long.

For me in my oven at 350 degrees this was 10 mins. Check with a skewer to make sure they’re baked through.

Step 5

Let cool and then flip over the baked cakes onto parchment or wax paper.

See how thin the cake layers are? This is a good thing. That means there is less to trim off to even it out and all the layers are now the same size.

I repeat, let them cool. Do not touch them. Do not go, “Oh it’s been 20 minutes maybe they’re ready to be iced now.”

Walk away.

Do something else.

In fact go to Step 6.

Step 6

Get two of the icing containers and scoop out all the icing in each container into two separate bowls.

Add in your Orange and Green food coloring into 2 separate bowls, one per each color (yes I had to write that – you’d be amazed at how I read recipes sometimes).


The next step I must thank Angry Julie for. This changed the way I made my cakes and it changed the ease of icing my cakes.

Get a piece of parchment or wax paper and trace the bottom of the cake pan onto it. Flip the paper over.

Get your icing and put almost all of it in a glob in the middle of the cake pan outline. Spread it out clockwise and then counter clockwise with a spatula until it fills out the circle outline, to create a round layer of icing.

I put them both on a large round dinner plate.

Step 7

By now your cake pans should be cooled enough that you can trim off the excess rounded dome that can occur on the baked cake layers. I used a serrated bread knife.

Having your layers as flat as possible is very important.

Step 8

Take all your cake layers and your icing layers and put them in your freezer. I left mine in for several hours.

Step 9

Get your almost frozen cake layers out of the freezer to get ready for an icing crumb coat.

Initially I put down parchment paper on the cake tray and thought maybe I’d pull it out after I iced it (to avoid a messy tray) but then I thought “What could possibly go wrong with me doing that?” and changed my mind.

Begin to stack your cake layers in the order of the rainbow colors, purple, blue, green – icing layers included (which should now be pretty much frozen).

If you find your icing layers are a tad bigger than the cake layers, just trim off the excess with a knife.

Step 10

Do a crumb coat (aka the first messy layer of icing/frosting of your cake). Don’t panic when you see the Orange or Green icing layers mix in with the crumbs. It’s called a crumb coat for a reason. It’s supposed to look like crap.

Put the cake back in your freezer for about another hour.

Step 11

Do a final icing/frosting coat of your cake. Please make sure your crumb coat feels stiff and relatively frozen before you do this.

DO USE for your own sake a cake icing spatula and/or a cake smoothing tool. Don’t use a knife or your regular spatula. You will drive yourself crazy.

FYI – Glass of wine not necessary in icing but yet may make this whole process easier.

You’re done. Put your cake away in the fridge for the Birthday Party the next day.  Decorate or do not decorate the outside of it at your own choice. 

Step 12

Take a deep breath and cut into the easy rainbow cake during the birthday party the next day.


So again, the red, yellow, blue and purple layers are cake, the orange and green layers are icing/frosting. Still a great rainbow effect!


On a food coloring note, I also made up a batch of rainbow cupcakes for a friend of my daughters who has a peanut allergy and can’t eat anything made with the Wilton Gel products (as the current ones state there may come in contact with peanuts) so I used the regular Club House Food Coloring ones for these. Of course in the chaos I forgot to take a photo of the finished cupcakes the day of the party.

But I just wanted to show you what the colors would look like if you went this route vs using the gel colors.

A lot more pastel vs the gels. I know they make a Neon version of the Club House ones but I haven’t tested those out yet.

As per their website because companies change ingredients all the time over the years in their products: For the most updated allergen and nutritional information, it is important that you read the ingredient statement on our packages at the time of your purchase.

Another option since I wrote this post and discovered is AmeriColor whose website states their food coloring is allergen friendly. Read here for the info.

In the end both the rainbow cupcakes and easy rainbow cake tasted fabulous. Thank you Betty Crocker!

PS – If you’re visiting this post because you found it through Pinterest (as this cake post seems to have taken on a life of its own), please feel free to check out the Rainbow Birthday Party post where you can see all of the crafts and projects that I did for the party as well as links to each craft.


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  • Reply
    September 2, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Such a happy cake!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    i almost didn’t read this post because i only saw the crap cake pic on my reader and i thought, shit! i can’t compliment her on that hideous mess! i’m glad i did, however, because the success cake looks amazing! i would have been exasperated by the end of making the first color. well, done for stickin’ it out! what a fun cake!

