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slices of checkerboard cake on plates with forks

Pure and simple vanilla cake. Can you really beat 4 layers of fluffy, sweet, and buttery goodness? The answer is yes. Y-e-s, you can. Twist it all up into one seriously mesmerizing checkerboard. So much fun to cut into because the real party is INSIDE the cake!

Checkerboard cake probably seems a like a huge question mark to most. How? Where? WHYYYYY? Some crazy special cake pan? What is going on?! I’m always majorly impressed when I see them, but had no idea how laughably simple they are to prepare. And I think you’ll be surprised too!

slice of checkerboard cake on a white plate with a fork

And… another side note. Can I admit to you that I used to have zero cake and cupcake decorating skills? I’ve never taken a cake decorating class. I’m no where near as talented as some of you, but here’s why I’m telling you all this: if you feel how I did 1 year ago… frustrated, intimidated, and confused by producing beautiful cake creations… then let me encourage you to just TRY. Just start trying. You’ll get there. Just have your family eat the uglies. (I had a lot of uglies.)

There are a few step-by-step pictures I want to show you, but before we get to all that… watch to see how it all comes to life.

Not so scary, right? Also… I had my friend Ashlee shoot this video for me. And her video version is obviously so much prettier than my own cake (these pictures). Told you… I’m still learning!

sliced checkerboard cake on a serving plate with a dessert server

Let’s get started on the rundown. You’ll make a four layer vanilla cake. The only thing better than the charming geometric design is the cake’s homemade flavor. I love it. It’s similar to my piñata cake recipe, though I opted for 5 whole eggs instead of whole eggs + egg yolks. It makes things easier and I sort of can’t really tell difference. No offense 2015 Sally.

You’ll need at least two colors of cake to make the checkerboard design. So, divide the batter in half. The batter is about 8 cups total, so 4 cups will be 1 color and 4 cups will be another color. My colors were a pretty aqua shade (the teal color in this kit) and funfetti. Funfetti is a color, right? You can use any two colors you like or only tint half of the cake a color. Like pink + plain batter OR purple + green batter OR funfetti + blue (like I did). Honestly, whatever you want. Perfect for showers, weddings, themed parties, team colors, etc. Heck, you could make a new checkerboard cake every week. I’m sure your skinny jeans would love it.

The frosting is homemade as well. Sweet, silky, buttery, and easy to work with.

Once you have your 4 cake layers baked and the frosting prepared, assemble the cake. This is the fun part and the video above is a wonderful visual to walk you through.

funfetti cake layer with 2 circle cutters creating 3 rings of cake
bottom layer of checkerboard cake with alternating rings of cake circles

Some Math

You’ll need a 6 inch cookie cutter and a 3 inch cookie cutter. These sizes are perfect for 9 inch cakes because it wouldn’t make any sense to have, say, a 5 inch cookie cutter and a 2 inch cookie cutter. The checkerboard squares wouldn’t be even all throughout the cake. 3 + 6 ensures the squares are 1.5 inches each. (See photo above.) Alternatively, you could make 6 inch cakes and use 4 + 2 inch cookie cutters. However, this homemade batter wouldn’t fit into smaller pans. So 9 + 6 +3 is best using this batter and frosting.

Does that all make sense?

Now you have to just put the puzzle together. You will have 4 3-inch circles, 4 6-inch circles (well, the outlines since the centers are missing), and 4 9-inch circles (which, again, are just a thin outline of cake since the centers are missing). Place the 6 and 3 inch cakes inside the 9 inch cakes, alternating colors. Layer it up with frosting then frost all around the sides.

2 images of frosting the bottom cake layer and all 4 cake layers assembled with frosting in between each layer

Cutting into the cake reveals the completely unexpected, yet whimsical and seriously impressive design. It’s absolutely gorgeous. A showstopper, indeed.

Look at you! You just created a cake masterpiece. If I can do this, so can you.

slice of checkerboard cake on a white plate with a fork

See Your Checkerboard Cakes!

collage of checkerboard cake images

Many readers tried this recipe as part of a baking challenge! Feel free to email or share your recipe photos with us on social media. 🙂

Print
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slice of checkerboard cake on a white plate with a fork

Checkerboard Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 4 hours
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours, 25 minutes
  • Yield: 1012 servings 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Checkerboard cake features homemade vanilla layer cake and vanilla buttercream in a checkerboard design. Impress your guests when you reveal the beauty inside this impressive cake!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 and 3/4 cups (443g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 345g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 3/4 cups (420ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • 1/3 cup (50g) rainbow sprinkles (plus more for garnish)
  • 23 drops teal food coloring (or any color)

