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

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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


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!


  • 3 and 3/4 cups (431g) 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


  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.


  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.


  1. Just curious – when finished, about how tall is the cake? I want to make it for a party but am worried about my cake carrier not being tall enough!

    1. I’m unsure– I’ve never measured it before. But I’d say each layer is a little over an inch. Plus the frosting in the middle, too.

  2. Eileen Pashute says:

    Hi Sally I’ve only got 8″ tins, would it still work or would there be too much mixture? 

    1. Too much batter– and, in order to get even squares in the checkerboard cake, you need 3 + 6 + 9 inch cut-outs. OR 2 + 4 + 6 inch. But this batter wouldn’t fit into 6 inch pans, so that’s why 9-inch is best.

      1. Eileen Pashute says:

        Thank you Sally – looks like I need to go shopping (unless I’m lucky enough to win the competition ) 

  3. Made this cake and posted it on Instagram with the #sallysbakingchallenge hashtag and tagged you! The cake was so moist and so flavorful. This will definitely be a repeat in my household! I also loved the frosting recipe. It calls for more butter than the recipe I typically use, but it turned out fantastic. I chose a funfetti and baby pink checkerboard with piped pink rosettes on top for fun. Oh, cant forget the sprinkles! Thanks for all of your tips and tricks to make this fun cake easy!

  4. I made this for my niece’s 3rd birthday and it was GREAT!! Sally’s step by step instructions and pictures were so helpful. I didn’t have 3 or 6″ cookie cutters so I just cut out that size in parchment paper. I stacked the 4 cakes up and cut around the parchment paper to try to get them as even as possible. They were definitely not perfect, but I made it work just fine. One of the outer circles was too big so I just sliced it and made it smaller – it held up just fine in the cake. I colored 1/2 the batter pink and the other layer I did funfetti with sprinkles. I froze the layers after baking them to allow easier cutting of the round shapes and I always find that easier when frosting layered cakes. I refrigerated the cake after frosting to get all the layers to set together. This definitely helped ensure clean slices when cutting. This was a huge hit and so fun! Everyone was amazed and thinks it’s way more complicated than it is. Truly easy and very tasty! Would definitely make this again and try different colors. Thanks Sally for such a fun challenge and great recipes!

    1. Great tip to use parchment paper as a guide for the circles if yo don’t have the proper size cookie cutters! So happy it was a hit for your niece’s birthday!

  5. Austria Azaceta says:

    Hi Sally!
    I made this cake for my mom’s birthday this week.  I did plain & purple for the 2 colors & I had the cakes in the freezer for a while before cutting the rounds.  It turned out SO well!! And not at all difficult!! I added cinnamon to the frosting & it was delicious! The cake itself was super soft & moist & very yummy!!! Thanks so much Sally!! You always teach me so much about baking! Have a wonderful weekend!!

    1. I’m so glad you tried it!! Cinnamon frosting sounds unbelievable and a nice switch up from traditional vanilla buttercream on cakes like this. Thank you for reporting back to me about it! xoxo

  6. Today’s the day i’m trying it!  I’ll post it if it comes out right.

  7. I use low fat all the time– it’s perfectly fine!

  8. Hi sally- would it be okay to substitute cake flour for the all-purpose flour in the recipe?

    1. I do not recommend it for this recipe.

  9. Does the recipe make two cakes which you cut in half or do you have to make two batches to get four layers. Sorry just a little confused ‍♀️.

  10. I made your checkerboard bake with chocolate and vanilla for my son’s birthday during Labor Day weekend.  I used your chocolate recipe from your Triple Chocolate Layer Cake and the vanilla from this post. SUPER FAB! Your recipes never let me down!!! That vanilla cake recipe is the best one of all your vanilla recipes. YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY! Thank you for being so generous and sharing your recipes!

