Surprise Watercolor Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

A moist three tier layer cake that is colorful inside and out, topped off with a three tone vanilla buttercream frosting and colorful sprinkles to match.

Disney Frozen inspired watercolor layer cake! Perfect for a Frozen party! recipe from @bakedbyrachel

I’m not much of a cake person. I sure to love to eat it, but I’ll be the first to admit they can be intimidating to make. Which is why most of the time I stick to cupcakes, or cookies… or cheesecakes! But, for some people making beautiful and inspiring cakes is easy, like Amanda of I Am Baker. Have you seen her site? If not, you definitely need to check it out. She makes knock your socks of amazingly beautiful cakes that I can’t always quite wrap my head around. My brain just doesn’t work like hers, from the inside out. But she sure has a knack for it.

Which is why she’s queen of surprise cakes. Not just any surprise cakes, but surprise INSIDE cakes. Beautiful creations hidden within.

Disney Frozen inspired watercolor layer cake! Perfect for a Frozen party! recipe from @bakedbyrachel

When I had the chance to flip through the pages of her new book, Surprise-Inside Cakes, I was blown away. Not only does she walk you through how to create every cake, with photos! But it’s inspiration to create your own fun cakes.

Like many of you, I’m sure Frozen may be on repeat in your house. Songs stuck in your head. You even know the motions to the songs and exactly when a character might do or say something specific. So the colors of Frozen were stuck in my head. I took the general idea from Amanada’s sunset cake, and created this. It sure was fun and delicious! Moist and full of color, inside and out! I even created a fun custom sprinkle mix for the occasion… sprinkles just make everything better. Plus… they sure are an easy way to hide any imperfections. ;)

Have a Frozen birthday party coming up? This would be a fantastic addition to your plans!

Disney Frozen inspired watercolor layer cake! Perfect for a Frozen party! recipe from @bakedbyrachel

Surprise Watercolor Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

A moist 3 tier layer cake that is colorful inside and out, topped off with 3 tone vanilla buttercream frosting and colorful sprinkles.
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time1 day
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cake
Servings: 6 plus


  • 1 box favorite vanilla cake mix

Crumb coat:

  • 1/4 C vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 C unsalted butter softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 C powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp water


  • 1/2 C vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 C unsalted butter softened
  • 4 C powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • Blue and purple gel food coloring
  • Sprinkles


  • Prepare 3: 6-inch round cake pans by greasing and dusting well with flour. Discard excess flour.
  • Prepare batter according to box directions. Divide batter into three equal portions, into clean bowls, roughly 1 2/3 cup per each. Tint one bowl light blue, another light purple and the other stays white. Transfer to prepare pans. Bake for 25 minutes or until centers are set. Cool in pan until cool enough to handle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Carefully slice off domed tops from cakes.
  • Prepare frosting for crumb coating. Mix all ingredients together until smooth. Place blue cake on a clean work surface covered with wax paper strips or a cake board, if desired. Add a thin coat of frosting to the blue cake, top off with purple cake. Repeat frosting layer and top off with white cake. Carefully coat entire top and sides of cake with a thin layer of frosting, sealing in any crumbs. Transfer to the refrigerator to harden for at least several hours or overnight.
  • Prepare larger frosting batch. Cream together shortening and butter, followed by 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time. Finally, add water and continue mixing until frosting is smooth. Divide into three equal portions, transferring to three clean bowls. Cover white frosting immediately with plastic wrap. Tint a second bowl light blue, to match the cake. Cover well with plastic wrap and repeat process with remaining frosting, tinting purple to match the second cake layer.
  • Remove cake from refrigerator. Starting from the bottom of the cake, using a small offset spatula, spread a small amount of blue frosting along the bottom tier. It doesn't have to be perfect. Clean spatula. Add purple to the center of the sides of the cake. Clean spatula again, add white to the top and top portion of the sides. Clean and warm spatula as needed to smooth sides and top.
  • Carefully transfer cake to desired serving plate or cake stand. Touch up edges as needed. Top off with sprinkles.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to several days.


