The Flag Cake

Well… [looking around…]  It’s been forever, but I am back!  Now, it wouldn’t be fair of me to come back after such a loooooooooooong hiatus without something special to make a trip here worth you while, now would it?  So here it is… flag cake.  Just in time for the 4th of July!!  Now, to be honest, I will say that flag cake was not my completely original idea.  Last June, I was looking around ye old Internet for a 4th of July dessert to make for an upcoming party and I found this from Elissa of 17 and Baking.  Elissa is a lovely person who makes wonderful recipes so definitely look around her site!

I thought it was such a cute cake when I saw it, but I wasn’t completely sold and continued looking around at other ideas.  Three or four sites later it hit me:  I could make that cake into a more realistic looking flag AND make it out of red velvet.  “No problem!” I thought and never looked back.  Now if you are going to attempt my version of this lovely, please note that it takes time and patience.  Short on one or both?  Elissa’s cake is beautiful so go for it!

(*A little note about the cake pictured above… that is last year’s flag cake.  I had a little bit of an accident with the finished cake for this tutorial that made in not so photo worthy.  C’est la vie!  The cake you see pictured here had been sitting out at 80+ degrees for a little too long and started to smoosh down a bit.)

I take two days to make the flag cake.  Yes, this is a TIME CONSUMING cake!!  I bake on day one, and make frosting and assemble on day 2.  What follows is not a recipe for the cake itself.  It is a tutorial on how to assemble the cake.  Read through all of the directions a couple of times before you actually start making your cake.  You have a couple of options on how you want to make the cake so do whatever works for you.  As I said, I made mine from red velvet.  You could just as easily use a couple of white box mixes instead of making a cake from scratch.  (Valuable tip: I strongly suggest you stay away from the red velvet box mixes unless you have one that you  like to use.  Personally, I find them to be too dry and not have the correct crumb texture for a red velvet.)

If you are making a red velvet cake from scratch:dye the red cakes according to the recipe directions.  If you want a deeper red color than the recipe gives you, use red food gel dye (Wilton is the most commonly available) to deepen the color.  Adding extra liquid food color will mess with the cake recipe.

For the blue cake, only add 1-3 teaspoons of cocoa or your cake will turn teal.  In addition, the yolk of the eggs will affect the color of the blue cake and turn it bluish-green.  Counter that by adding just a bit of violet gel color to the blue cake batter.  I can’t give you exact amounts because it depends on your egg yolks (which can be anywhere between pale yellow to deep orange) and it depends on how dark you want the blue color to be.  If you want a dark blue cake like mine, then you need a lot more blue dye and a bit more violet to make it work.

If you are dying a white cake (or white cake mix): then use gel dye to dye your cake mix so that you do not interfere with the moisture levels in the recipe.  Simply add the gel coloring until you get your desired shade.

I listed some tips at the bottom of this post so make sure you read them over before you start.  To make this cake, you will need:

  • FOUR 8-inch cake layers dyed red that are 1-inch tall
  • ONE 5-inch cake layer dyed blue that is 2-inches tall
  • LOTS of frosting

The four 8-inch cake layers are self explanatory.  That would be TWO 2-layer cakes if you are making your cake from scratch, or two box mixes if you are not.

The one 5-inch layer of blue cake is trickier.  You have to figure out what is going to work best for you.  You need either 1/2 of a cake recipe in a 6-inch cake pan OR a full 2-layer recipe in an 8-inch cake pan and then you cut the cake down to a 5-inch diameter.  (In either case, the cake pan HAS to have at least 2-inch tall sides.)  I have done it both ways.  The easiest is to used a six-inch cake pan and put 1/2 of a cake recipe (or 1/2 of a prepared box mix) in it.  You waste much less cake this way.  I know you are thinking, “Hey, I’ll just put a full cake recipe in an 8-inch cake pan, cut off all of the extra, and snack on it!”  It doesn’t work like that.  1.) Baking a cake that thick takes forever and a good 2-inches of the outside of the cake gets way overcooked to the point where you don’t want to eat it; and 2.) If you go ahead, smear frosting on it, and eat it anyway, you will regret it.  Eating too much blue dye comes out the other end in fireworks all right… the not fun, not festive kind.  Seriously.  Buy a 6-inch cake pan for this one.  (The baking department was out when I bought mine, so I bought a Wilton brand 6-inch springform pan instead and it worked just as well.)  If you make the two layers in the 8-inch cake pan, just throw away all the extra cake when you cut it down to a 5-inch diameter.  If you eat all of that extra blue cake, you are totally on your own.  You’re welcome.  ; )  Oh, and the overcooked blue edge, combined with the effects of eating too much blue dye is why I put the blue field part of the flag in the center of my cake instead of around the outside as Elissa did: less blue cake to eat = less problems.

