How to Make a Piñata Cake

Learn exactly how to make an incredibly moist and flavorful butter layer cake complete with fudge frosting and filled with candies inside. It’s a piñata cake, everyone!

piñata cake on a white serving plate with a slice removed showing the candy center

Picture overload today! I hope you’re ready for this. I don’t even know if I’m ready for this but it’s happening. And it’s still gracing the corner of my kitchen counter staring back at me. “Eat meeeee,” it says. Am I the only one taunted by talking leftover cake?

Oh. Ok. The cheese stands alone.

If you are looking for the most epic cake in the entire world, look no further. This here cake, my dear readers, is the tallest most buttery tower of indulgence. To make it even better (and similtaneously worse for upcoming bikini season… sorry?), this layer cake is topped and filled with rich fudge frosting. But the crème de la crème of this entire dessert masterpiece is the hidden treasure inside.

SURPRISE CANDIES! I simply cannot type that without all caps.

2 images of piñata cake

Video Tutorial

I made today’s party perfect cake for several reasons: first, Cinco de Mayo is around the corner. And if that’s not enough excuse for a piñata, I don’t know what is. Second, it’s my birthday next month so a plethora of sprinkles on any given day between now and then is required. And finally, I teamed up with BHLDN, Anthropologie’s wedding brand, to bring you this recipe.

BHLDN asked me to create a homemade alternative to a wedding cake. Something fun, exciting, and celebration worthy. So I delivered.

zoomed in image of piñata cake on a white serving plate with a slice removed showing the candy center

Let me teach you exactly how to make this piñata cake. I promise this is totally something you can handle. It’s just like baking a regular layer cake, but with a couple extra assembly steps. Start with my homemade cake batter. You want a flavorful cake with a tight crumb to hold its shape, but also one that is still tender and enjoyable to eat.

Today’s piñata cake is a cross between a vanilla cake, a butter cake, and a yellow cake. Its ingredients are standard: creamed butter and sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour, buttermilk. The KEY is in the eggs. This is a giant four layer cake– you will need 3 whole eggs plus 4 egg yolks. That is a lot, I know. But again, this cake is enormous. All those egg yolks (and the buttermilk) are what make this piñata cake so rich, so moist, and soooo tender. Oh my gosh, this has to be my favorite cake recipe.

Begin the assembly! Bake the four layers in 9-inch cake pans. Allow to cool completely. Frost one layer. This will be the bottom of the cake. More on this silky smooth fudge frosting in just a sec.

Bottom layer:

layer of cake on a white serving plate with chocolate frosting on top

Then, cut a circle in the center of two of the cakes. You know what I used? A large, wide cup. You can also use a 3 – 4 inch round cookie cutter or a cut circular piece of parchment paper to use for tracing with a sharp knife. Just make sure those two cakes have the same size hole. These two holed cakes will be the two middle layers of the piñata cake.

Place one holed cake layer on top of the bottom frosted layer. Frost the holed layer and inside the cavity. Like so:

piñata cake on a serving plate ready to be filled with candy

Top with the 2nd holed layer (which is the third layer of the piñata cake) and frost that too. Then, grab some candies. I used springtime chocolate morsels that came in yellow and pink, M&Ms, Sno-Caps, and sprinkles. You can use absolutely anything you, your kids, your friends, and your lucky piñata cake eaters love: chopped candy bars, white chocolate chips, gummy bears, jelly beans, candy corns, etc.

assorted chocolate chips in a blue bowl

Fill the hole with the candies.

That’s a weird sentence.

2 images of piñata cake without top layer of cake showing the circle cut out of the center filled with candies

Then, top the cake with another whole cake layer. Frost the entire cake and decorate as you please. Get crazy! Get festive! And most importantly, get hungry.

So, that fudge frosting. Woo-eee. Chocolate to the max! Smooth as silk, luscious, creamy, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth, “let me just eat the frosting with a spoon if ya don’t mind” fabulous. In one word, this fudgy frosting is legit.

Now, the best part… drum roll please.

Cut into the cake and listen to the ooo’s and ahh’s as your hungry party goers discover the candies hidden inside. OMG this is the coolest cake in the world.

piñata cake on a white serving plate with a slice removed showing the candy center

slice of piñata cake on a white plate with a fork

SURPRISE CANDIES! ♥

PS: For a super fun surprise, use my piñata cake as a gender reveal cake and fill it with either pink or blue M&Ms for a baby shower or other gender reveal celebration!

