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How to make an ombre cake

Ombre hair, ombre nails, ombre clothes — if you think this season’s colour fad is limited to fashion, think again. Ombre can be applied to almost anything, including this gorgeous ombre layer cake.

Gorgeous ombre layer cake
Ombre cake

Spring has sprung and the time is ripe for picnicking. What better way to celebrate than with a traditional vanilla cake that’s been given a modern ombre twist?

Even if you’re not the sort to don an apron for an afternoon of cooking, a gorgeous ombre cake of your very own is within your reach. Feel free to use your favourite cake mix as a substitute for the recipe below if you’re short on time or confidence.

Ombre cake recipe


(adapted from Martha Stewart’s vanilla cake recipe)

  •  250g of butter at room temperature
  •  2-1/2 cups of plain flour
  •  1 teaspoon of baking powder
  •  1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  •  1 teaspoon of salt
  •  1-1/2 cups of sugar
  •  2 large eggs
  •  3 large egg yolks
  •  2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract (or other flavour of your choice)
  •  1 cup of buttermilk

For the icing:

  • 250g butter
  • 3 cups of icing sugar mix (not pure icing)
  • 3 tablespoons of milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Butter and line two 20 centimetre cake pans with baking paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, until they are incorporated. Add in the vanilla (or other flavour of your choice), then mix in the flour and the buttermilk until just combined.
  4. Divide the batter between two bowls and set aside.
  5. Next, make up another batch of cake batter, dividing again between two bowls until you have four separate bowls of cake batter.
  6. Choose your colour. Then, slowly add your choice of food colouring to the first bowl of the batter until you have a very pale colour. Add more colouring to the second bowl, more again to the third bowl, and more again to the fourth bowl until you have four distinct shades of your chosen colour. Don’t worry if your colours look too dark at this point, they will lighten as the cake bakes.
  7. Now, pour the first two colours into the prepared tins and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before running around the edge of the pan with a knife and turning it onto a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining two batches of batter.
  8. Once all four of your cakes are baked, it’s time to prepare them for icing. Cold cakes ice easier, so try to let your cakes rest for at least an hour in the fridge (you can put them one on top of each other with a sheet of baking paper between each layer) or freezer before you start icing them.
  9. When your cakes are cold, you will need to even them up for layering. This means you’ll need to cut the domed top off each cake to give you a square edge. Do this with a large bread knife and go slowly — you can even up any ragged edges as you go.
  10. Next, it’s time to make your icing.
  11. In a large bowl, beat the butter until it becomes pale. Gradually add the icing sugar mixture, beating constantly until it is combined. When the mixture starts to get a little firm and crumbly, add a little milk and beat until it is thick and smooth. Finally, add one teaspoon of your desired flavour, and colour to your liking.
  12. Once your icing mixture is ready it’s time to ice your cake! Choose which way you would like to layer your cake — from dark to light or light to dark — and put your first layer crumb side down on your chosen cake plate.
  13. Next, put a fairly decent blob of icing on top of your bottom layer. Smooth the icing to the edges, keeping it about a centimetre thick all around. Put the second layer of your cake on top of the icing, crumb side down again. Top this layer with another layer of icing, and continue until you have all four layers in place and the top of your cake covered in icing.
  14. Once your cake is layered, you’ll need to give it a “crumb coat”. This is the messy layer of icing on the sides of your cake that will hold it all together. Don’t worry about what this looks like — just slap the icing on and smooth it into the sides of the cake, filling any gaps, with the blunt side of a knife. Pop your cake in the fridge for another hour to set.
  15. Once your crumb coat is set, remove your cake from the fridge and, with the remaining icing, coat your cake with a final pretty layer. The easiest way to do this is to artistically smear the icing on with a knife or small spatula, leaving brush strokes as you go. If you prefer a smooth finish, you can do this by going over your cake with the blunt edge of a hot knife (dip it in a mug of hot water) until it is smooth and glossy. Or, if you want to get all fancy, you can pipe on dots, flowers — whatever your heart desires!

More sweet treats

Easy pavlova
Chocolate treats
Baking with apples

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