This vanilla cake layered with buttercream flowers post is sponsored by Wilton, who provided the products featured in this post, but my opinions are true and an accurate reflection of my own experience.
When I was a young newlywed, a friend of mine gave me a cookbook filled with delicious homestyle recipes. That motivated me to learn how to cook for my new husband, so I quickly got busy trying out some of the recipes. One of the first recipes I made was a vanilla cake with buttercream. It was my husband’s birthday, and I wanted to surprise him with a homemade cake. While I was at the store picking up the ingredients, I grabbed a book on cake decorating made by Wilton, along with one of their small starter decorating kits.
I baked the cake and spent the afternoon practicing buttercream flowers and piped borders. Looking back, it wasn’t the prettiest, but it was pretty to me and I was so proud of what I had learned in an afternoon! I had never decorated a cake before, but now I was hooked!
I began making cakes for my friends, family, and just because. I mean, do you really need a reason to bake a cake?! After I had my children, I also took some beginner cake decorating classes from Wilton at my local craft store as my own “mom’s night out” a couple nights a week. It was something I did for myself that was fun, creative, and to top it all off, we had a delicious cake to eat at the end of each class!
Wilton is a brand I’ve used regularly throughout the years, so I was super excited when they reached out to partner on promoting their new Navy & Gold Kitchen Collection, a beautiful line of bakeware which is durable as well as practical. It’s also dishwasher safe, including the pretty gold tools, a win in any mom’s book!
When baking the cakes, I appreciated the non-stick baking pans, which helped the cakes bake evenly and also helped them release easily from the pan. I also love the pretty gold accented kitchen tools, as well as the silicone utensils and prep bowls. They were perfect for mixing up small batches of colored buttercream!
This cake was inspired by my early days taking cake decorating classes as a way to have some “me time.” It was my “mom’s night in” weekend baking project and I’m only wondering why I haven’t made this a weekly occurrence these past few months! Baking is such a great way to de-stress and just have some fun in the kitchen, don’t you agree? Plus, it gave us the perfect treat in which to celebrate my son’s first week of college! We are so excited for him and have a lot to be thankful for!
At first glance, this cake might appear difficult, but trust me when I say it’s fairly simple to put together. I made it into a three-layer cake, but you can just do two layers or half the recipe and make one. There are no borders to pipe and the flowers are very simple 4- and 5- petal flowers with dot centers (the 5-petal flower look fuller because I piped a second row of petals on top.) Much simpler than roses, and that’s one of the flowers I learned first in cake decorating class!
I had so much fun practicing these simple flowers, which is why I had a lot of flowers to decorate the cake with! But believe it or not, I only used 3 different piping tips— tip #104 for the flowers and one leaf style, tip #3 for the dots on the flowers and around the cake, and tip #352 for the rest of the leaves. You can really make it as simple or as decorative as you wish. The sky’s the limit!
It’s not hard to make a cake look pretty and interesting, even with simple techniques. It just takes a little practice and some patience to pipe the flowers. I also find that using some fun colored buttercream doesn’t hurt either! I used the Color Right Concentrated Food Coloring Set to make the colors on this cake, which I’ll share the details of below. I love how clean and simple these are to use since they come in droppers instead of jars. Just remember that a little goes a long way!
Here’s how to get the colors I used. Remember to start with a tiny drop and add more if needed. For really small batches, use a toothpick to get the color instead of the dropper:
Blue-Green for the outside of the cake–50% blue, 30% yellow, 10% red, 10% black
Green for leaves–40% blue, 30% yellow, 20% brown, 10% black
Darker Peachy-Pink Flowers–70% red, 20% yellow, 10% black
(for the light-colored flowers, I made a bigger batch of the dark pink and took a spoonful to mix with white buttercream to make a lighter color)
I give detailed instructions below on how to create this cake. I even have some video tutorials on how to pipe the buttercream flowers saved on my Instagram Stories. But this is your cake, so think of it like a blank canvas! Don’t be afraid to be creative! Experiment with different colors, flowers, and arrangements. What’s important is that you make it your own and most of all, have fun with it! I can’t wait to see your creations!