    1. What a wonderful birthday cake! I’m so glad it was a hit and thank you so much for reporting back to me about it!

  11. Hi Sally,

    I am making this for a party later in the week and already baked the cake layers and put them in the freezer. Should I defrost them in the fridge overnight before the day I plan to assemble it? Or can I assemble directly from the freezer?


    1. I would defrost the night before.

  12. Hi Sally, I understand that the batter is too much for smaller pans. Is it a problem to adapt the quantities? So in this case when I want to use 7 inch pan, all the ingrediënts x 0,65?? 

  13. Hi, Sally!

    How would you recommend baking the 4 cakes? All 4 at the same time and rotate once during cooking? Or 2 at a time?


    1. All 4 at once and rotate. That’s what I do 🙂

  14. Stephanie says:

    Hi there — I just stumbled on your checkerboard cake and love the ease in which yours is made vs. the old checkerboard cake pans (which were a pain and would the inserts were prone to rusting). You mentioned that your friend did the video with her cake, did she use the same recipe you did? Her cake density looks entirely different from the one you picture — we like dense cakes so I was curious if it was a different recipe if there was a way we could inquire about it. Many thanks — I am working on getting a race car birthday planned for my son.

    1. Hi Stephanie! Ashley’s cake was refrigerated for quite some time before cutting and serving. So the crumb is extra tight. No changes were made to the recipe itself.

  15. Angela Parauda says:

    Hi Sally — question on serving size. Can you share how many guests this recipe serves using (4) 9 inch cake pans?

    We are planning to make this cake and need to serve 50-60 guests. Can you recommend what size cake pans to use and if we should triple the recipe for larger party. Thanks


    1. Hi Angela! This cake yields 10-12 generous servings. You could easily get about 14-15 servings out of it though. I don’t recommend tripling the recipe. I recommend making the batter 3x. It’s ideal to work with the appropriate amount of batter at one time to risk under or over-mixing.

  16. Kristin Welsh says:

    I was thinking of doubling the recipe and making the cake as well as cupcakes for a birthday party. Do you know ho many cupcakes the recipe would yield?

    1. Hi Kristin! I’m unsure exactly how many cupcakes this recipe, as is, will make. Well over 3 dozen!

  17. Sally, I’d love to try this cake in 2 fall colors for my great nephew’s 1st birthday. My oven will hold only 3 cake pans. Would it be safer to make the batter in 2 batches (halved recipe) , so that the eggs, rising ingredients, etc. don’t sit around at room temp for 1/2 an hour before the 2nd 2 pans go into the oven, or does it matter? I’m under the impression that cake batter does better if it’s cooked immediately, but I’ve never had a recipe so big that I couldn’t get all of it in the oven at one time. I love to see your daily posts. You have a beautiful family!

    1. Hi Paula, Thank you so much for your kind comment! The batter should be fine for 30 minutes but if it’s much more than that you can certainly make it in 2 batches. I hope your great nephew has a great 1st birthday!

  18. Hi Sally! My daughter has requested a rainbow cake for her bday so I’d like to use this recipe as it seems the batter will make enough for 6 thinner layers.

    Can I use cake flour instead? Amount if so? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Angela! Sounds like such a fun cake for the birthday girl! While cake flour could work, for best results I recommend sticking to all-purpose flour.

  19. Next to the Ingredients is 1X, 2X, 3X and each one changes the recipe quantities. What do the 1X, 2X and 3X actually mean? Sorry for the dumb question.

    1. Hi Tracey! That was a small update automatically made to our recipe plug-in, but it was inaccurate for most recipes. It has been removed since it wasn’t clear information. Not a dumb question!

  20. Hi Sally, I was wondering if this cake would work with your strawberry cake and your vanilla cake. I think it would be so cool to make a strawberries and cream cake but I’m not sure if those two cakes would be sturdy enough to cut and layer?

    1. Hi Gwen! Yes yes yes, a checkerboard cake with vanilla cake and strawberry cake would be delicious! Keep in mind that you will have a lot of batter with both full recipes. You could try halving them.