For frosting, you will need to triple your frosting recipe (naturally, I used cream cheese frosting), but I have no idea how many containers of premade frosting you will need but you will definitely need more than 3 cans.  I can tell you that my frosting recipe makes just over 2-1/2 cups and I triple that.  Bring on the sugar, baby!!

Here’s your pictures and directions… the best piece of advice I can give you is to be patient, do not rush, and go slowly as you prepare, build, and frost the cake!!

Step 1: Use a cake leveler to cut each red cake into TWO 1/2-inch layers.  Tragically, I did not get a specific picture of this, but it is very important to level the top of the cake so that it is flat instead of domed.  This will help the cake sit correctly when you have seven layers stacked.  (Note: You will not use the eighth layer so set it aside.  You can use it to make a repair if you need to –see Tips below– or feel free to snack on it as you assemble your cake.)

If you do not have a cake leveler, you can poke tooth picks around the entire cake at the 1/2-inch height and use that to guide your knife as you cut:

Remember, if you do this, you will still need to level the top of the cake so that the top is flat and does not make a dome.

Step 2: Set THREE of your 1/2-inch layers aside.  They will be used for the bottom three layers of your cake.  We will come back to those in a few steps.  In the meantime, let us move on to preparing the top four layers.

Step 3: Level the blue layer of your cake.  You also need to make a template so that you know what size to cut a hole in the top four red layers so that the blue layer will fit in the middle of them.  Fold a piece of parchment paper in half and then in half again.

Step 4: Place the folded corner in the middle of your blue layer and use clean kitchen shears to carefully cut along the shape of the layer.

Step 5: Place the template in the middle of one of the remaining four layers and cut around it.  Remove the center part and discard.  Discard the center that you removed or feed it to family members to hold them at bay until you are done building your cake.  Repeat Step 5 for the remaining three top layers, and set the four layers with the centers cut out aside.

Now you will start building your cake.  You can build it on the plate you plan to use to serve it, or you can also cut a cardboard base the size of your cake and cover it with tin foil, place it on a cutting board, and build it on that so that you have a nice, sturdy base to move your cake if you need it.  I usually put mine on a tin foil covered cardboard base if I am taking it to another location.  The cake in these photos stayed in house, so I built in on a parchment paper covered cutting board and did not worry about making a cardboard base for it.  Whatever you decide, make sure you can fit the serving plate (or cutting board) and the entire assembled cake (which is about 4-1/2 inches tall) in your refrigerator.

Step 6: Go back to the bottom three red layers that you set aside in Step 2.  Brush off any loose crumbs and place one of the layers on your prepared building surface.  Using a small amount of frosting, create a crumb coat to seal in cake crumbs.  Make this layer as thin as you can while still sealing everything in.  This is going to keep all of those red crumbs from mixing into your white frosting layer.  If the crumbs mix in, they will dye the frosting pink.  The crumb layer is important!  Without it, your flag will have pink stripes instead of white stripes!  Here is the part that is time consuming… between each crumb coat and coat of frosting, you have to put the cake in the freezer for 3-5 minutes or in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes so that the frosting firms up.  WARNING: This cake turns in to a train wreck if you do not firm the frosting between layers!!!!

Step 7: Take the bottom layer out of the freezer or refrigerator and frost the layer as you normally would.  Start with a nice plop of frosting in the center of the layer and gently work your way out.  Make sure you do not disturb the crumb coat as you work or you will have to reseal it to keep the color from leaching into the frosting layer.  Place the frosted layer back in to the freezer or refrigerator to firm up.