- 2¾ cup milk of choice
- 1½ tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
- 3¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoons salt (if using salted butter, only use ¼ teaspoon salt)
- 1¼ cup unsalted butter or dairy-free butter, softened
- ¼ cup vegetable oil or other oil of choice
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2¼ cups milk of choice
- 1½ tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 cups gluten-free flour blend (I used King Arthur Measure for Measure GF Flour Blend)
- 1 cup blanched almond flour
- ⅔ cup coconut flour
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoons salt (if using salted butter, only use ¼ teaspoon salt)
- 1 cup unsalted butter or dairy-free butter, softened
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter or dairy-free butter sticks*
- 7–8 cups sifted powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Splash of milk, if needed
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and line two or three 9-inch pans with parchment paper.
- Mix together milk and vinegar in a small glass container to sour. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt, whisking until blended. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Add oil and sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
- Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed butter, beating until mostly incorporated. Pour in half of the milk, continuing to beat until well blended. Repeat with half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk. Finish with the rest of the flour, beating until well combined and batter is smooth. Stir in vanilla. (If making gluten-free cake, let batter rest 15 minutes before transferring to pans)
- Divide batter into the prepared pans and place into the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the number of pans used. Gluten-free cake may take up to 15 minutes longer. Cake is done when the center is no longer jiggly and a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean. Bake time may vary.
- Let cakes cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks to cool completely. You can also make cakes ahead of time and wrap and freeze cakes until ready to use. Frozen cake layers make frosting much easier.
- Cakes must be fully cooled before assembling and frosting. I placed my cakes on an 8-inch cake board, which makes frosting and decorating the cake on a turntable (then later transporting the cake to a pretty stand) a whole lot easier, but that’s totally optional.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until creamy. Turn mixer to low and add powdered sugar a little at a time. Stop at 7 cups and add the last cup if buttercream is still too soft. Once powdered sugar is mostly incorporated, add vanilla and turn speed up to med-high. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, 3–5 minutes. Mix in a splash of milk if buttercream is too firm.
- To decorate the cake in the photos, I made 1½ batches of buttercream. I frosted the inside and did a crumb coat on the outside with plain white buttercream. With the remaining buttercream, I colored about 1½ cups of buttercream blue-green for the outside, 2 cups peachy-pink for the dark flowers, then I mixed a big spoonful of the dark pink in with plain buttercream to get the light. I used about 1 heaping cup of buttercream for the leaves. I also left some white for the dots around the cake, but that’s not really necessary.
- After frosting the inside and outside of the cake with buttercream, pop it in the refrigerator to chill, which will make frosting the outside much easier.
- While the cake is chilling, you can start on your buttercream flowers.
- You’ll need 3–4 piping bags and couplers, plus a variety of tips. I used tips #3, #104, and #352. It helps to have several of the round and petal tips, but you can make do with one of each with lots of washing in between. You can also use larger/smaller round and petal tips, like a tip #1 or# 2, or #102 or #103.
- You’ll also need a flower nail and lots of parchment paper squares to pipe on. This makes transporting the flowers much easier.
- Fill piping bags fitted with couplers with the colored buttercream.
- The video how-to for each of these flowers is saved in a highlight in my stories on Instagram. (Link here)
- To start off making the 4-petal flower, fit either the dark or light pink with the #104 petal tip. Fit the opposite color with the #3 round tip. Twist the top of the bags securely in your hands to keep the buttercream from coming out as you pipe.
- Place a small dollop of buttercream onto the flower nail and press a parchment paper square on top. Place the petal tip narrow side facing outwards, slightly raised, and the wider part facing inwards, touching the paper. Squeeze the buttercream out with a slow and steady pressure. You’re going to move from your starting point, going up and around and back down again, like an upside-down tear or balloon shape. You may need to practice the petal on its own a few times until you’re comfortable. Once you return to the starting point, release pressure to stop the buttercream from coming out. Remember you only need small movements to make small flowers, otherwise you’re going to end up with very large flowers.
- Once you get one petal down, turn the nail to create the next petal beginning at the same starting point as your last petal. This will be the center of the flower once you attach all of the petals together. Use the same motion to create the next petal. Do this again 2 more times.
