Checkerboard 30th Birthday Cake

My niece Phoebe hit 30 this weekend. 30 ! When on earth did that happen?  To celebrate she had a big party with 80 people coming so it definitely called for a big celebration cake.

When I was planning this I realised I don’t do cakes that often, and certainly not big celebration cakes.  The last one was for Phoebe’s half sister’s first Holy Communion which was nearly 2 years ago.  A lot of sadness has hit the family since then, so getting to celebrate her 30th was an important transition moment for us all.

This cake was enormous fun to make (and yes to took 2 days) and whilst the design is not wholly original (I found a picture on Pinterest), the various elements are a mishmash of influences from different sources.

It was a thrill to see the pleasure on Phoebe’s face, not to mention the reaction at the party, especially with the surprise of cutting into it and yes that raspberry Italian Meringue buttercream I had so much trouble with is delicious !


The process of getting here was somewhat convoluted. I was going to try my hand at an illusion cake having got rather excited by Yolande Gampp’s youtube channel.  Yolande is a Canadian baker who does stunning illusion cakes  (some of which may look strangely familiar to those of you who watched last year’s Bake Off).  I am not a vastly experienced cake decorator, and if this had been an ordinary birthday I might have risked trying my hand at her Crown Cake which looks challenging to say the least.  But this was Phoebe’s 30th. It needed to look stunning and well executed so I needed to step back from my normal ambition to somewhere nearer my comfort zone…… well just a little.


There still had to be something new.  Initially it was going to be a drip cake with gold drip down the side (until I found out you have to paint the gold on!).  Then it was an upside down drip cake from the Topless Baker (who I have just found out is up the road  in Norwich so I may have to drop in say Hi).  That I decided was too informal but I loved the height of the cake.  I then found Yolande’s checkerboard cake .  Bingo for the inside of the cake if not the outside.


The feathers and quilting?  Well they are an old trick I learned from my first celebration cake 5 year’s ago for Chris and James’ wedding. Who doesn’t love an Ostrich feather after all? I still love that cake so here is a picture.


The final step was deciding on black and pink as a colour theme at which point Pinterest came up trumps, though the beloved had to rein me back in regularly.

Any dramas ?  Well the buttercream drama has warranted a post all of its own which you can read about at leisure.

I debated on the height of the cake and decided the bottom cake needs to be less high than the top one to give that hat lock feel – judge for yourself if I got that right.


The bake went slightly wrong.  I used Yolande’s Vanilla sponge recipe, but the cooking time was much longer than she said and frankly the sugar content of her original recipe is too high for my taste.  One set of cakes ended in the bin as they were raw in the middle despite skewers pulling out clean.  I took it down 20%, extended the cooking time and became utterly paranoid about not having a repeat failure.  It turned out fortuitously alright in the end.  It was my yellow cake that failed, which I followed with what was supposed to be lime green.  Lime green it was in the bowl – yellow it was in the crooked variety.  I would have had to make another set, whatever happened.  Be warned – you need a party green to get a bright green cake.

The checkerboard technique is not difficult.  You bake cakes in the different colours you want, slice them, and then cut them into concentric circles which you then re-arrange, and stack so that no one colour is on top the other.


What I couldn’t get my head round was how to get it neat and looking proportionate and to be honest why it didn’t fall apart when you cut into it.  At this point much maths was being entered into and I needlessly stressed myself about it.  I got completely obsessed with what the checkerboard would look like with the different sizes (square / oblong?) and how to make sure it looked even (cake tins that divided neatly into 3).  I also worried about how the cake would stay together when cut.  That then led to much purchasing on Amazon which now means I have mousse rings, cake tins and cutters of virtually every size,  (The beloved is getting concerned I have an Amazon addiction).


The trick frankly is getting cutters that allow you to cut into neat rings and making sure every slice is cut in exactly the same way so they stack in top of each other.  A 7′ cake is 18cm wide which conveniently means you need a 12cm and 6cm cutter to get 3 even rings of 3cm in from each other and about 2cm to 2.5cm high – so almost square.  A 9″ tin is 22cm, 21cm after a bit of shrinkage.  So 3 just about even rings are 15cm (6′) and and 7cm so you end up with slightly more oblong checkers of 3.5cm width.


The other little drama (I seem to always bake with a drama) was the fondant.  For some reason I find just thinking about fondant work stressful.  Getting the cover on without air bubbles  and stretches ….arghhhhh.  Thank god for Wiltons silicone mat which means you just pick it all up on the mat  and flip it on.  It actually went on beautifully – so really no drama happened except the one in my head beforehand.


The only other bit I didn’t get quite get right were the stripes down the side.  I finally got to use the ribbon cutter I bought an age ago, and I used a cake divider to get the ribbons evenly spread.  However I assumed I could get the vertical drop straight by eye.  I didn’t !  The ribbon round the bottom distracts the eye a bit from the lack of perfection but next time the set square is coming out and I am marking the fondant with the line.


The Recipe

I have re-produced the recipe for the full stacked cake.  On each section I have shown hw it can be reduced for a smaller 18cm cake.


