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Rainbow Cake {with Natural Dyes} (6 photos)


Rainbow Cake made with Natural Dyes

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Rainbow cakes are everywhere these days.  I made one last summer and my family and guests loved the bright, vibrant colors.  But in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think of the negative discussion and controversy surrounding chemical food coloring.  My husband was actually the one to challenge me to make a rainbow cake with natural food dyes.

My first experiment with natural food dyes was when I was a child.  While making blueberry muffins I inadvertently realized that the more I stirred the batter the more the berry juice bled, making blue muffins.  Fast forward to two years ago and I completed my first intentional experiment, coloring Easter eggs with natural dyes.  I was intrigued with the beautiful colors that resulted from using everyday fruits, veggies and spices.  I have since dabbled in cooking experiments, including using spinach to make Green Eggs and Ham and coloring buttercream frosting with natural dyes.

I have to admit that coloring sweets with natural dyes can get kind of tricky.  There are lots of ingredients that would make great dyes but many of them drastically alter the taste, often introducing an unwelcome flavor to the baked good or treat.  I know what you’re thinking: dyeing eggs with spinach might work because it is not uncommon to combine spinach and eggs, but spinach juice in a cake?!

Well, now I can confidently say, yes, it’s ok!  You end up using such a small amount of the vegetable juice that the flavor of the dye will probably go completely unnoticed for most people, especially when you add some frosting.  My son, who is my toughest critic, ate it {while exclaiming, It’s beautiful, Mommy!}  The rest of my family concurred that surprisingly it tasted just like cake and that it seemed much more palatable than the typical bright rainbow cake made with synthetic dyes.  So, I considered the baking experiment a success.  I would much rather serve my loved ones a beet or carrot-colored cake than an artificially-colored alternative.

As with the Easter eggs and other natural dye projects, a rainbow cake made with natural dyes can be an incredible and fun learning experience for your kids.  They can brainstorm fruits, veggies and other colorful foods and then experiment with creating a beautiful and natural rainbow.  Not only is it educational but it can also help your kids learn to appreciate the natural beauty of foods.  And the process can be translated into many other cooking projects or non-edible projects such as homemade finger paints and homemade playdough.

I used a basic Cooking Light white cake that I have used for years and a vanilla buttercream frosting.  I then coated the exterior of the layered cake with a whipped cream frosting.  Combining the dense buttery buttercream frosting with the light and fluffy whipped cream is one of my new favorite frosting techniques and provided the perfect combo of richness and sweetness for this cake.

Initially, I did a batch of cupcakes to experiment with different natural dye options and then I selected the six rainbow finalists {indicated with an asterisk} based on a combination of color and flavor.  For reference, I have included my notes on the other ingredients that I tried because depending on your project they could work well in other scenarios where flavor isn’t as important of a factor.  When I made the cake I reduced the amount of milk so that the addition of the juices wouldn’t affect the consistency of the cake batter as much.

Red: *Beet juice; pomegranate, strawberry and raspberry juices were more muted in color

Orange: *Carrot juice; pumpkin puree also works but imparts more of a flavor

Yellow: *Egg yolk; saffron gave an unpleasant flavor; orange and yellow bell pepper juice produced a more vibrant yellow but had a strong peppery flavor; orange juice had a strong orange flavor; golden beets, despite their brilliant color, produced a juice/dye that was earthy brown in color

Green: *Spinach juice

Blue: *Blueberry juice

Purple: *Blackberry juice; grape juice concentrate gave a great color but a strong grape flavor.  If you choose grape juice, be sure to use one that doesn’t have artificial coloring.


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