Print
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piñata cake on a white serving plate with a slice removed showing the candy center

Piñata Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 hours
  • Yield: serves 14-16
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This cake serves a lot so, as expected, there are high amounts of each ingredient. You will need four 9-inch round cake pans as well as a 3 and 1/2 – 4 inch circle cookie cutter or you can carefully slice a hole in the center cakes with a sharp knife.


Ingredients

Cake

  • 3 and 3/4 cups (443g) sifted all-purpose flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 3/4 teaspoon 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
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) buttermilk, room temperature*

Chocolate Frosting & Assembly

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup (62g) natural unsweetened or dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) whole milk
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup*
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • around 2 cups assorted candies such as M&Ms, chocolate chips, sprinkles, gummy bears, jelly beans, candy corns, chopped candy bars, mini Reese’s cups etc.
  • optional: additional sprinkles or candies for decorating the cake

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease and lightly flour 4 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 until all 3 whole eggs are mixed in. Then, repeat with each egg yolk until all 4 egg yolks are mixed in. 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. Spoon/pour batter evenly into each cake pan.
  4. 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.
  5. Make the frosting:
  6. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until pale, smooth, and creamy, about 2 minutes. Using a fine mesh strainer or sieve, sift the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa together. Add the sugar/cocoa mixture to the butter, then beat on low speed for 20 seconds. Stop the mixer, then add the milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. If the frosting is too thick, beat in an extra splash of milk.
  7. Assemble the cake: Grab a 3 and 1/2 – 4 inch circle cookie cutter (I use a large thin-edged cup) and cut a hole into two of the cake layers. Alternatively, you can cut a piece of parchment paper that size and use a sharp knife to trace/cut the holes. Place one of the whole cakes on a cake stand or serving plate. Use an offset spatula or knife to frost the top of the cake, then place one of the cut/holed cakes on top. Frost the top and inside the cavity. Place the other cut/holed cake on top and, once again, frost the top and inside the cavity. Fill the cavity with candies all the way up to the top. Place the last whole cake on top and frost the top and sides of the entire cake. Decorate with frosting and additional candies however you’d like. I used a Wilton 1M tip to pipe frosting around the top.
  8. Slice, serve, enjoy! (Keep a spoon handy when serving. I like to pile additional candies that fall out of the center of the piñata cake onto each slice as I serve.)

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing 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 piñata 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. Honestly, it tastes much better fresh
  2. Flour: Make sure you sift the flour before measuring. Sifting is KEY. Otherwise, your cake layers could taste much too dense. You can also use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. Use 4 cups sifted cake flour.
  3. 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 1/2 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.
  4. Corn Syrup: This tiny bit of corn syrup makes the frosting uniquely glossy and shiny. You can leave it out if you’d like.
  5. Milk in Frosting: I recommend whole milk or even half-and-half in the frosting, but lower fat or nondairy milk works in a pinch.
  6. Pans: You can also use 4 8-inch cake pans. The bake time will be slightly longer.
  7. Vanilla Frosting: Simply double my vanilla buttercream recipe and use it instead of the chocolate frosting.
  8. BONUS! With the center circular parts of the cake that were cut out, you can frost them with any leftover frosting to make adorable mini cakes or a small layer cake.
  9. Inspired by Betty Crocker.

Keywords: piñata cake, how to make a piñata cake

And guess what? We now have piñata cupcakes too!

piñata cupcakes on a plate with a bite taken from one showing the sprinkles in the middle

110 Comments

  1. Sally,

    I had been looking for an excuse to make a pinata cake, and a friend’s going away party was the perfect one! Although I didn’t use your recipe (I made a strawberry cake w/ funfetti icing), I did use your tutorial and found it very helpful. Such a fun and adventurous cake :)! Thanks for the step-by-step!

  2. Would this be a good cake recipe to use for a multi-layer rainbow cake w/ chocolate frosting? Would it work well w/ food coloring? If not, do you have another one of your recipes you would suggest? 

    1. Absolutely! You can color the batter any color(s) you’d like.

  3. Hi Sally,
    I come from a family of chocoholics and this cake looks AMAZING! I was just wondering if you could tell me how best to make the cake batter itself chocolate flavoured? I know that might sound too much for some people but my dad would DIE for this cake in all chocolate! Thanks 🙂

    1. That would require some recipe testing– chocolate is much different! Here is my recipe for chocolate layer cake.

  4. Just made this cake today for a friend’s birthday tonight. It looks incredible! I can’t believe I made it – it looks professional. Thanks Sally for making difficult recipes so easy for us novices! I also made your lemon cupcakes with the raspberry frosting to supplement this cake in case there’s not enough. Those cupcakes are amazing as well – I think I’ve made them 4 or 5 times. Soooo good!!!