  • 18cm (7″) tall cake tin
  • 23cm (9″) tall cake tin
  • 7′ thin round cake board
  • 9″ thin round cake board
  • 13″ thick round cake board
  • Dowelling rods
  • Cutters (I bought a combination of Gobel cake rings and straight cake cutters (which only go up to 9cm)
    • 12cm
    • 6cm
    • 15cm
    • 7cm
  • Cooking thermometer
  • Diamond shaped embosser
  • Ribbon cutter
  • Silicone fondant mat
  • Fondant smoother
  • Rolling pin spacer rings
  • Gel colouring
    • Pink
    • Party Green
    • Bitter Lemon/Lime (or bright yellow)

Fondant required

  • for the 7″ cake – 2 kg
  • for the 9′ cake – 1.75kg
  • for the ribbon – 250g plus 2 tsp Tylo Powder to make it more durable but not as hard as flower paste
  • for the board – 1.5kg

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 15.52.15

Baking the  Cakes

  • Bake the 9″ and 7″ cakes together.
  • You need to make 3 different coloured cakes so you have 3 batches of the recipe below that you need to make
  • Colour fades in the oven so don’t hold back – I used 1tsp of gel colouring in mine

Each set of 9″ plus 7″ cakes needs the ingredients listed below.  You will need to make this up 3 times.

  • 600g caster sugar
  • 450g unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 600g plain flour
  • 5tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 7 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 450ml full fat milk (room temperature)
  • 1tsp gel colour

If you are making the 7″ cake this single batch is enough to make all 3 cakes.


The Method

  • heat oven to 180C / 160c Fan
  • sift the flour, baking poeder and salt together and quickly toss to ensure nicely combined
  • put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat for about 10 minutes until light and fluffy
  • add the gel colouring and beat until fully combined
  • add the eggs one a time with a spoonful of flour and beat each in well
  • add 1/3rd fo the flour and stir in gently
  • add 1/3rd of the milk
  • add the remaining milk and flour in the same way
  • divide between the tins so the mixture comes to the same height – roughly a 65:35 split
  • wrap with a tin foil insulting strip (see this post for instructions)  or Bake-even strips (I didn’t and got a very domed cake which wasted a lot in the assembly stage)
  • bake in the oven with a baking sheet on the shelf above (this helps them bake more evenly as well)
    • 7′ cake for about 1hr 10 minutes
    • 9″ cake for about 15 minutes longer
  • test it is cooked by inserting a skewer that comes out clean, or insert your thermometer and check the inside is 99C hot
  • allow to cool in the tin
  • wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge overnight or for an hour in the freezer (it helps firm up the sponge soft is easy to handle later on)


Making you Buttercream

You need 2 batches of the recipe in my previous blog on the topic for the stacked cake.

For the 7″ cake you need only one batch.

I made mine with Raspberry puree but feel free to to use any flavour you fancy



Making up the cake rings

  • slice off the dome of all the cakes.  I do this as follows:
    • put cake boards or any other item into the original cake tin to raise the line you want to cut at just above the rim
    • using the edge of the tin slice through the top
  • now work out which cake is the least high – all the others will need to be made the same height
  • flip this over and slice off the caramelised bottom as thinly as possible – you are trying to avoid a caramelised line between your checkerboard layers
    • if you use the technique above the next stage is easy
  • now do the same to the other 2 cakes making sure they are cut to exactly the same height (if you used the tin/cakeboard technique above on the first cake then leave the cake boards in you used for that, put your next 2 cakes i and slice through at tin rim height)
  • now slice you cakes exactly in half


  • now get your cutters and slice even concentric rings.
  • you need to use your tape measure to make sure the cutter is exactly in the middle
  • the cutters you need are
    • 9″ cake – a 15cm and 7cm cutter
    • 7′ cake – a 12cm and 6cm cutter
  • now carefully take apart your cakes and re-arrange them on individual cake boards so you have 2 sets of slices where each one has the colours in a different order so that when they are stacked no 2 same colours are on top of each other
  • You should end up with 6 slices going:
    • Pink Yellow Green
    • Yellow Green Pink
    • Green Pink Yellow
    • Pink Yellow Green
    • Yellow Green Pink
    • Green Pink Yellow
  • One tip: you won’t have 2 even slices when you cut the cake in half so try to assemble the checkerboard rings form cakes the same half of each cake so they are all the same height when re-assembled


Assembling your cake

  • lay your sponges out in order of assembly (see the order above)
    • for the 7″cake you are using all 6
    • for the 9″ cake you are using only 4 of them
  • put one cake on a thin cake board
  • spread with a thin layer of buttercream pressing it down into any small gaps
  • place your next layer carefully on top
  • carry on until you are finished being careful to keep the sides perpendicular
  • coat the ides with a thin layer of butter cream (the crumb coat) and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour
  • take out of the fridge and apply a thicker layer across the whole cake carefully smoothing it off
  • put back in the fridge for an hour
  • use a fondant smoother to take out any final rough edges



Covering with Fondant and decorating

This one is down to you.  I am assuming I am afraid you know how to do this and you have your own technique.  Also the way you decorate this is down to you.  You can follow what I have down or let rip in a whole different way.


For stacking

You need to dowel your bottom cake otherwise the weight of the top cake will mean your whole cake will start to lean in very unpredictable ways and cause the bottom cake to sag under the weight.

  • mark where the top cake will sit by taking a 7″ cake board and scoring the fondant
  • insert one piece of dowelling 1 inch in from the scored line, being careful to push it in straight
  • mark the dowel at the surface of the cake
  • pull it out and cut it to size along with 2 other pieces to the same size
  • insert the other dowels  1″ from the scored line so all 3  are in a neat equal sided triangle side the scored line


Finally present to assemble party guest and enjoy!




2 Comments Add yours

  1. Judy says:

    Looks fabulous !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s