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      That first cake was beyond an epic fail. Someone is going to google Rainbow Cake and that will come up in an Image search and they’ll be like ok did the toddlers make that? I’m betting kids could have done a better job in an easy bake oven.

  • Reply
    Angry Julie Monday
    September 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    YAY! I’m glad that my (actual BFF’s) scratch coat and frozen layers idea helped!! A ton of people have had great success with it! Looks awesome!!!!

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Woman, I can’t even tell you how much your Rainbow Cake post helped. It has become a pre-req for me to do this with icing layers. It should be made into a front page book cover called Icing for Dummies aka me.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Super fun! I wish I was that talented in the kitchen. 🙂

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 3, 2012 at 9:08 am

      I am convinced you are the very first person on the face of the planet to call me talented in the kitchen. I have a pots and pans collection that would tell you otherwise! So I am taking the compliment and running with it.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2012 at 4:44 am

    I’m not a cake fan but I love how yours turned out. Its too beautiful, I probably won’t cut into it…OK I guess I will have to to reveal the nice colorful layers. Excellent baking Alex!

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Ok for your birthday we’re going to have to make you fudge or ice cream!!

  • Reply
    Growing Up in the Garden
    September 3, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Looks amazing. Truly a masterpiece! I like that you didn’t decorate the outside. I too have discovered that cake mix is a parent’s friend. I took one look at doing a cake from scratch and went running for the box, LOL.

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      The last cake I did from scratch wound up tasting like really good pound cake but completely awful with icing on it. I love my boxed mixes.

  • Reply
    September 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    My favorite part is the glass of wine. That is EXACTLY what has been missing from all of my baking adventures.

    All kidding aside, the cake looks amazing! Well done!

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      HAHAHAHA! 10 pm at night and I was like Please don’t make me go to the grocery store at 7 am for another can of icing.

  • Reply
    Jamie Lee
    September 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Oh wow. You have the patience of a saint. I would’ve thrown in the towel long ago. That cake looks bloody fantastic!

    Please save this blog post and show it to your daughter when she is a moody teenager, and say, “Look what I did for you! Now clean your room!”

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 4, 2012 at 10:05 am

      I read this when going to sleep on my phone and I swear I laughed so hard I nearly woke up the kids!

  • Reply
    September 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Ha hahahaaaaa!! That first picture had me rolling off the bed with tears in my eyes, gasping for breath and pee’ing my pants. Thank for that. I sometimes love my disasters more than the real thing… they certainly make for better stories later 😉

    • Reply
      Alex @ northofseven
      September 6, 2012 at 10:32 am

      I swear the inside of the cake began to crumble like a volcano imploded onto itself. I watched it fall apart and said oh this deserves a photo. This cake in reality isn’t super hard but it is SO time consuming.

      • Reply
        September 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm

        I admire anyone who bakes. I an cook up a storm, but honestly, even baking from a box stresses me out. I’m ever-so-slowly moving beyond my fear though… i do have four kids and it is nice to have some cookies every now and then. Now if I could only get over my intimidation in front of my sewing machine!

        • Reply
          Alex @ northofseven
          September 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm

          Where have you been all my life? We’re the same person. Do not get me started on sewing. That’s a blog post coming up this month. I am going to chronicle the first time I ever use one. I mean ever.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Beautifullll! I’m so trying this!! Love the icing technique, so smart!

    • Reply
      September 8, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Oh, and love that you put your before picture up haha

      • Reply
        Alex @ northofseven
        September 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm

        This is the blog you come to when you screw up a DIY or baking and go ok it’s not just me. I try.

        • Reply
          September 8, 2012 at 11:27 pm

          Lol, but look how awesome the second one came out!! Picture perfect! Along with everything else, I might add.

  • Reply
    February 12, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Tried making this cake today, it came out great!!! It was only less than 4 hrs before I was all done too, so now I know I can make it thee day of my daughter’s party!! Thank you! Wish I could share a pic!

  • Reply
    June 2, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Great looking cake! I’m going to try this for my daughter’s birthday this weekend. I noticed the bottom two layers (purple and blue) don’t have any icing between them. How do they stay together?

    • Reply
      June 2, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      They just stuck together and I truly have no idea why. I know. That’s a terrible answer but they stayed put even without the icing in between them. My best guess is that some of stickiness factor of the cake helped them adhere to each other as it sat overnight and then the weight of the top layers helped to keep it that way.