  5. Loved this piñata cake. It was easy and delicious and everyone was impressed. This is my favorite baking site. I’ve not found a single thing that I didn’t enjoy. Easy to follow directions and pictures accompanying them are wonderful. Thank you

  6. Made the pinata cake for my friends sons birthday. The kids went crazy for it stuck harbor all around the cake on top of the frosting. Sugar rush yea but worth it…. Easy recipe to follow and cake itself turned out beautiful. Thank you

  7. Hi Sally! I thought of making this for my son’s birthday in 3 days…I’m making the 3D thomas train cake..will this cake be suitable for sculpting and under rolled fondant? or is there anything in your bake book that i can adapt? 

    thanks!!
    christine

    1. Christine, this cake should be just fine under fondant. It’s definitely sturdy enough.

  8. Sally – I’d love to use this recipe to make a smaller 3 layer cake.  Do you have directions on how to reduce the recipe?  I’m new to baking but this is cake #4 for me from your site.  Love it!  It’s changed how I approach parties – always proud to make my own cake.  Thanks!  

    1. (not a piñata cake – just a regular butter cake with chocolate frosting.  if you don’t get a chance to respond I will probably just make the recipe and make cupcakes with the rest!) 

      1. That’s what I suggest– make cupcakes with the extra batter Sondra. I love the texture of this cake– and I think you will too!

  9. Is it possible to make this into a chocolate cake? I’m dreaming of chocolate cake with PB frosting and Reese’s Pieces or Peanut Butter M&Ms or mini PB cups inside..

    1. Or would your chocolate cake recipe function well here? The beautiful devil’s food one. With so many layers and other things going on, I wasn’t sure if it would work.. And would I double that recipe?

    2. Hi Kristen! Make my chocolate cake recipe instead. You can split the batter between three 9-inch cake pans; the bake time will be less than what that recipe instructs because the layers will be thinner. Just cut the hole in the middle layer for the candies.

  10. Arianna Cabaluna says:

    You absolutely took my breath away with this one! I was planning to buy an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins for my son’s second birthday but now I am going to do this. I had asked a friend if I should get a piñata, but a bunch of two year olds swinging blind folded doesn’t sound great. This is the solution!

  11. Anna-Katharina says:

    Hey Sally!
    I love your blog! I am going to try to attempt this amazing cake for my friend’s birthday today but my problem is that every single cake I have made in our house goes flat once I take it out of the oven-it’s very frustrating. It rises beautifully and then collapses! Some people say it is because I live at a higher altitude (not that much higher) and should change the amount of leavening agents? What do you think? 

    1. I’m no pro at high altitude baking, but here is a chart you might find helpful! That may be the issue with your cakes.

  12. I wanted to leave a comment on the moist yellow cupcakes recipe the life of me cannot get it to work. I want to make green tea-pistachio cupcakes and lemon cupcakes with blueberry icicing, but I am not thrilled with the “base” cupcake recipe from the sites that have those cupcakes. These sound amazing. Can I use this recipe and just add the propotional amount of green tea powder/lemon juice & zest that the other recipes call for? I need to make about 36 cupcakes and wanted to make one big batch of cupcakes and then divide them. That’s how I ended up here on Pinata cake because your other comments said this was better for a large batch, but I wasn’t sure if it was enough… will my plan work?

    1. I can’t see why you couldn’t add those flavors to the cupcake base. This should yield about 24-38 cupcakes.

  13. Hi Sally, I have only 2, 9″ tins, could I bake this batter in batches?

    1. I would bake it in batches, yes. Keep the batter at room temperature as you wait for the next batch.

  14. Hi there

    I made this cake for my son and it was fabulous. My daughter would like a three layer cake but a tall one so I need to make it in a deep circle pan rather than the victoria sponge tins. Would this recipe be OK to use in a deeper pan?

    Thanks in advance.

    Amy 🙂

    1. Hi Amy! I can’t see why not.

  15. When you’re baking these 4 cakes, do you cook 2 in the same oven at the same time? If so, how do you arrange them in it as to not under or over cook one?

    1. Hi Sarah, sometimes I bake them all at once and rotate them top to bottom halfway through. Or, depending how much time I have, I bake just two at a time and rotate once to the other side.

