Checkerboard Cake + Video

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

side note: Eat Dessert First Fork from Sarah’s shop on Etsy!

And… another side note. Can I admit to you that I used to have zero cake and cupcake decorating skills? I know I mentioned this back in May, but all of this has come from practice. 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

Ew, 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

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: 10-12 servings
  • 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

  • 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.

152 Comments

  1. What can I use instead of buttermilk? I really want to try this recipe!!

    1. You may have already found this, but in the notes there is a buttermilk substitution. I hope that helps!

    2. Of all the times that I’ve made a checkerboard cake never like this. I use a checkerboard cake pan set. I set the rings in the pan and pour the two colors into alternate rings and carefully remove rings. The next pan do the colors opposite. The third pan the same as the first. It comes out perfect. No cutting circles here.

  2. the video was so helpful i made it for my family and they thought i bought it from a bakery proudest day of my life

  3. I want to make this with 2 of the layers being chocolate. What should I add instead of food coloring to make it that way?

  4. This cake was fun! I used purple and orange colors for the cakes to match sprinkles for a Halloween cake. I also applied what I learned from her recipe to a square Minecraft cake this year for my daughter’s birthday!

  5. I am preparing to try this recipe for the first time but have a question. Is it possible to eliminate the yolk of the eggs and use only whites? Do I need to make any adjustments in the recipe for this change?

    1. Hi Patty, I don’t recommend it. This cake needs the fat from the yolks. I suggest following my recipe for white cake and making it twice for 4 layers (for best texture make it twice, don’t double it).

  6. Made for my daughters graduation from elementary since she didn’t get a ceremony to due Covid. I did half vanilla and half strawberry. She loved it and my husband raved about it. Thank you!!!

  7. I really want to try this. Can I use 8 inch pans, what size cutters will I use to make the checker pattern.

  8. Hi Sally! I want to make this for my daughters 2nd birthday next week. Would you still recommend using AP Flour or using cake flour instead? Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Felicia, While cake flour could work, for best results we recommend sticking to sifted all-purpose flour.

  9. My set has 3 pans and the cutter but no instructions. Can I use a cake mix and if so how many mixes for 3 pans?

    1. I use 2 cake mixes with 3 pans. Are your circles connected like mine. I set the dividers in a pan and pour alternate colors in each ring then carefully remove the rings. I rinse the rings and set them in the next pan and start with the opposite color on the outside and remove the rings carefully rinse and put in the third pan starting withe the same color you did on the first pan. Remoce the rings and bake them. It comes out perfect!

  10. Can I use your chocolate and yellow cake recipes to make this?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mallory, That should work. However, the chocolate cake is very moist and I fear it would crumble when cut into the circles. I recommend that you use the sour cream version written in the recipe notes as it has a sturdier crumb. Let us know if you try it!

  11. Denise Antoine says:

    This cake looks beautiful! Is it possible to do the checkerboard design using your vanilla cake recipe and your chocolate cake recipe, in order to make a vanilla chocolate checkerboard cake?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Denise, That should work. However, the chocolate cake is very moist and I fear it would crumble when cut into the circles. I recommend that you use the sour cream version written in the recipe notes as it has a sturdier crumb. Let us know if you try it!

  12. Hi Sally,

    I tried this recipe many times following the steps except for the sugar. I put half of sugar because I don’t like when cakes are two sweet.

    I have noticed that the cake always loose structure when it come out of the oven.
    I have no idea why.
    I tried the same process 4 times, same results.
    Did you have this issue and could you please tell me why?

    Thank you

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Chloe, We recommend following the recipe as written. Sugar in baked goods is for texture and moisture as well as taste!

  13. Desiree Zicko says:

    Hello!
    I found this recipe on your baking bucket list email and will take it on!

    I was considering trying it with chocolate cake (instead of pink or teal colored), and I noticed you mentioned using sour cream to ensure the right texture and that there was information about that in the recipe notes.