Vanilla Buttercream

  • 1 and 3/4 cups (3 and 1/2 sticks; 400g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 7 cups (840g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons (90ml) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour four 9-inch cake pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy – about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 5 full minutes until creamed together fairly well. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, add 1 whole egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  3. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick.
  4. There will be 8 cups of batter total– transfer half of it to another bowl. Stir in 1/3 cup sprinkles into half and the food coloring into the other half. Pour/spread batter evenly into prepared cake pans.
  5. Bake for around 25 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  6. Use the video above for a visual of this step. Using a 6-inch round cookie cutter (it’s large!), cut a circle into each cooled cake. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle out of the 6-inch circle. You will have 4 3-inch circles, 4 6-inch circles (the outlines), and 4 9-inch circles (which are just a thin outline of cake since the centers are missing).
  7. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy – about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 full minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more cream if frosting is too thick, or a pinch more of salt if frosting is way too sweet.
  8. Assemble the cake: Again, use the video above for a visual of this step. Place one blue 9-inch outline of cake onto a serving plate or cake stand. Fill with a funfetti 6-inch circle, then a blue circle. Spread frosting evenly on top. Repeat with next layer: 9-inch funfetti filled with 6-inch blue then 3-inch funfetti. Spread frosting evenly on top. Repeat next 2 layers. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Decorate top and sides of cake with extra sprinkles, if desired.
  9. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour before slicing and serving. The time in the refrigerator ensures a neater cut!
  10. Cover and store leftover cake at room temperature for 1-2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Assemble and frost the cake the next day when you are ready to serve. Frosted cake can be frozen up to 2 months if you have room in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. It tastes much better fresh though!
  2. Special Tools: KitchenAid Stand Mixer | KitchenAid Hand Mixer | 9-inch Round Cake Pans | 3-inch Round Cutter | 6-inch Round Cutter | Icing Spatula
  3. Flour: Sift flour before measuring.
  4. Buttermilk: If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make a DIY sour milk substitute. Add 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 and 3/4 cups. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.

Keywords: checkerboard cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

    1. Hi Amy! For a chocolate cake we recommend you use the sour cream version (detailed in the recipe notes) of this recipe.

      1. So, if I wanted a chocolate and vanilla combination, would I make the chocolate cake using sour cream from the triple chocolate cake recipe? And also make the plain vanilla cake from this recipe and then assemble? That means I need 2 batters, am I right?

      2. Hi Niharika! Yes, but you will only need half the vanilla batter from this recipe. Let us know how it goes!

      3. Instead of the frosting, do you think the cake will hold together with the dark chocolate mousse from this recipe (https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/dark-chocolate-mousse-cake/)? I really want to make this checkerboard cake with chocolate and vanilla cake (falling back on my previous comment on this thread) and my husband really likes the dark chocolate mousse (I made that cake 2 years in a row for his birthday and want to spice things up a bit).

      4. What about for the frosting on the top and sides? Can I still use the mousse and not have anything else on top of it? Should I make more mousse in that case?

  1. Should I take the cakes out of the pans and put on plates before using the cookie cutters so mix the colors? Thanks!

  2. I made this and it came out delicious! my cake came out in more of a dome shape and the frosting looked way messier…but we got the checkerboard pattern on the inside and it was delicious! My 4 and 7 year olds helped me make this for my husband’s 40th – it was a fun baking challenge and the cake tasted great and he was impressed! We baked the cakes and made the frosting the day before, and assembled and frosted the next day. Thanks for a fun and delicious challenge! We love all your recipes and the video was so helpful!

  3. I made this cake for my son’s 13th birthday and it came out great. The checkerboard pattern was perfect!!! Thank you so much for this recipe.

    1. We’re so happy to hear that it turned out for your son’s birthday, Charuta!

  4. Just added this to my Christmas Eve menu. Going to make red and green layers!
    Can’t wait!

  5. Where can I get 3″ and 6″ cake cutters. Amazon and other websites have one or the other but not both. Thanks.

    1. Hi Gail, at the time I published this recipe, I was able to find both on Amazon. It looks like they are both available now, I just had to update 1 link.
      https://www.amazon.com/Ateco-14406-6-Inch-Stainless-Cutter/dp/B0000VLEZ4/
      https://www.amazon.com/Ann-Clark-Biscuit-Cutter-Cookie/dp/B00KJ8MLL4/

    2. I did get the 6″ and 3″ cutters from Amazon and am about to try the cake. I have four 9″ pans that are several decades old. Two of them are Pillsbury Proglide Non-Stick Black Bakeware and label says “for great results reduce temperature by 25 degrees”. The other two pans are Priscilla Ware with removable bottoms. Do you have any advice or comments about using these pans. I’m wondering if I should do two bakings and have a temperature of 325 degrees for batter in the black bakeware; if so, is it ok for the batter to “rest” in the black bakewear while the Priscilla cake pans bake at 350 degrees? Thanks for your thoughts on this.

