I’ve been meaning to put together more of a substantial post such as this one for a while now. I’ve been laying awake some nights with ideas running through my mind for different cake designs. Having to go get all of the supplies even for something as simple as this cake – it’s no small feat. One needs a cake turntable, offset spatula (since I forgot mine at work!), gel food coloring, cake boards, colorful nonpareils sprinkles, tons of butter… the list goes on. So when you see those elaborate cakes all over Pinterest – don’t be fooled. Those babies take days of work and sometimes weeks of planning!


Ombre is all the rage right now. Hair, fabrics, food, you name it. If you’re not familiar: ombre is the fade-look. The gradual turn from one shade to another. Buttercream is the perfect medium to practice this technique as it’s smooth and forgiving, and takes color very well. I could hardly decide on colors to fade together, but this magenta and nude tone works perfectly. Another thing not to be fooled by: those nonpareils sprinkles. To get them up one side of the cake and looking a bit aimless, I had to literally throw them at the cake from the side, unleashing the fury of brightly colored rolling sprinkles all over the kitchen!

What a mess.


Now for the cake.

Martha Stewart’s Vanilla Cake (with my own twist):  yields one 8 inch cake, 3 layers

120 g               soft butter

1+1/2 cup        sugar

3                      eggs

1 cup               milk

2 cup               all purpose flour

1 TB                 baking powder

1/2 tsp              salt

1/2 tsp              cinnamon

1 tsp                 ground ginger

2 TB                  vanilla extract

For the syrup:

1 cup                lemon juice

1 cup                sugar

-Preheat oven to 350 F, and prepare one 8 inch round cake pan with butter and parchment paper.

-Beat the butter and sugar with a paddle in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, at least five minutes.

-Whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla, and in a separate bowl whisk together all of the dry ingredients.

-Once the butter and sugar is sufficiently fluffy, begin adding the wet and dry ingredients alternatingly. You can add half the wet then half the dry, then repeat once more. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl during mixing several times.

-Pour the cake batter until the prepared cake pan and smooth the top out with a spatula. Bake until dark golden brown and until the cake bounces back slightly when pressed in the center.

-Cool in the pan for 10 minutes or so, and then invert it onto a wire rack to cool to room temperature (or in the fridge overnight).

-Bring the lemon juice and water to a boil and reserve until cooled to room temperature.

Make your buttercream:

1+3/4 cup              sugar

1/2 cup                  water

1 squeeze              lemon or lime juice

7                             egg whites

1+1/4 lb                  soft butter

1 TB                        vanilla

gel food coloring to your preference

-Place the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, and turn to low-medium speed.

-Place the sugar, citrus juice (just a squeeze) and water in a pot and cook over high heat while the eggs are on low-medium speed. The citrus helps to stop the sugar from crystallizing.

-Cook the sugar syrup to about 120-122 C, or until the bubbles begin to look slow and soapy. You are not looking for the sugar to begin caramelizing and turning yellow around the edges. If this happens stop your egg whites and begin a new batch of sugar. You’ll notice the bubbles boil rapidly at the beginning, but become slower as the water evaporates and the syrup concentrates. If you don’t have a thermometer you can successfully prepare the buttercream in this way – by looking for ‘soap suds’ type bubbling.

-When the syrup is ready pull it off the heat to cool so it stops boiling, and simultaneously turn up the mixer speed to high to whip the whites to firmer peaks.

-Once the whites are nice and firm looking and the syrup no longer bubbles around the edges when you tilt the pan… begin pouring it slowly into the whipping egg whites (high speed!). Pour in all of the syrup gradually. Turn the speed down to medium and continue whipping for 5-10 minutes until the mixture is slightly warm but the bowl is no longer hot to the touch. You’ll want the meringue to be warm enough to slowly melt the butter as you add it, but not so hot that it liquefies it.

-Place a large pot of water on the stove and turn to a simmer.

-Once the meringue is closer to room temp but still a little warm, begin adding the butter in small spoonfuls. Keep adding the butter in small portions until it’s all in. If your mixture deflates very drastically right from the start: you’ve not cooled your meringue enough before adding the butter and it’s melted straight away. If your mixture eventually starts to look a little split and grainy this is good: pull it off the machine and place the bowl directly over the pot of hot water on the stove to slightly melt the buttercream at the bottom of the bowl. Put it back on the mixer at high speed and whip, whip, whip. Keep doing this hot water/whipping method until the buttercream is fluffy and smooth with no lumps.

-If you’ve deflated your meringue from all of your butter melting it will technically still work. You can continue adding the rest of your butter and then just whip until the mix eventually cools enough to begin coming back together. It will take longer and you’ll have a more dense, less voluminous frosting… but it’s not the end of the world. Now you know!


To frost your cake:

-Separate your buttercream into three small bowls. Leave one white, and dye two bowls in colors of your choice, leaving one color a lighter tone than the other. Take a couple of spoonfuls of each of the colored buttercreams and mix them together to create a third color.

-Cut your cooled cake until three even layers and brush the lemon syrup over each of the layers. Be generous. It’s nice to have a sharp acidic note in the cake since buttercream and cake in themselves are very sweet.

-Using the white buttercream build the layers of cake together and then mask the top and outside of the cake in a basic crumb coat. This just means to basic job of icing the cake and sealing it off with an undercoat. If you have a plastic bench scraper use the edge of it to drag along the sides of the cake (using a cake turntable) to create nice straight sides.

-Refrigerate the cake for 20-30 minutes to set the buttercream. Then remove it from the fridge to add the colored frosting.

-Place a strip of the darkest colored icing around the bottom third of the cake using a small offset spatula. place a strip of the ‘combination’ colored icing around the middle third, and the lightest around the top third, and of course the top of the cake as well.

-Using your offset spatula again, smooth out the three strips of icing just so that they are even thicknesses. Then begin dragging the spatula around the cake starting at the bottom and moving upwards until you’ve smooshed them all together and created this lovely looking specimen.

-Literally throw a handful of nonpareils sprinkles at the cake, and you’re done!

If you’re unsure of this method, punch ‘ombre buttercream how to’ into YouTube.

eh Voila!  Enjoy.



Posted by:Ashley

11 replies on “Ombre Vanilla Buttercream Cake, with Lemon Syrup

  1. Absolutely love this cake style. Amazing. Good job. Makes me want to make one. I saw one with sprinkles all over the entire cake, which I thought was overkill. This one works well with the Ombre. Plus who really wants to eat a cup of the nonpareils, right?

    1. I agree Dave! I saw the same thing and thought “wow, ouch for the teeth!”. Just a little for pizazz! Thanks for commenting. I’ll have to check out your site, I haven’t been over in a while! Have a great night!

    1. Thank you Thalia, it’s really nice to finally have a stand mixer at home so I can share fun things with you all 🙂 I don’t know about you but I’m sure as hell not making italian meringue buttercream by hand!

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