In my high school, students had to take a “creative” elective during their freshman and sophomore years. Our options were limited to only three classes: art, choir, or drama. Because I couldn’t (and still can’t!) sing and at the time and had an intense fear of public speaking, I decided that art was my best bet to cruise through the two years relatively stress-free.
But alas; it turned out that I was no more an artist than I was a singer or an actor. I was terrible at literally every medium we tried—sketching, painting, and even plastering, during which I accidentally waxed off half my classmate’s eyebrow when we were doing plaster casts of our faces. My art teacher thought that my ineptitude was on purpose, and responded by reacting with either hostility or indifference to my best efforts. Needless to say, that was the last time I have ever taken an official art class of any kind.
I sometimes wonder what my art teacher would say if she saw me now and found out that I was making my living from taking photos of food, developing recipes, and styling cakes like this one. I’m not sure if any of what I do qualifies as Real Art (whatever that means), but it didn’t occur to me how closely related they were up until a recent FaceTime chat with my mom. My mom had called right at the start of my decorating process, and I figured I’d multitask by decorating the cake while we chatted. At the end of our conversation, my mom asked to see my progress and was surprised that the cake, had patches of uneven frosting and was partially naked at the beginning of our call, was now fully covered compete with perfectly smooth sides. “It’s like you plastered it!” my mom exclaimed.
To take the arty theme to the next level, I then used a bunch of Wilton Candy Melts to drizzle and “splatter” colors all over this cake in the style of Jackson Pollock. Unfortunately, neither Pollock or myself can really take credit for this cake design—it’s actually from my dear friend Tessa (the blogger behind Style Sweet CA) and her new book, Icing on the Cake. Tessa has always been a maestro of layer cakes; her first book, Layered, was dedicated to the most wonderful and creative layer cake recipes (like this London Fog layer cake!). Icing on the Cake has even more layer cake recipes, but also ones for other showstopping bakes like pies, macarons, and more. As a special treat, I’m giving away a copy to one of my Instagram followers, along with a few cake decorating goodies from Wilton Cakes; be sure to check out my Instagram later today for a chance to win!
Some baker’s notes:
- The cake is a simple vanilla cake topped with vanilla buttercream frosting. In addition to the “paint”, the inside of the cake is swirled with different colors for a tie-dyed effect. I used natural food coloring that turned out a touch too pastel and sort of blended together—if you want a more dramatic look, opt for bolder colors like Tessa did in her book!
- Wilton Candy Melts are available online on their site and in multiple colors at craft stores like JoAnn or Michaels. In a pinch, you can also buy Candy Melts on Amazon, but they’re much pricier per bag and their colors are limited. You can also opt for Molly’s version, in which she uses a royal icing glaze for the paint splatters.
Get the Recipe: Paint Splatter Cake
For the Vanilla Cake
- 2 1/4 cups (10.15 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) canola oil
- food coloring
For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Candy Melts (2 ounces of each color)
- canola oil
For the Vanilla Cake
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Generously spray three 6-inch cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle. Spray the parchment paper too, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together 1 cup buttermilk and 3 large eggs.
- Use a tall glass to create a well in the center of dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the center of the well and whisk to combine into the dry ingredients. Pour in 1/2 cup melted butter and 1/4 cup canola oil, and whisk until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly into three bowls, about 13.35 ounces each. Tint each bowl of batter a different color by adding a drop or two of food coloring into each bowl and whisking until combined.
- Pour a small amount of batter (around 4.45 ounces), one different color per pan, into the three prepared pans. Pour a small amount (around 4.45 ounces) of a second, different color into the center of each pan, on top of the first color. Repeat, making a bull’s eye effect, until all the batter has been used. After the process, each cake pan should have about 13.35 ounces of batter.
- Use a wooden skewer or the tip of a butter knife to swirl the batter in each pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out with few crumbs attached. Let the cakes cool in their pans on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes, before turning out onto the wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
For the Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
- With the mixer on low, gradually add all but 1 cup (4 ounces) of the confectioners’ sugar, 3 tablespoons whole milk, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, and a pinch of kosher salt. Once combined, increase the mixer to medium-high and beat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the buttercream is white, fluffy, and smooth. Reduce the mixer to low and add the remaining 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar as needed 1/4 cup at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. The buttercream should be soft and spreadable, but not runny.
- Level the cakes and assemble into a three layer stack, placing about 1/2 cup frosting in between each layer. Cover completely with the remaining frosting and use an offset spatula to smooth the top and sides of the cake completely.
- Place each color of Candy Melts in its own separate bowl and melt according to the directions on the package. Stir in a little bit of canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to thin as needed (I used about 1 teaspoon per bowl).
- Line your counter and the surrounding walls with parchment paper. Dip a spoon into one of the melted candy coatings and quickly fling the colored coating onto the cake. Use a new spoon for each color. Create splatters of the various colors all around the tops and sides of the cake. The harder you fling the splatters, the longer the streaks will be—however, your work area will be messier. Use caution when working around carpet! Once dry, the candy coating should scrape off most solid surfaces with a bench scraper easily.