Recipe serves 6-12, yields 1: 3 tier, 6-inch cake
An original recipe from Baked by Rachel. Inspired by Surprise-Inside Cakes by Amanda Rettke of I Am Baker

This post contains affiliate links.

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93 Responses to “Surprise Watercolor Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting”

  1. #
    Laura @ Lauras Baking Talent — March 30, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Love the use of the frozen colors. This cake looks amazing!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:43 am

      Thanks Laura!

  2. #
    marla — March 30, 2014 at 9:56 am

    This cake is stunning!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Marla!

    • #
      Mariam — November 2, 2016 at 3:05 pm

      This cake is so beautiful and stunning.

    • #
      Rachel — November 2, 2016 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks so much, Mariam!

  3. #
    Amy @Very Culinary — March 30, 2014 at 10:39 am

    Just beautiful <3

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Amy!

  4. #
    Meriem @ Culinary Couture — March 30, 2014 at 10:53 am

    This is a seriously stunning cake!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Meriem :)

  5. #
    Gina @ Running to the Kitchen — March 30, 2014 at 11:11 am

    The colors in this are just SO pretty. I’d never have the patience for making this but I sure do want a slice of yours!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      If you lived closer I’d have gladly given you a slice or two :)

  6. #
    Lindsey @ American Heritage Cooking — March 30, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    This cake is beautiful! I love the color combination that you used and the sprinkles are beautiful! Gotta love a colorful, happy add-on that hides any frosting sins!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Lindsey!

  7. #
    Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough — March 30, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    This cake is GORGEOUS. I think I’d have a hard time cutting into it because it’s so pretty! But then again, cake. Can’t pass it up. ;)

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am

      Thanks Stephanie! :) I was eager to slice and see if the inside turned out haha

  8. #
    Jennie @themessybakerblog — March 30, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Rachel. this cake is seriously stunning. Gorgeous! Cakes may intimidate you, but you sure did a great job. Love this. Pinned.

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Thanks so much Jennie :)

  9. #
    Ziela — March 30, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Wow! this cake looks so good and delish! will try this soon… :)

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Thanks Ziela!

  10. #
    Chloe @ foodlikecake — March 31, 2014 at 7:20 am

    Amazing! This is a serious beautiful cake :-)

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:45 am

      Thanks so much Chloe :)

  11. #
    steph@stephsbitebybite — March 31, 2014 at 9:00 am

    So gorgeous!!! I’m gonna tray and do an ombre cake for Logan’s b-day this weekend and this will be my guide!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Can’t wait to see it!! :)

  12. #
    Julie @ Table for Two — March 31, 2014 at 9:28 am

    This is a beyond gorgeous cake! I LOVE the colors – the purple and the blue are such a perfect pastel shade. I need to see Frozen!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Aww thanks :) And seriously, you need to put that at the top of your queue!

  13. #
    Erin @ The Spiffy Cookie — March 31, 2014 at 10:21 am

    This cake is gorgeous! I need to get on it and bake a cake from her cookbook soon. I have to admit most of the cakes intimidate me but I’m going tot ry cause she provides great step-by-step photos!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      The step by steps definitely make her designs so much less scary. :)

  14. #
    Claire Gallam — March 31, 2014 at 10:50 am

    This is a gorgeous cake!!!!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks Claire!

  15. #
    Angelyn @ Everyday Desserts — March 31, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Wow, it’s so stunning!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks Angelyn! :)

  16. #
    Danae @ reciperunner — March 31, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Such a beautiful cake, I love those colors! I’m like you I love to eat cake, but find it a little intimidating to make. I’m going to have to check out Amanda’s new book, hopefully she can build up my confidence to try making one!

