Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cleo Coyle's Easy July 4th Fireworks Cake + 3 Tips on Icing Cakes

My Fireworks Cake has a wonderful "WOW" factor to it (especially after you cut it), yet it's incredibly easy to create, practically a klutz-proof design, making it a great project for families with young children. The design has a two-part inspiration, which I'll tell you about below.

To make the cake itself, you can certainly use your favorite white cake and frosting recipes, but (honestly) I saved time the way so many busy peeps do. I used a boxed white cake mix and 2 cans of white frosting.

I didn't use a pastry bag, either, just grocery store cake decorating supplies like the ones you see in my photo (right). So let's get started...


To download a free PDF of my recipe that you can print, save, or share, click here.

To make the cake
you will need:

2 eight-inch round cake pans
Parchment paper
Non-stick cooking spray

1 box White Cake Mix (I saw nice results with Pillsbury's Moist Supreme Classic White cake mix, which has pudding in the mix)
1-1/4 cups water (or according to your mix's directions)
1/3 cup oil (or according to your mix's directions)
3 to 4 egg whites (or according to mix directions -- just do not use whole eggs, the yellow in the yolk will muddy up the food coloring)
2 teaspoons liquid food coloring (red and blue)
or 1/2 teaspoon food coloring paste (also called "icing color")
2 (16 ounce) cans of White Frosting (or about 3 cups of homemade white frosting, be sure to use clear vanilla extract for a pure white frosting look)


Step 1 - Prep oven and pans: Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. (or according to your own recipe or cake mix directions). Line two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and lightly spray the paper with non-stick cooking spray. (If your baking pans are non-stick, just spray the paper. If your pans are not non-stick, lightly spray the sides of the pans, as well.)

Step 2 - Color your Batter: Make your cake batter according to package directions or your own recipe, with these notes.

(a) Use egg whites only and not whole eggs. Yellow egg yolks will muddy up your cake color. And...

(b) Cake mix directions will tell you to beat the batter for 2 minutes. (You are whipping air into the batter and this is an important step, but you don't want to over-beat, either, so...) Instead, beat the batter for only 1 minute. Then stop the mixer. You should have about 3-1/2 to 4 cups of batter. Divide the batter evenly into two bowls. Add red food coloring (or paste) to one bowl and blue to the other. NOW beat the batter for your 2nd minute. The color should blend in nicely.

Step 3 - Bake your cake: Simply bake according to package directions or your favorite recipe.

Step 4 - Cool and prep for frosting:
Allow the cake to cool completely then run a knife along the outside edge of the pan, place a flat plate over the pan, and flip. The cake should come right out. If the parchment paper is still stuck to the cake, carefully peel it off. P
lace the blue layer top side down, flat side up onto your cake plate, cardboard, or serving platter. (A few dabs of icing on the plate first is a good trick to help it stick.)

Generously slather white icing onto the blue layer. This will (of course) give you the "white" layer between your red and blue cake layers.
Stack the red layer on top. Here's how: Using a sharp knife, carefully level off the top of the red layer. Then flip it and place it on the iced blue layer. You want the flat bottom of the red layer to serve as the very top of your cake. This will give you a perfectly flat surface to create your fireworks design.  

ICE, ICE, BABY! 3 Tips on Icing Cakes

Time to ice the cake. As promised, I have 3 tips to share with you on icing cakes. If you're an old pro at this, these pointers are nothing new. But if you don't make many cakes, these will help you a great deal. I promise...

These 2 cake layers have
been crumb coated.
Tip #1: Never Frost a Warm Cake: Be sure that your cake is completely cool before frosting. If you apply icing to a warm cake, the icing will begin to break down, and you'll get a gloppy mess.
Tip #2: Crumb Coat and Chill: You should always frost a cake in two stages. The first stage is called the crumb coating. This is a very thin layer of frosting. It's so thin that you should be able to see the cake through the layer. This will create a smooth base for the final coating of frosting. NOTE: You must chill the cake to set this coating properly (1 or 2 hours in the refrigerator). To speed up the process, I place mine in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. The remove the cake and do the final frosting. You'll be amazed at how easy it is to get smooth, pro results.

Offset (aka Angled)
Tip #3: Use an Offset Spatula (also called an Angled Spatula): If you've been applying frosting with the back of a big spoon or a butter knife, consider the offset spatula (see my picture right). This single tool ($5 - $10) will make it possible for you to smooth the sides and tops of your cakes like a pro.

You can find these at Michael's stores (in their cake decorating section) or most stores that sell kitchen tools. Click here for an online buy link.


Cleo Coyle, who's always
ready for fireworks, is
author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries
The initial inspiration for this "fireworks" cake design came out of my research for my Coffeehouse mystery novels. Baristas use this method to create latte art. To see a video example click here and watch for this design near the middle of the 3 minute YouTube film.