Step 8: Repeat Steps 6 and 7 for the other two bottom layers.  Make sure to firm the frosting after applying each crumb coat and each layer of frosting.  Firming the frosting layers also keeps the cake layers firm so that they do not slide around on you.  Slipping, sliding, leaning cakes do not make as nice of a presentation.

Step 9: Go back to the top four layers with the center cut out that you set aside in Step 5.  Brush off any loose crumbs and place the layer on top of the third layer of cake.  Crumb coat the ring and place the cake in the freezer or refrigerator to firm.  Remove the cake and frost the ring as shown in the photo above.  (It is perfectly okay if a little frosting oozes over the center of the ring because you will use that to crumb coat the hole the layers will create before you put the blue layer in the center.)  Remember to place the cake in the freezer or refrigerator to firm up once you frost the ring.  Repeat the process for the remaining three layers with the center cut out.

Step 10: I completely forgot to take pictures of the rest of the process.  Oops!!  The family started pouring in from school and work and I got pretty distracted.  I really am sorry.  I know things are much easier with pictures but I hope you can get the drift from the photo of the finished cake.  : )  Anywho… Crumb coat the sides on the entire interior of the hole that the top four layers create.  Freeze or refrigerate the cake to firm it up.  Frost the sides on the entire interior of the hole that the top four layers create.  Keep in mind though that even though the American flag does not have a white border around the blue field, you do need frosting here; otherwise the cake would not hold together correctly when you cut it.

Step 11: Take the blue layer and shove it in the hole you created in the center of the cake.  Crumb coat the ENTIRE cake and put it in the freezer or refrigerator to firm up.  Apply the final layer of frosting to your cake.  Frost the top first and then move to the sides.  Don’t forget that you can use frosting to fill in the sides and make the sides of the cake appear perfectly straight even if your layers are not.  : )

Step 12: Decorate that fabulous flag cake however you want!

Happy flag cake making!!

Flag cake tips:

  • You need to assemble the cake in a cool location.  If you’re in air conditioning, then you are good to go.  Last year when I made it, it was 85 degrees in my kitchen so I moved to the basement where it was about 72 degrees.  If it is too hot, then your frosting will melt and your cake will start sliding.
  • You frosting should not be cold, but it shouldn’t be warm either.  I find I get the best consistency for spreading and structure when it is slightly chilled.
  • ALWAYS chill the cake to firm between every application of crumb coat and frosting!!
  • You have to be particularly careful when placing the top layers (with the center cut out) on the cake.  If one of them breaks on you, don’t worry!  Place the pieces on the cake and proceed with your crumb coat like nothing went wrong.  You are the only one who is going to know unless you tell someone else.  If you get distracted when placing a top layer, walk across your kitchen, and a piece of the layer breaks off and falls on the floor (not that I’ve done that or anything), just let it go.  Cut repair pieces from the eighth layer of cake or one of the center cut outs and put them on the cake and proceed with your crumb coat like that was your plan all along.  Seriously, frosting can fix just about anything and no one will ever know the difference.  They’re going to be too busy amazed at how cool your cake is while they are devouring it.
  • Refrigerate the cake when you are finished.  Remove the cake from refrigeration shortly before serving.  If the cake is still chilled, it have the best structure when you slice it open and give the nicest presentation.  If you are serving the cake inside and have air conditioning, let the cake sit out for 20-30 minutes before serving.  If you are serving the cake inside but have no air conditioning or are serving it outside in July, let the cake sit out 10-15 minutes  before serving, but keep the cake out of the sun.  You will want to refrigerate leftover cake fairly quickly.  If you live in Florida and are serving the cake outside where it is nuclear hot and a bazillion percent humidity in July, don’t let it sit out longer than five minutes before you serve the cake and refrigerate leftover cake immediately.
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4 Responses to The Flag Cake

  1. sue says:

    I love it!!!! you did a great job!

  2. Janet says:

    Holy smokes woman!!! You Rock! I will have to save this one for that time in the future when I devlipe sine patience!

  3. Zach says:

    These are the worst directions EVER. There isn’t a thing in here about how to get it shipped to FL without crumbling. USELESS

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