    • #
      Rachel — March 31, 2014 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks Danae! You definitely need to check it out :)

  17. #
    Chichi — April 3, 2014 at 5:36 am

    Absolutely stunning Rachel. Pinned to my ombre pinterest board

    • #
      Rachel — April 3, 2014 at 7:33 am

      Thank you :)

  18. #
    Jocelyn @BruCrew Life — April 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    What an absolutely amazing cake! I love the colors you used for it!!!

  19. #
    dina — April 28, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    what a lovely cake!

    • #
      Rachel — April 29, 2014 at 9:31 am

      Thanks Dina!

  20. #
    Ashley — May 12, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Can you make this into cupcakes??

    • #
      Rachel — May 13, 2014 at 7:16 am

      Unless you were to slice and stack individually. A clean look with cupcakes can not be achieved with varying shades of batter.

  21. #
    Melanie @ Carmel Moments — May 20, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    This is stunning! I’m trying to think up an occasion so I have an excuse to make it. Love it!
    Have a beautiful day Rachel!

  22. #
    Stephanie — June 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Can I make this cake in 8 or 9 in round pans? If, so what do you think I should change?

    • #
      Rachel — June 7, 2014 at 9:14 am

      You can absolutely make this with an 8 or 9″ pan. Keep in mind they will be thinner layers, but it would still turn out the same in the end. I’d increase the frosting, just to be sure you have enough for a larger cake.

  23. #
    Lori — July 10, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    Wow! Going to give this a shot for my daughter’s 6th (Frozen) bday party this weekend. Will be the perfect finishing touch.

    • #
      Rachel — July 10, 2014 at 7:05 pm

      Good luck! :)

  24. #
    Melanie — July 27, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    About how many servings does this 6-inch cake make? I’m wanting to do a 8-inch cake, I think. I’m needing to feed about 20 people. I’ll need to increase the cake mix, I’m sure. Beautiful cake…can’t wait to try it this week.

    • #
      Rachel — July 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

      It really depends on the size of the slices, so there isn’t an exact number. If you were to increase to an 8″, you would definitely need to increase your cake mix. Good luck! :)

  25. #
    Heather — August 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    This cake looks amazing! I’m going to try it for my daughter’s 3rd birthday! (Frozen theme of course!!) I just wanted to be sure. You only put vanilla in the crumb coat, not the atual frosting itself? Thanks for this post! Pinned!!

    • #
      Rachel — August 3, 2014 at 7:11 pm

      You can add vanilla to the exterior frosting if you’d like but I wanted to make sure the white stayed true white and I happened to be out of clear imitation vanilla at the time. Good luck! :)

  26. #
    Lizzie — August 5, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Would it be possible to tell me what exact colours you used please ? A friend has asked me to recreate this kind of coloured sponge for her daughter. I’m only a hobby baker so haven’t got the experience with the colours! Many thanks.

    • #
      Rachel — August 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I used gel colors in violet and sky blue. Good luck!

  27. #
    Michel — August 23, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Lovely cake, I would like to make it for my daughters birthday this coming Tuesday. Do you think it’s possible to make it in a 9×13 size pan?. I’m not a baker but I was thinking of doubling up in the cake mix. Would that work?

    • #
      Rachel — August 24, 2014 at 8:30 am

      I haven’t personally adapted it to a larger pan. You would still want to bake each layer separately and then stack, as done in the directions. As for amounts, you would at the very least want to double the recipe, possibly more depending on the thickness you’re hoping for. Also, be sure to watch and adjust the bake time as needed for that size cake. Enjoy!

  28. #
    cassie emery-Tyler — August 26, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Hi im making a two tier cake 6″ and 9″ frozen cake, but have been asked to make this three coloured sponge. I wanted to know what 1 box of vanilla cake mix is. I make mine from scratch so wasn’t sure if this is a brand? If so can you give me ingredients and measurements for a 9″three tier cake please? Many thanks cassie

    • #
      Rachel — August 26, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Simply make your favorite white batter and divide it into thirds.