  16. Niki Daugherty says:

    Sally, this cake was so fun to make! I made it for a friend’s birthday, and she absolutely loved it! Everyone at work just raved about the piñata surprise inside

  17. nissa novas says:

    Hi! This is amazing and I am attempting this for a baby shower this weekend. Does anyone know how tall this cake ends up being when done exactly according to the recipe? I have a cake carrier that is about 5 inches tall but I don’t think that will be tall enough for this. Thanks!!

    Nissa

  18. Another fantastic recipe!!  Made it for coworkers and filled it with pink and purple m&ms and silver sanding sugar to match our show colors.  I also used the vanilla icing recipe linked on this page and dyed it pink. 

    After it was cut open, the joy of watching people walk past the table and then do almost a double take as they saw what was spilling out was hysterical.  Thank you for these recipes that help keep my friends and coworkers happy and well-fed.

  19. Instead of making 4 layers I made 2. This made the batter raw and I cooked it for an extra 25 minutes but the batter was still raw. Anyways I love your blog your cookies and cream cupcakes are my phenomenal!

    1. Hi Gabby, did you cut the recipe in half to make 2 layers? If you used the entire recipe in only pans the cakes would be too thick to to bake evenly.

  20. Hi Sally,
    I made this cake for my 7 year old’s birthday for 24 kids! It turned out beautifully so thank you so much for the recipe and detailed instructions. I wish I could send you a picture! Sarah

  21. Christine Markwart says:

    Hi Sally,
    I would like to make a chocolate version. Since this is 4 layers – and more cake than a standard cake – can you recommend one of your chocolate cake recipes? Or do I make one and a half batches of a chocolate cake split into the 4 pans?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Christine! You’re right. Your best bet is to make this chocolate cake batter 1.5x, then divide between 4 pans. Bake time will be longer because the cake layers will be thicker.

  22. Sally, do the candies stick to the frosting inside the “hole”? That’s my fear, in fact, that none of the candies will spill out… have you ever done the cake without frosting the insides of the hole?

    1. I always frost the hole which ensures the cake stays fresh inside. You can wait a bit to fill it with candy to give the frosting time to harden, or skip this step if you will be serving it shortly. However, the hole is large enough that even if some sticks to the sides there will be plenty in the middle to spill out!

  23. Nikki Chirico says:

    Hi Sally! I’m making this cake tomorrow and think I’d like to make it with your strawberry frosting? Should I double or triple that recipe to cover this cake?

    1. Hi Nikki! I recommend doubling the strawberry frosting recipe.

  24. I made this pinata cake for my son’s first birthday! I used the leftover insides of the cake to make a smash cake for him! Everyone loved the yellow cake, even in a family of chocoholics! We used your chocolate cream cheese frosting. So delicious!

  25. Hi. I’m hopIng to make this for daughters party using your tie dye cake. Do you recommend doubleing that recipe and cutting each cake in half or quadrupling that recipe? Thank you!!

    1. Hi Heidi! I recommend using this cake batter for it. You can split up this batter and tint it different colors.

  26. Hi Sally,
    Can I leave out the corn syrup for the fudge frosting? I do not like to use corn syrup in recipes. Also, do you have a recipe for mocha frosting?
    Thank you,
    Ruth

    1. Hi Ruth! You can leave out the corn syrup. I add it to make a smoother, shinier frosting. Totally optional! For a mocha frosting, try adding a little espresso powder or replacing some of the milk with strong room temperature coffee or espresso.

  27. Just made this for a birthday in the family…..the looks of surprise on everyone’s faces when we cut open the cake were SO GOOD!!!! They never expected the masses of candy inside 😀 Thank you Sally for an amazing recipe!

  28. Hi Sally, I want to bake this cake for my son’s birthday, but he’s not a fan of chocolate cake or chocolate frosting! He loves chocolate candies though . I was thinking of using salted caramel frosting instead. Do you think that would work?

    1. Absolutely. I recommend doubling my salted caramel frosting so you have plenty for this big cake.

  29. Love love your recipes and challenges. Could I turn this into a cherry and almond cake using cherry and almond extracts in place of the vanilla and folding in 20 finely chopped maraschino cherries?

    1. Hi Jane, I have not tested this cake with cherry and almond flavors but please let me know if you try!

  30. Hi Sally. I’m looking for a three layer, nine inch Yellow layer cake for a birthday party. Is this the best recipe to use or should I use the zebra cake recipe without the chocolate? I wasn’t sure if the zebra base was a yellow cake or a vanilla cake. Thank you.

    1. Either would be excellent. Lately, I’ve been making the zebra cake without the chocolate as my basic yellow cake. Both are excellent– and not *too* different from each other.

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