      1. Hi Gail, the batter can rest on the counter while you bake the other pans. Let us know how it turns out!

      2. Thanks for your replies. The cake turned out delicious. It was tfun making it; t ricky getting the layers out of the Pillsbury black pans and the Priscilla aluminum pans as they stuck to bottom. Not sure if I should grease them more heavily or if I should get different pans. Will try to send pix. Thanks again for your advice.

  6. I made this cake for my family’s Christmas celebration. It came out beautiful. Will make again. Thank you. Is there a way to post a pic?

    1. Hi Karen, So glad you loved this cake! We LOVE seeing your pictures! Feel free to email us at at sally@sallysbakingaddiction.com to share.

  7. Am I baking four cake layers, two of each colour or am I baking 2 cane layers, one of each colour and slicing In hand to make four cakes!!!

    1. Hi Joanne, You will make a total of four cake layers (2 of each color).

  8. This was so much fun to make! The cake tasted wonderful and the inside was really cool looking. My kids were huge fans! We made this to celebrate their good grades and they were delighted!
    The cake pieces fell apart some and the outside frosting was def a bit of a challenge, but I was trying to frost and assemble quickly.
    I didn’t have round cookie cutters so I found a cup and bowl of the right size and used a knife to make the correct sizes.
    Thanks for the creative idea!

  9. This cake was SO MUCH FUN!!!! Everyone loved it. I did hot pink and confetti. I am definitely my own worst critic and I don’t even like cake but I Loved this cake. The only thing I did diffrent is I added a little more pure vanilla and a splash of almond extract. I would add a picture but I dont know if I can. Make this cake!!!! ❤

  10. Hi Sally! What recipe would you suggest for a half chocolate half vanilla checkerboard? I noticed both your vanilla cake and white cake recipes call for cake flour versus this AP flour (like this one). Do you suggest using AP flour for a sturdier cake? Making this for my son’s 4th birthday this weekend. Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Courtney! You want a cake with a sturdy crumb for this design. For a chocolate cake we recommend you use the sour cream version (detailed in the recipe notes) of our Triple Chocolate Cake recipe. While cake flour could work for the vanilla portion, for best results we recommend sticking to sturdier sifted all-purpose flour for this cake recipe. Enjoy!

  11. Hello Sally,
    I am interested in baking a checkerboard cake for my birthday this year, but I’m limited with the number of cake pans I have at my house (I only have one, unfortunately). Do you think the recipe would still work just as well if I baked each half of the batter separately, and then got my four separate layers through torting? If so, how much will I need to adjust the time and temperature?
    Thank you for all your help. I love your recipes!

    1. Hi Emily! Depending on how deep your pans are, that *could* work (you don’t want them to overflow), though we find that baking deeper cakes can lead to uneven doneness and browning. Let us know if you give it a try!

  12. Hi Sally, I’m planning on making this checkerboard cake and only have 2 – 9″ round cake pans. Can I bake 2 and let them completely cool and then bake the remaining 2? Would the batter be best stored in the refrigerator while the first 2 cook? Thanks!

    1. That should be fine, Sue. Just leave the remaining batter loosely covered at room temperature while the first two bake. Enjoy!

  13. I have made this cake so many times and it has always been a hit… Just a question can I use this recipe and turn it into sheet cakes.. Thank you for your brilliant work

  14. I made this cake for my niece’s 4th birthday. So fun to make and delicious. Everyone loved it. I used a pink peony food dye and checkered it natural and pink. I wasn’t sure how it would taste, I normally favor chocolate or fruit flavors, but this cake made me a white cake convert. So scrumptious! Watch the video for an easy how-to create the checkerboard design. Thanks for another fabulous recipe!

  15. Hey! I’m gonna be making a recipe that uses a 10inch cake pan, would the cutters still work or do I need a bigger size? Thx

    1. Hi KP, if using a 10 inch pan and the same cutters listed here, you will have a larger outside ring, so the checker squares will not be as uniform. For best results, we recommend using a 9 inch pan and the cutters detailed in the post.

  16. Hey sally I was wondering if I could add flavors I was thinking one caramel and one chocolate what can I do to make this work?

    1. Hi Quincy, you can use different flavored cake recipes and use the method outlined in this post for a checkerboard cake. You want cake recipes with a sturdy crumb for this design. For a chocolate cake we recommend you use the sour cream version (detailed in the recipe notes) of our Triple Chocolate Cake recipe. We fear our Burnt Sugar Caramel Cake would be too soft for this design, but you may wish to search for another sturdy caramel cake recipe. Or, you could simply drizzle salted caramel on the finished cake. Let us know what you try!

      1. Thank you for the feedback I will try the sour cream version for chocolate do you know if I could just add some caramel to the batter before I add the cocoa powder?

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