  29. #
    Janet — October 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I would like to know if I can use whipped cream frosting for this cake? Thanks for your time and hope to hear back from you soon :-)

    • #
      Rachel — October 30, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      If it’s a frosting you’re comfortable working with, then by all means give it a try! Good luck :)

  30. #
    Chrisitna — November 3, 2014 at 8:32 am

    This is so wonderful! Going to try this weekend! Did you use a vanilla cake mix or a white cake mix?

    • #
      Rachel — November 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

      I believe it was ‘white’ cake mix, using only egg whites.

  31. #
    Cheryl Kilpatrick — January 10, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    will this work with 8 inch cake pans and how much batter should be put in each cake pan?

    • #
      Rachel — January 11, 2015 at 9:29 am

      You would need to double the recipe for 8″ pans and then divide the batter in thirds.

  32. #
    Elsie — January 16, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Excuse me for my english , I’m French girl. I love your cake , it is “waouh” . I would do it for my daughter’s birthday . I understood the directions. My problem is the amount of ingredients. What is C: a cup ? ( what capacity ? Here it is in ml for liquid), and the abbreviation tsp ? and tbsp ? And what is vegetable shortening ?
    Last question (sorry…), the crumble coat is it a what we name “génoise”.
    Thanks you for helping me.

    • #
      Rachel — January 17, 2015 at 8:26 am

      C = cup, tsp = teaspoon, Tbsp = tablespoon. There are free online conversion calculators you can use to figure out what the amounts would be that you’re familiar with. Shortening is a fat used for making pastries, frosting etc. You can substitute butter in it’s place, if it isn’t available to you. The crumb coating is simply a thin layer of icing over the cake to hold in any cake crumbs.

  33. #
    Elsie — January 17, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks you.

  34. #
    Kathy — February 25, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Beautiful cake. Thanks for the tutorial. I know you used the Wilton gel colorings. About how much did you add to each layer please? I am afraid to add too much and have the cake taste like food coloring. Thank you.

    • #
      Rachel — February 25, 2015 at 3:12 pm

      A tiny amount of gel color goes a long way. I like to use toothpicks to catch a bit of the gel color, mix in and add additional as desired for a darker or brighter shade. I think you’ll find with the gel colors, you’re far less likely to taste it as you would with a large quantity of liquid food coloring. It’s super concentrated so you only need a small amount to achieve a desired look. Good luck!

  35. #
    hayley — April 30, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Hi there, would you be able to point me in the right direction for the type of candy sprinkles you used? Would love to make this cake :)

    • #
      Rachel — April 30, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      This wasn’t a prepackaged mix. I created it combining colors from various solid or mixed color packages.

  36. #
    Sue Dobs — June 20, 2015 at 9:02 am

    When you say shortening , are you referring to something like Crisco solid shortening?

    • #
      Rachel — June 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Yes, Crisco is shortening.

  37. #
    Sue Dobs — June 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Well I have never heard of eating solid shortening in the raw format. It’s just a little different for me.

    • #
      Rachel — June 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      Shortening is very common for certain frosting recipes as it makes the frosting more stable in warmer temperatures. It also offers a bright white frosting vs the full butter version, which makes it better for coloring. It is occasionally used in cookie recipes as well.

  38. #
    Autumn — July 7, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    What a gorgeous cake!! Nicely done. I’m so excited to dive in for the challenge. My question is with what size cake pans you used, how many servings would you say this could feed? I’m looking to serve around 15-20 so if this would be enough I wouldn’t have to double the recipe by using 8 inch pans. Just trying to get an idea.

    Thank you in advance!

    • #
      Rachel — July 8, 2015 at 7:55 am

      I would suggest increasing your cakes to 8 or 9-inch pans to have enough for your party size.

  39. #
    Autumn — July 10, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    This may be the dumbest question ever, but I have to ask! When choosing your ‘yellow’ cake mix, should I pick a white cake mix instead of a golden yellow box? Just worried that the gold tone in the yellow won’t work well with the gel food coloring. Thank you so much!!