Of course, pastry chefs also use this method, calling it a spiderweb pattern...

egin with a simple dot
in the center of the cake.

I'm not using anything fancy or pro, just the "drawing tip" of a Betty Crocker "Cake Icing" can.

Draw concentric circles around the dot with alternating colors of red and blue. The last circle should be just off the top of the cake, around the side. This allows you to extend the design down the side of the cake.

As you can see, my circles are far from perfect, but the results will still be colorful and fun. You've got to love a kid- and klutz-proof cake design!

Next you'll need a wooden skewer, a toothpick, or the edge of a knife. (When using the knife, do not cut into the cake. Simply drag it lightly through the icing.) Drag the tool from the center dot to the outside of the cake. Clean the tool between each drag. Do this four times, making a simple cross...

Be sure to drag the tool all the way over the top edge of the cake to include the circle you made on the side...

Repeat this process 4 more times, bisecting each quarter of the cross you made. (You will now see 8 "slices" of cake in the design.)

Now REVERSE the dragging direction.
Instead of dragging the tool from the center to outside
of the cake, start at the outside and drag your tool to the
center of the cake. Be sure to clean your tool between each drag.

Using the reverse drag, you are now bisecting
each of the original 8 cake "slices" that you made above.

Now clean up the edge of the cake plate,
wiping off excess frosting. Use the "star tip" to
pretty up the base of the cake, and...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes,
sign up to win free coffee, or
learn about my books,
drop by my *virtual*
coffeehouse at...


To find out more about
Cleo's bestselling culinary mysteries,
click here or on the covers above.

* * * * * * * * * *

Read with joy!

Murder by Mocha

Releasing August 2nd

Includes chocolate recipes!

"...a tasty espresso-dark tale of
multigenerational crime and
punishment lightened by the Blend's
frothy cast of lovable eccentrics."
~ Publishers Weekly

To pre-order from Amazon, click here 

To pre-order from Barnes and Noble click here for the book; for the Nook click here.

Roast Mortem

Includes firehouse recipes!

A Reviewer’s Pick 
Favorite Book of the Year ~ 2010
Coming to paperback
August 2nd

To pre-order from Amazon click here.

To pre-order from Barnes and Noble, click here.


  1. Thank you so much, Cleo, for this super recipe and the instructions! It's a keeper for sure.

  2. Think I'm going to have to do this for the crew at work this week! Thanks!

  3. great post... i love when bloggers post holiday dishes before the holiday so I can steal.... um I mean honor their efforts with s tribute attempt

  4. Wow is right! You've certainly captured the right, white and blue, Cleo!

    I love making those spiderwebs. So easy, yet so much impact.

    ~ Krista

  5. I did the spiderweb trick for a b-day cake many years back ... I frosted the cake in purple and used a yellow spiral. It looked like the cake was tie-dyed. Loved it.

    But this is ... wow. I would never have thought to color the cake mix itself. that's pretty spectacular.

    My hat's off to you, Cleo, for super-psychedelic cake decoration!

  6. It's absolutely gorgeous, Cleo! And you've made me feel that even I can make a spiderweb! I'll give it a go. Thanks!

  7. Wow, Cleo! What a fun cake and what fun to learn the secret of how-to. Love it! Happy fourth of July, happy independence day, Aren't we all lucky?



  8. Replies to (going backward)...

    Avery - We are indeed lucky. Not that I'm disregarding our struggling economy, the high unemployment, and the many tough times we our country is facing, but freedom is something I'll never take for granted. Thinking about that is a superb thought on this July Fourth.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    More replies to come...

  9. Reply to (going backward)...

    Elizabeth - I've wanted to do a cake post like this for months now; and when I saw the Martha Stewart LIVING magazine at the checkout (with the design on her cookies), I knew it was time! It was very easy, a lot of fun, and I think it would be a great project for families and kids, too.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    More replies to come...

  10. Reply to (going backward)...

    Wendy - Frosting in purple with a yellow spidey web! Too wild! I think dying the icing is a great idea and coordinating the web color would be fun to do with high school or college team colors, as well. (I'm sure someone out there has already thought of it. :)) TY for stopping by with such kind words. See you in our "Kitchen" on Saturday. I can't wait to see what you're cooking up for us.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  11. Replies to (going backward)...

    @Krista - Great point. Very easy, which should make it a nice project for kids (especially the ones who *just* finished their school year here in New York City. :))

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  12. Replies to (going backward)...

    @Liz V - Thank you!

    @Dave "A Year on the Grill" - You have inspired me so often, Dave, that I'm thrilled to do anything that inspires you! This whole thing began when I started thinking about my late Mom's yearly Flag Cake. So many back yards, so many July Fourth cakes. In