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Thank you! I’m making it tomorrow and Thursday!

  • Reply
    June 5, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I finished it today! Yay! It looks very similar to yours. If I can do it, anyone can! Thanks so much for posting your step-by-step instructions. Very easy to follow. One last question-can I leave it at room temperature until the party tomorrow or do I have to refrigerate it?

    • Reply
      June 5, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      WOOHOO!! Glad it turned out! I kept mine in the fridge because it was August when I made it and it was sweltering hot.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    What a great idea to freeze icing layers!! Definitely going to try that one. I agree with you about the glass of wine, it’s always a help for me too:)

  • Reply
    July 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I think you may have made a mistake in saying what colors were cake and what colors were icing and the end of your instructions. You listed green twice and never mentioned purple. Awesome idea. May have to make my own daughters cake next yr.

    • Reply
      July 26, 2014 at 8:23 pm

      You are the first person to notice that so thank you! I’ll go change it. Apparently the whole process made me lose more than just cake batter.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    I laughed forever when I saw your first attempt! Loved it and loved that you tried again
    Finished cake is awesome
    Thank you for the great idea!

  • Reply
    August 30, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I am making a cake like this for a friend’s daughter’s birthday party.. I intended on making all cake layers… I’m not sure I understand why you did frozen icing layers?

    • Reply
      August 30, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      I freeze the icing because I don’t have luck icing cakes with just regular icing layers. It’s not a must do step at all. But if you’re as skilled as I am in cake baking (which as you can see I am not) it helps a lot when it comes to the white exterior icing and not having the interior icing get mixed up like a hot mess with the exterior. A good baker wouldn’t need to but that, I am definitely not.

  • Reply
    September 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    If someone served up a cake with icing as layers….. Sorry, no way would I eat that! I can’t believe how much extra work you created for yourself. This only makes sense if you are 12 years old. Your end product is so messy as well. Cannot believe there was a link to this under rainbow cake search.

    • Reply
      November 18, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      Lots of cakes have buttercream/filling layers, and you can see it was messy due to there being birthday candles put in and taken out on the top… cannot believe that someone wasted energy typing out such a dumb comment.

  • Reply
    October 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

    I think this is brilliant! It looks amazing and I love frosting between the layers! I plan on covering mine in a rainbow sprinkles

  • Reply
    November 19, 2014 at 9:13 am

    You can make a box cake taste much more homemade by using milk and butter in place of the water and oil called for in the box recipe 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2015 at 12:30 am

    Oh, chuckle. I read your post AFTER I made my layers with egg whites fir one of my granddaughters. Wish me luck. It’s too late now.

  • Reply
    February 17, 2016 at 11:19 am

    Genial post! He sacado muchas ideas para el cumple de mi nena! Gracias!!!❤

  • Reply
    January 14, 2017 at 11:41 pm

    I would like to know were can I find purple food coloring

    • Reply
      January 16, 2017 at 3:27 pm

      Hi Janet! I got mine at our local Bulk Barn. You can also check Michael’s craft stores as they usually have a selection.

  • Reply
    August 4, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    So, so SO not a baker and after one failed attempt at this cake – found your link and Made It Work. Thank you! The box mix thing is just brilliant – have never made a cake this this before (my view has always been, now I’m baking, might as well do it for real) but for this: definitely worth it. I translated American cups to ml, but worked just fine. I used different branded boxes, with what I could find in Spain, and again, perfect. The cake was tooth-clenchingly sweet, but hey, with this cake it’s all about appearance over substance. Honestly, felt like an Actual Achievement. Thank You.

    • Reply
      August 5, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      So glad to hear it! I love feedback like this. And it’s totally about the “Wow” factor when you cut into it. Kind of like everyone’s favourite, fondant. It makes for amazing looking cakes but I have yet to find anyone who has actually eaten it all with their cake slice.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    You just saved our rainbow party LOL. Our daughter wants a rainbow fifth birthday (just like yours!) and my husband did a cake test run last night. Much swearing ensued. I don’t know why he’s still trying to make regular food coloring happen. It’s never going to happen. I’m going to show him this tonight and I feel like it will save his artistic vision! Thank you SO much for giving the non-baker, busy parent version of this. We needed this advice!!!

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