Checkerboard cake is a fun, easy recipe that only requires a few simple ingredients. The cake displays a checkerboard pattern of chocolate and vanilla cake layers inside— a fun surprise for birthday party guests.
The ingredients in this recipe are common to most grocery stores, and finding a checkerboard cake pan in large kitchenware stores or online is easy.
Checkerboard cake pans have a special ring divider that keeps the different cake batter flavors — chocolate cake and vanilla cake — separate.
If a checkerboard cake pan isn’t available, use regular cake pans and cut the layers, once the cake is baked, using simple cookie cutters to create alternating cake rings.
How to Make a Checkerboard Cake (Step-by-Step)
Making checkerboard cake looks complicated, but the process is actually very simple. Before beginning, gather all the ingredients and make sure you have enough space to cool and assemble the layers of cake.
Checkerboard Cake Recipe
Checkerboard cake is a fun, easy recipe that only requires a few simple ingredients. The cake displays a checkerboard pattern of chocolate and vanilla cake layers inside—a fun surprise for birthday party guests.
Difficulty level: Easy
- 4 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
- 3 sticks unsalted butter or margarine
- 2 ½ cups white granulated sugar
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 oz dark chocolate
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 batch vanilla buttercream, chocolate buttercream, or various colored buttercream frosting
Before making the cake, measure the ingredients into separate bowls and set out the supplies. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease the cake pans with butter or vegetable oil pan spray.
Making the Vanilla Cake Batter
In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and set the flour mixture aside.
In an electric mixer bowl, mix the butter for about one minute or until the consistency is smooth. Add the sugar and cream and mix for at least five minutes on high speed until light and fluffy.
Add eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, one at a time, and beat on a low speed, adding the rest of the eggs until combined. Add the vanilla extract and beat thoroughly.
In small alternating batches, add the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture. Mix the ingredients on a low speed until they are incorporated before adding the next batch.
To avoid overmixing the batter, stop mixing as soon as each new ingredient is combined. The batter should be smooth and thick.
To make the two flavors, separate the batter into two equal parts by moving half of the mixture to another bowl.
Making the Chocolate Cake Batter
Melt the chocolate carefully on the stove, or in the microwave, to avoid burning.
Take the second bowl of batter and fold the chocolate in using a rubber spatula or a spoon. Wait until the chocolate has cooled to avoid creating lumps in the batter.
Baking the Cake
Divide the chocolate cake batter into two cake pans and divide the vanilla cake batter into the other two.
If using a checkerboard cake pan, place the batter division ring into the pan. Fill the largest section of two of the checkerboard pans with vanilla batter, two pans with chocolate in the largest section, and alternate between chocolate and vanilla in the subsequent sections. Before baking, carefully remove the division insert.
If not using a checkerboard pan, fill two 9-inch round cake pans with the chocolate cake batter, and two pans with the vanilla cake batter.
Bake in a preheated oven for 25–30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once the cakes are ready, take them out of the oven and cool them in the pans for 10–15 minutes. Then take the cakes out of the pans and leave them to cool completely on a wire rack before assembling.
Assembling the Cake
Use a long kitchen knife to cut off the top of the cakes so they’ll stack without wobbling.
If you’re not using a checkerboard pan, use a round 6-inch cookie cutter to cut out a ring from the middle of each of the four cakes. Take out the 6-inch circles, leaving 9-inch rings behind. Use the 3-inch cutter to cut smaller circles out of each 6-inch circle.
Place one 9-inch chocolate ring on a serving plate, then place a 6-inch vanilla ring inside it, followed by a 3-inch chocolate circle in the middle. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top of this first layer.
For the second layer, add a 9-inch vanilla circle, 6-inch chocolate circle, and 3-inch vanilla circle. Continue alternating colors as you assemble the cake completely. The finished cake will have four layers, alternating between chocolate and vanilla rings on the outside.
If the cakes were baked using the special checkerboard cake pan, stack alternating layers with icing between them.
To hide the checkerboard effect, cover the cake in the remaining frosting and decorate using sprinkles, candy, or piping.
Checkerboard Cake Tips
Use the following tips to achieve the perfect checkerboard cake:
Make the Cake in Batches
Make the cake batter in two batches, separated by flavor, so mixing the batter is easier. Bake the first batch while you’re making the second to reduce the number of cake pans in the oven at one time.
Measure for a Symmetrical Pattern
When using cookie cutters to cut each cake layer into rings, measure first. Measure 1.5 inches from the edge of the cake to mark where to cut the 6-inch circle, and measure 1.5 inches from the edge of the 6-inch circle to mark the cut for the 3-inch circle.
Refrigerate the Cake Before Assembly
The layers of this large cake may take a long time to cool. To cool the layers faster, refrigerate the cake layers in their pans for at least two hours after they’ve counter-cooled for 10–15 minutes.
Refrigerating the assembled cake before serving also helps to make a cleaner cut where the checkerboard pattern is clearly visible.
Handle the Cake Layers Gently
Cake layers can crumble easily and might break during assembly if not handled gently. However, if a ring or piece breaks, the cake can usually be glued back together with frosting.
Rainbow Checkerboard Cake
Though a classic checkerboard cake has chocolate and vanilla layers, to mimic the real game-board pattern, checkerboard cakes can have different bright colors or even a rainbow pattern instead.
A rainbow checkerboard cake is a great alternative for a kid’s party or for a friend who enjoys colorful things.
To make a rainbow checkerboard cake, follow the step-by-step instructions from above but don’t add chocolate. Mix the batter following the same steps and, once the batter is ready, separate it equally into six small bowls and add food coloring to each.
Any brand of food coloring will work for this recipe. Food coloring can be found in sets online or in any grocery store.
Add 16 drops of red coloring to the first bowl, 16 drops of red and 8 drops of yellow to the second bowl, 16 drops of yellow to the third bowl, 16 drops of green to the fourth bowl, 16 drops of blue to the fifth bowl, and 16 drops of blue and 8 drops of red to the sixth bowl.
The colors of the batter should turn red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Add more drops for greater color intensity. Mix the batter well until the color is even.
In the original recipe, the batter was divided into four parts. But for this cake, take six 8-inch baking pans and bake the cake for less time — around 15 minutes — taking the cakes out when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cut out three circles from each layer using 5-inch and 2-inch cookie cutters. Assemble the rainbow checkerboard cake by arranging three rings of different colors together in each layer.
Spread frosting evenly on top of each layer. This cake has six layers, so repeat this procedure six times to stack the layers on top of each other. Decorate the cake with the remaining frosting and decorations like glitter, more coloring, pre-made sugar flowers, or piping.
Birthday Cakes is an original series, produced and photographed by Athena Plichta under the creative direction of Victoria Hudgins for A Subtle Revelry.