  21. Help Sally!!
    I can’t find the video link to your checkerboard cake!
    I did just order the 3 and 6″ circle cutters you used.
    Thank you!

  22. Hi Sally!

    I made this cake for my husband’s birthday this week and it turned out BEAUTIFUL! Only thing was my husband commented that my cake was a bit “dense.” What could cause this and how can I remedy this for future cakes?

    1. Hi Lindsay, A dense cake is usually the caused from over-mixing the batter. Be sure to have all of your ingredients at room temperature which helps them come together quickly without mixing too much!

  23. I am a little confused by the instructions. Is the recipe as posted supposed to fill 2 9 inch pans or 4? Doesn’t really seem like enough batter for 4, 9 inch pans.’

    1. Hi Susan! This batter yields approximately 8 cups of batter for 4 9-inch cake pans. About 2 cups each.

      1. Hi Sally,
        I measured 2 cups of batter for all four 9-inch pans. The layers came out well, they were just quite thin–less than an inch! Are they supposed to be that thin?

  24. How did you get your frosting so white?

    1. Hi Sarah! Butters can actually vary in color– some brands are more yellow than others. You can also purchase clear vanilla extract or even add a TINY drop of purple food coloring to frosting– the purple makes yellow-tinted frosting white again.

  25. Hi Sally! I know that you don’t recommend making these with 6 inch cake pans, but if I were to use the smaller pans, and then make cupcakes with the remaining batter, would that work? How full should I fill the pans/cupcake liners? I want to make sure it doesn’t overflow. It’d need 2 inch cutter for the center piece and 4 inch for the middle? Also, would it be all right for me to assemble/frost the night before & store it covered in the fridge? Sorry for all of the questions, I hope you can help.

    1. Hi Lydia! Happy to help. 🙂 Fill the 6-inch pans about halfway, then use extra batter for cupcakes (fill cupcakes about 2/3 full). 4 inch and 2 inch cutters for a 6 inch cake would be best. You can assemble and frost the cake the night before. Cover it as best you can!

  26. Just curious if you remember where the adorable measuring spoons came from?

  27. Hi Sally, I’d like to attempt the checkerboard design..I was wondering if I could use a bit of cocoa powder instead of food colouring? If not what would be a good chocolate cake recipe to use for half of it?

  28. My sister and I combined our efforts to create a chocolate and vanilla checkerboard cake to celebrate the visit of our best friend 🙂 We halved this cake recipe to yield two vanilla funfetti cake layers and made a two-layer chocolate cake. It worked perfectly, and tasted absolutely delicious! Everyone was so impressed with the checkerboard design; it almost looked too good to eat. Almost 😉 We frosted it with a whipped vanilla buttercream and decorated with a chocolate ganache drip and rainbow sprinkles. It looked very festive! This was SUCH a fun cake!

  29. Hi Sally,
    How would this recipe hold up to carving? I need to make a one tier character cake that would involve cutting into shapes. I have a couple of standbys but I want to try your recipe because they are always perfect & delicious. If not this one, can you recommend one?

    1. Hi Carol, I don’t recommend carving since the layers are already pretty much carved/cup up and checkered.

  30. Hi, Sally. I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday last year and besides being gorgeous, it has to be the best tasting vanilla cake I’ve ever had (and I’m usually a chocolate cupcake kind-of-girl). They want me to make vanilla cupcakes this year and I see you have some great vanilla cupcake recipes but they are different than this recipe. I’d love to turn this one into cupcakes since I feel like it’s the best I’ve ever had – would you recommend I do that or should I stick with one of your vanilla cupcake recipes?

    1. Hi Dee, I’m glad you enjoyed this cake so much! You can certainly use this recipe for cupcakes – it will make a much larger quantity than my vanilla cupcake recipe but the bake time will be the same. Enjoy!

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