I’ve been ogling flag cakes for years. Those gorgeously layered, red, white, and blue baked beauties that the instructions swear are easy to make. (I see what you did there, Pinterest. Pulling me in with that “you can do it!” and “don’t you want to be the person who makes a flag cake!” and “CAKE CAKE CAKE!” swoonage.)
And so for years, I’ve been trying.
One recipe looked super easy because it was essentially it’s a sheet cake with a nice fruit topping. No big deal. I’m not inept. I can make this. Truth: The icing bits that make up the white stripes? Those MELT in the hot July sun. Messy, melty cake is not what I was going for.
Another recipe had me making several layers and cutting circles out of a blue layer to add in another red layer and white layer and create that perfect-cut red, white, and blue that you see all over the Internet and makes you slobber. It was great, except it wouldn’t stay upright. The blue part kept leaning off the cake and trying to crumble to the ground in a way the frosting wouldn’t prevent. And it was more of a neon blue than a star-spangled navy. So… no again.
Another one was just so disastrous we’re not going to even talk about it because blue food coloring can be really, really hard to get out of camouflage, BTW, and if you ever figure out how, please let me know. But my self-esteem and kitchen were devolving into one rather blue, messy, unsuccessful attempt to bake one rather innocuous flag cake. I was living this in real life, minus the existential crisis.
This was not going to fly. I’m a military spouse. Flag cake SHOULD be in my existence. If ANYBODY is going to be serving a flag cake on the Fourth of July, IT’S GOING TO BE ME.
(That, and I called Publix and they don’t sell one.)
So I decided I had to figure out how to hack it. A way for the rest of us normal people with things like screaming children and loads of laundry and no sous chef or head cleaner-upper to make flag cake. For someone who isn’t Martha, doesn’t even buy her magazine until it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m like oh yeah… that, and STILL DESERVES TO BE A FLAG CAKE EATING PATRIOT.
And guys, I did it.
So with no further ado:
The Flag Cake, For The Rest of Us. (Hint: The secret is more flour.)
2 batches of cake batter (boxed or homemade)
1 3/4 teaspoons extra flour
2 8 or 9″ cake pans, greased twice
4 cups heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar (at least 5 T, more for preference)
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
Red, blue, and black food coloring (Wilton’s gels are perfect for this)
Instructions for normal people:
One of the problems we kept finding with flag cake recipes was that because they are so multi-layered and tall (this one finished at just over 7″), and because you’re generally serving them outside in the July heat, they tend to start tilting like the Tower of Pisa. And then falling over. Letting your flag cake break under the heat of the midsummer sun is like letting the crown win.
You just can’t let that happen.
Accordingly, we found the best way to prevent this Pisa-esque toppling was to weight the layers with a little more flour at the bottom. You’re going to add the additional flour to each distinct layer in the pan right before you bake it – super easy.
Make your first batch of the cake batter and split it evenly between the two greased tins. This first batch will be the white layers – layer one and layer three. Layer one, on the bottom, needs to be the sturdiest, so once you have split the first batch of batter evenly between the cake tins, thoroughly mix in one teaspoon extra flour. Make sure there are no lumps – mix mix mix.
For the other tin – layer three – add in a quarter teaspoon of extra flour and thoroughly mix it in.
Bake the two cakes until done, cool, and remove the cakes from their tins.
Wash, dry, and regrease the tins and then split the second batch of batter evenly between them. These are layers two (red) and layer four (blue). For layer two, mix in the last half-teaspoon of extra flour. For the top, or blue layer, you won’t need to mix in extra flour, but both layers require food coloring. Fun!
Here’s the most important advice I have for this cake: Do not be shy with your food coloring! The red layer will need at least four drops of red food coloring. The blue layer will need one drop of black food coloring and at least three drops of blue. The black food coloring is to give it a navy tone – it’s what will keep the blue from turning bright aqua. As you’re mixing the color in, make sure the batter looks sufficiently bright. A pink and pale blue cake won’t have quite the same impact, so when in doubt, add more. (Just don’t add more black!)
Bake, let cool, and de-pan.
With the four layers all cooled, you’re going to trim the rounded top of the cakes off. Using a large serrated knife (a bread knife is great here), start at the edge of the cake and drive the knife straight across, skimming off the rounded top to make a flat cake layer. Reserve the discarded cake.
Depress the biscuit cutter into the blue layer of cake and remove the circle it cut leaving a blue cake “donut.” In the skimmed extra layer of red cake, repeat the process, and insert the red cake “donut hole” into the blue cake “donut.” Mmm, cake donuts.
Now it’s time for frosting.
To make the frosting, beat the chilled whipping cream on medium-high in a chilled (in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or the freezer for 5) metal bowl using a chilled whisk. The chill is important here – it’s how you’re going to stabilize the cream and keep it from melting straight down your cake. As the cream starts to thicken, gradually add in the lemon juice and powdered sugar until you reached the desired taste and consistency. The longer you beat the frosting, the thicker it will get.
Spread the frosting across your cake layers, building up from layer one until you have completed the cake with the “donut” layer on top. Carefully frost the outside of the cake, taking care to not tear the cake layers as you cover them in the stabilized whipped cream.
If you’re feeling extra awesome, crumble some of your discarded cake layers into a decorative ring along the top. Or cover with sprinkles, insert a sparkler, do whatever it is you do to make your cake awesome. (You could of course color the whipped cream, too, and decorate it and red, white, and blue! Or you could be like me, and just decide this is awesome enough and it’s time for cake already.)
Chill the cake until serving, present to your friends, slice it open to reveal your flag, and gush as they tell you how awesome you are. Look at that flag cake! You’re so awesome, they’re right. Take that, Martha! Any layman can make a flag cake. Even if it does take some extra flour to keep it from falling over.
Flag cake forever.