Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How to Bake a Fireworks Cake for July 4 + Tips on Frosting Any Cake by Cleo Coyle

Let them eat Flag Cake! That was Mom's motto every July Fourth, and this is my version of her annual Flag Cake. I first posted this recipe last summer, and a few readers requested that I send the recipe via e-mail. Instead, I'm re-posting the recipe--just in time for next week's celebration of Independence Day (here in the USA). Click here for the PDF or scroll down for the recipe.

The cake has a wonderful "wow" factor to it (especially after you cut it--see photo below), yet it's incredibly easy to create, practically a klutz-proof design, making it a great project for families with young children. The step-by-step process is photographically illustrated for you 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 families 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

If you're an old pro at this, you already know these standard pointers. I mentioned them last summer, too. For those of you who didn't see them, these tips will help you get great results.

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 is author
of The Coffeehouse Mysteries
The 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 final result will still look great. 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 

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

To get more of my recipes, enter to win
free coffee, or learn about my books, including
my bestselling 
Haunted Bookshop series, visit my online coffeehouse: CoffeehouseMystery.com

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are national bestselling
culinary mysteries set in a landmark Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the ten titles includes the 
added bonus of recipes. 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name Alice Kimberly
To learn more, click here.


  1. I always love your tips, Cleo!

    1. Very sweet of you, Christi. I'm glad to hear it. I hope you enjoy the upcoming July 4th holiday, and come on back to the Kitchen again, y'hear?! (Can you tell I grew up on the Beverly Hillbillies. :))

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. Very timely. I bet this cake ends up on a lot of tables this 4th!

    ~ Krista

    1. Aw, thanks, Krista. It's a fun project for families. (And it tastes good, too. :))

      ~ Cleo

  3. Replies
    1. Dru -

      I think it's great, too. (Krista did it! She's amazing! And I hear she has chocolate chip cookie dough in her freezer. Let's head over and get her to bake some. :))

      ~ Cleo
      Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. Party at Krista's - but bring that fun-looking celebration cake, Cleo! Love the pictures of everyone up there; it's nice to see your faces as I read your recipes.