- Think of it like a 4-corner box so each petal has an even amount of space.
- Once you get all 4 petals, use the other color to create dots in the center of the flower. For the 4-petal flower, I place a dot in the corner of each petal (4 dots) but you can also just place one dot in the very center. Once you’re finished with your flower, remove the parchment square carefully and place it onto a baking sheet. Once you fill the pan you can refrigerate or freeze the flowers to make them easier to transfer to the cake. Alternate colors and the size of flowers for variety.
- To create a dot, place the piping tip directly overhead, almost touching the buttercream. Squeeze without moving the tip from its place. Once the icing begins to build up, move the bag up slightly, keeping the tip buried in the buttercream, until a mound forms. Release pressure from the bag and move tip away.
- The 5-petal flower is very similar to the 4-petal flower, but you have to leave enough space for 5 petals—think star shape. Also, I squeeze the bag more liberally to get longer, more ruffled petals. This is not necessary, just preference. Pop a fresh parchment square onto your flower nail using a bit of buttercream for glue. Using the same upside down tear/horse-shoe motion with the #104 tip, narrow tip out and slightly raised, wide end in and down toward the nail, apply pressure to the bag, going in a small circular motion and ending at the same starting point. Turn the nail as you pipe each petal. You can leave it at one layer or add a second layer to make them more fluffy flowers. To do this, you just pipe a second row of flowers directly onto the first. Just angle the pointy end of the tip slightly more upwards so the flower has a deeper center. Once finished pipe dots in the center; one directly in the center with a ring of dots surrounding. Remove parchment square with flower to a baking sheet to chill. Alternate colors and the size of the flowers to get more variety.
- These leaves are not necessary but do add a little variety to the cake. These need to be created beforehand and chilled to make them easier to place onto the cake. You can also use the #352 tip to pipe leaves directly onto the cake.
- Place a clean parchment square onto flower nail with a bit of icing. Like the petals, hold tip with the pointy tip out, wide tip in, at a slight 45º angle parallel to the paper. You’re going to go in a zigzag motion up one side of the leaf, make one loop at the top and then the same zigzag down the other side of the leaf. Begin by squeezing the icing out with steady pressure, in a small and narrow up and down zigzag motion, turning the nail slightly after 2-3 loops. Create a loop at the top and then turn the nail and zigzag back down the other side of the leaf.
- These leaves can be piped directly onto the cake once all of your flowers are in place. This is a nice way to cover up any mishaps or fill in holes between flowers. To pipe these leaves, you hold the tip with the narrow point facing up, V-shape on the sides. Squeeze buttercream, holding the tip in place. Once the bottom of the leaf begins to build and becomes your preferred width, slowly move the tip back, relaxing pressure as you pull away. Once done, stop piping and pull tip away to create a point.
- Once you’re finished decorating your flowers, place them onto a small baking sheet and then place into the fridge or freezer to firm up before transferring them to the cake. For long term storage, keep them in a sealed container in the freezer or fridge.
- Once your cake is chilled, frost the outside while you chill the flowers. Add a big dollop of the blue-green buttercream to the top of the cake. Use an offset spatula to spread buttercream evenly across the top and over onto the sides of the cake. Frost generously until all the white is covered. You can use an icing smoother if you want to get really smooth sides.
- To decorate the top of the cake with your flowers, come up with an arrangement. You can place them around the edge, in the center, or have them cascading off the cake.
- Place a small amount of butter cream in the areas you want to put the flowers. This will act as a glue to help your flowers stay in place. Begin with the largest flowers, then alternate medium and small flowers. You can place some on the sides of the cake as well. I also piped random petals directly onto the cake, sides and top, using the petal tip. It’s the same way you pipe the petals on the 4-petal flower, only 1-2 petals. I also piped random dots/sets of dots around the cake for more interest and added texture. Totally optional, but I was trying to use up the remainder of my bag of buttercream!
- Don’t be afraid to be creative! Experiment with different colors, flowers, and arrangements. What’s important is that you make it your own and most of all, have fun with it! I can’t wait to see your creations!