Checkerboard Cake

Have you ever seen a photo of a checkerboard cakes and thought “Gee, I’d like to make one, but I don’t have the pan.”?

Checkerboard Cake Slice

Well, this weekend I learned you don’t really need the pan. You can make a checkerboard cake with a couple of decorating bags and a little patience.

Cut Checkerboard Cake

The trick is the way you put the batter in the pan. You make rings.

checkerboard cake batter

This was my first shot at Checkerboard Cake and I was frustrated because even though I tried to be neat, my rings still came out sloppy. The surprise was when I baked the cakes, the end result was a perfectly adequate checkerboard cake! The family was impressed and I was proud to have saved money on the fancy pan. Perhaps my ring piping skills need work, but this was progress.

As for the taste and texture, this cake was similar to a basic 1-2-3-4 cake. It’s crumblier than cakes made with the reverse creaming method, but still delicious.

Checkerboard Cake

2 1/4 cups cake flour (9 oz)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
2 oz melted semi-sweet chocolate
1 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 sticks (8 oz) butter, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 oz melted semi-sweet chocolate
2 oz melted unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray 3 8 inch cake pans with cooking spray and line with rounds of wax paper or parchment.

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer using paddle attachment. Beat in the vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. By hand or using lowest speed of mixer, beat in the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide batter in half. If you have a scale, set a second bowl on it, set tare to zero and weigh out about 17 oz which is about half the batter. Stir the melted chocolate into half the batter.

Divide batter evenly between 2 decorating bags (or two freezer bags) filling about halfway full (you can add more batter to the bags later). Snip the ends off to make an opening of about half an inch. Starting with the vanilla batter, make a circle around edge of one cake pan. Pipe a circle of chocolate inside the vanilla circle. Make the middle circle with chocolate. Repeat in a second pan starting with a ring of chocolate around the edge. Repeat in third pan starting (again) with the vanilla

Bake pans on center and lower racks, staggered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pan set on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and peel off parchment. Cool completely. Make frosting and stack cakes to form a checkerboard.

Frosting: Beat together butter and some of the powdered sugar. Add chocolate(s) and continue mixing. Add vanilla and cocoa powder. With mixer on low, continue adding remaining sugar. Add milk. Increase speed to high and beat until frosting is smooth and creamy.

Note: Cake recipe was adapted from The Good Housekeeping Baking Book and the frosting is from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook.

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  1. says

    Nicely done! I was reading through and thought of something, if you wanted to be more uniform and still go without the pan. What about using a couple of empty cans, different sizes, to pour batter into for your smaller rings?

  2. Darlene says

    Brilliant! I don’t like buying and storing baking accessories that can only be used for one purpose, and now we can make this with what we already have. Can’t wait to give this recipe a try. Thanks for showing us this neat trick.

  3. says

    It looks delicious! I’d gladly take a slice of that! I’m sure my rings wouldn’t turn out nearly as successful as these did – congrats!

  4. says

    I tried to take a video of myself making the rings with pastry bags, but my hands look like the crypt keeper’s so I didn’t post it. I ended up doing some of the rings with the pastry bag and some of the outer rings I just did with a spoon.

  5. T. Martin says

    And coming from someone who actually owns the specialized pans the whole thing is kind of a pain, based on my one experience. Likely at the time I wasn’t patient and careful enough and my frosting skills and general baking knowledge were less developed thus I never got as far as you did but this post has inspired me to maybe try it again.

  6. says

    Taneka, I was wondering how those pans worked. Based on your experience, doing it by hand is the way to go. Despite the fact I had to use two pastry bags, the recipe was really pretty easy.

  7. Louise says

    Years ago at cake decorating class, I learned to make pastry bags from parchment paper and I’ve been doing that ever since. They work just as well, and then you get to throw the mess away without having to wash anything. 🙂

  8. Helena says

    I love cakes that look really difficult but then aren’t. I’ve made checkerboard cake before, but my method was actually a bit easier. I just made 2 pans of chocolate cake and 1 pan of vanilla cake and then cut out three rings out of each (same sizes). Switch the middle layer, assemble, frost, done. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say, because it was real easy and you don’t have to deal with any of that piping mess. And I’ve never even seen special checkerboard cake pans.

  9. Ginny says

    You could maybe use a peach can & a tomato paste can with the bottoms cut out for each layer; just pull them out to make each of the next layers. Makes me wanna make one! ;o)

  10. Pam Shank says

    Well this is so cool Anna. You make this look like a really cool way to do it and I will try this for sure. Would be cute mixing colors for different holidays. Thanks

  11. says

    When I was a kid, my mom used to make checkerboard cakes using foil rings to separate the batter while she was spooning it in. I haven’t thought about that in years!

  12. Amanda says

    Anna, I have one of those pans and find that a “from scratch” recipe tends to work better than cake mix. I’ve made both and did a comparison on my blog. Megan’s Cookin’ also has a tutorial for not using a pan, however she just bakes two separate colors, then cuts the pieces and puts them together like a puzzle 🙂

    Here’s the one from scratch

    Here’s the one using a cake mix

    And here’s Megan’s puzzle version 🙂

  13. Chi says

    I’m with Helena, that is how I’ve made it before- baked three whole cakes and cut them into rings later. It means that the layers are much more even, as you can cut them the right size once everything is cooked.

  14. says

    This is such an adorable cake. A few years ago a friend of mine made one of these for her son’s birthday to rave reviews. Next time I feel creative, I’m making this recipe.

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