    • #
      Rachel — July 12, 2015 at 6:11 pm

      You’ll definitely want to choose a white cake mix, not golden yellow, as you not only need a white layer for this cake design, but white will also tint better. Good luck! :)

  40. #
    Autumn — July 22, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    I am going for this same look but with (3) 9 inch cake pans. (Each 2 inches deep). I have seen some tips online for making layer cakes and many suggest having a cake leveler on hand. Do you feel this would be necessary for this type of cake? I don’t remember any mention of having to shave off layers in order to stack them so I just wanted to be sure. Thanks a million!

    • #
      Rachel — July 23, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      If your cakes turn out slightly domed, you should definitely trim away any necessary cake to make them flat and stackable. A serrated knife would be sufficient if you don’t already have a cake leveler.

  41. #
    Beverly — October 19, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    Hello, do you bake all three cakes at the same time for 25 min? Or do you bake them separate for 25 min each? Sorry newbie cake maker here ;-)

    • #
      Rachel — October 20, 2015 at 7:20 am

      Each cake should bake for a total of 25 minutes. You can bake three at once, if you have 3 cake tins, or one at a time.

  42. #
    Ruth — May 19, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Looking at this post from Pinterest and am making the cake for my daughter’s birthday. What are the measurements for the crumb frosting vs the frosting to cover the cake? Can I make the whole batch at once and then just let it come to room temp before The second round if frosting? Thanks!

    • #
      Rachel — May 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

      There aren’t specific measurements for them separately. Do a thin crumb coat layer and the remaining frosting is for coating the cake later. It would be best to leave the frosting out at room temperature, covered well. Good luck! :)

  43. #
    Parker — June 3, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Made this for my little sisters birthday party (she’s four) and I’m making the icing and the cake turned out great, gel food coloring works best for the color 👍

    • #
      Rachel — June 5, 2017 at 7:10 am

      I’m glad it turned out well for you and happy birthday to your little sister! :)

  44. #
    Susie — May 1, 2020 at 6:41 pm

    Can I ask how you get your plain cake and white icing to be so white? Mine always are slightly yellow from the butter

    • #
      Rachel — May 2, 2020 at 8:45 am

      I’ve never had an issue with yellow frosting or cake. It could be what butter you’re using, if it happens to have more of a dark color to it.

  45. #
    Susie — October 17, 2020 at 3:34 am

    I would love to make this but I wonder if you have any tips as to how you got your cake mix so white. No matter what vanilla cake mix I use it comes out more yellow on account of the butter and egg yolks

    • #
      Rachel — October 23, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Your best bet is to use only the whites of an egg. I’ve never had butter change the color of my cake but the yolks absolutely will. Be sure to use white cake mix, as it should state to only use the whites. :)

  46. #
    Diane — May 6, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    This cake is beautiful and stunning! I would love to make it, but I would say most people have 9 in. round cake pans (I have 3). Do you possible have instructions on how to make a 9 inch 3 layer cake? Thank you so much. I’m in awe of this gorgeous cake.

    • #
      Rachel — May 9, 2022 at 5:30 am

      Since this uses box cake mix as the base, you can follow the instructions on the back to make 9-inch layers. If that doesn’t work for you, 6-inch pans can be purchased rather inexpensively at most craft stores, Walmart, Amazon etc. Good luck! :)

  47. #
    Sue — February 17, 2023 at 3:26 pm

    The looks so amazing. I just wonder why you would use shortening in the “buttercream icing”.

    • #
      Rachel — February 20, 2023 at 8:14 am

      There are a variety of buttercream styles, some include shortening and some do not. The amounts will also vary from one recipe to another. Buttercream with shortening included as an ingredient or as the only fat in the recipe is ideal for warmer temperatures as it won’t melt or soften as quickly as one that only uses butter.

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