    I searched this post up and down, but I am not seeing any reference to a chocolate cake batter recipe using sour cream.

    Could you direct me to that with a link, or do you strongly recommend not using a chocolate cake in this recipe? Many thanks, I very much enjoy baking with you (your favorite cornbread recipe is now my go-to version!)

    – Desiree

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Desiree! Here’s the chocolate cake recipe – the sour cream directions are in the notes of this post. Let us know if you try it!

  14. Hi Sally! I want to make a checkerboard cake but I want to use a “basic” recipe that I can tweak to customize the flavors. Do you have a base recipe to use for this type of cake that we can customize? Would love to play around with different flavor combinations in a checkerboard cake!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Susie! This cake recipe would make a great base for other flavors. 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 this recipe.

  15. Hi Sally! Long time fan, here. I want to make this cake for my son’s birthday this weekend. I’m thinking of making a bottom section of three layers of 9″ rounds, then a top section of three layers of 6″ rounds. It’s a Lego theme, so I intend to make six 9″ round cakes, each a different color, and simply discard the outer round on three of them for the upper section. Two questions, please.
    1) Will I have enough cake for 18 guests, or should I do four layers for each section?
    2)Does this cake recipe have a firm enough crumb that it can handle that height/weight? I wasn’t sure how much integrity is lost by having all the separate sections.
    Thanks so very much!!

    1. Hi Amy! I’m glad to help. Sounds like such a fun cake! I think the cake you’re describing is plenty for that amount of people. Cake slices from a layer cake are typically on the smaller side and I have no doubt you’ll have enough to go around. And I really do think you’ll be fine making this a tier cake. If you have cake dowels for added support, I would definitely use them but they could mess up the checkerboard look. (Should be fine without them.)

      1. Sally, I did it! Turned out perfect. Well, my only disappointment is that the cake I tried to dye red turned out more brown because there was so much yellow tint to the batter. But it still looked great! Wish I had a way to add pics for you. Thanks for another winner.

  16. You provide TONS of tips which are VERY appreciated! This recipe has all-purpose flour listed, but in your tutorials you mention that you have been using cake flour for some cakes – and you mention white cakes. Should I use cake flour in this recipe? I’m excited to try this over the weekend – FUN! Checkerboard cakes have always intrigued me – but it looks very doable. fingers crossed!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Annette! That’s a great question. While cake flour could work, for best results we recommend sticking to sturdier sifted all-purpose flour for this cake recipe. Enjoy!

      1. Thanks for the quick response Trina 🙂 Because I like to understand and learn, does the sturdier all-purpose flour make the pieces easier to handle (b/c of cutting them and moving them around?). thanks again.

      2. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Yes!

  17. It’s me again with another question…. why don’t you use your “favorite white cake” recipe for the checkerboard cake? Obviously more layers are needed for this cake, but i see you use sour cream and whole milk in the favorite white cake. in this you use buttermilk and no sour cream. just curious why they would be different…. Thanks for passing along all of your knowledge!

  18. So, did you use 2 deep cake pans and cut each into 2 (for a total of 4 layers) or did you use 4 cake pans (no cutting in half)? I’m guessing you used 2, so my next question is if I use 4 cake pans, will my baking time and oven temperature be different?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Scott, this recipe is written for four 9 inch cake pans. Enjoy!

  19. Kristine Angelo says:

    Hi Sally, wondering if this would work if I cut recipe in half and made 2 layers instead of four? Or do you really need 4 layers for the proper checkerboard presentation?

    Thank you,

    ~Kristine

    1. Hi Kristine, it’s really best to have 4 layers for the checkerboard design. You can cut it down to 2 if needed. If you do that, try my white cake batter. It makes a lovely 2 layer vanilla/white cake.

  20. can i make the teal one into chocolate flavor?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

  21. Alison Kalinski says:

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

  22. 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!

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