The Institute of Culinary Education is one of the largest culinary schools in the world, offering both professional and recreational programs in New York City. Here, Chef Jenny McCoy of ICE’s School of Pastry & Baking Arts gives PEOPLE her recipe for the perfect cake to celebrate the Fourth of July. With layers in red, white and blue, DIY confetti and loads of sprinkles, this cake is so spectacular, it just may distract your guests from the fireworks!
As the Fourth of July approaches and we eagerly anticipate colorful firework displays and backyard barbecues, why not celebrate with a red, white and blue sprinkle-covered confetti cake? This delicious lemon-almond cake, filled with fresh strawberries and blueberries and layered with cream cheese icing, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
The number of steps may seem daunting, and this recipe does take some finesse—but don’t let that stop you! They don’t call me “Chef” for nothing, so here are some of my favorite pro tips for success:
1. Use some shortening to make the cake a brighter white, which also makes it easier to color. If you prefer butter, you can substitute the shortening with more butter.
2. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl as you add the ingredients to your cake batter. This will ensure your batter is buttery smooth.
3. If you want to customize the results, your cake batter can be flavored with a variety of extracts. One of my favorite combinations is vanilla and coconut extracts. Alternatively, if you prefer a plain vanilla cake, replace the almond extract with an additional one teaspoon vanilla extract, for a total of two teaspoons.
4. I love to use a cardboard cake round to invert my cakes from the pans. It gives them a sturdy surface to fall on, which prevents the cake layers from tearing. Ask your local bakery for a few or cut out some rounds from a cardboard box.
5. Don’t have a cake turntable? Not to worry! My favorite kitchen hack is to use the plate and wheel from a microwave to layer and frost my cakes.
6. Instead of worrying about your cake layers sliding around as you frost the top and sides of the cake, try this trick—use a long bamboo skewer to hold everything in place.
7. A flat, metal bench scraper (more often used for cutting bread dough) makes for amazingly straight sides on your frosted cake. If you don’t have a bench scraper, use a metal icing spatula, like the one featured in the video.
8. Don’t worry about having a perfectly frosted cake for this recipe. As long as it’s relatively smooth, once it’s covered in sprinkles, it will be a showstopper no matter what!
One last trick: to make sure the cakes don’t stick to the pan, cut parchment paper into a circle to line your round cake pan. Here’s how:
Remember how you used to make paper snowflakes from folded paper in elementary school? Well, that same technique will now serve you well as an adult. If you enjoy baking cakes, that is.
For a round cake pan, simply fold a piece of parchment paper in half three times to make a triangular wedge of paper (kind of like a slice of cake—what a coincidence!). Turn your cake pan upside down and place the tip of the paper wedge directly in the center of the pan. Trim the wider edge of the paper wedge to the length of the radius of the pan, or the very edge of the cake pan. Unfold and voila! A circle of parchment paper to perfectly line the inside of your round cake pan. Check out this video to see how it’s done.
July Fourth-fetti Cake
Makes one three-layer cake
2 sticks butter, softened
½ cup shortening
3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg whites
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup milk
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
Red food coloring
Blue food coloring
3-4 tbsp. red, white and blue sprinkles
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly spray three eight-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, egg whites, almond extract and vanilla extract, and mix until smooth.
3. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and stir together. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add the milk and mix until combined. Add the remaining half of the dry ingredients, followed by the buttermilk and mix until well combined and smooth.
4. Divide the batter evenly between three bowls and add blue food coloring to one bowl and red food coloring to the second bowl, mixing in and adding coloring in drops as necessary until the desired color is reached. Add sprinkles to the third bowl and stir until evenly combined. Pour the batter into the three prepared cake pans and bake until very light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans for five minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.
Lemon-Almond Simple Syrup
Makes ½ cup
½ cup simple syrup
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. lemon extract
Combine the simple syrup, vanilla extract and lemon extract and refrigerate until ready to use.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes 6 cups
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups cream cheese
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
¼ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until soft and very smooth. Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and salt and mix until fully combined. Add the vanilla extract and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days.
To assemble the cake:
1 blue cake layer
1 sprinkle cake layer
1 red cake layer
½ cup Lemon-Almond Simple Syrup (recipe above)
6 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe above)
1 cup blueberries
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups red, white and blue sprinkles, to decorate
1. Slice the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface. Place the blue cake layer on top of an eight-inch round of cardboard. Use a pastry brush to lightly soak the blue cake layer with the simple syrup. Spread about one cup of the frosting on the blue cake layer and cover with fresh blueberries. Top with the sprinkled white cake layer and repeat by soaking the cake layer with simple syrup and covering with one cup of frosting, and top with the fresh strawberries. Place the red cake layer on top. Frost the tops and sides of the cake with the remaining four cups of frosting. Freeze cake for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Place the sprinkles in a large bowl. Hold the cake over a rimmed baking sheet and gently cover the sides and tops of the cake with the sprinkles by pressing them against the frosting and allowing the excess to fall back onto the tray. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two days. If refrigerated before serving, let cake stand at room temperature for one to two hours before serving.
Want to make baking cakes your career? Check out ICE’s professional cake decorating program.