Chinese Bakery Rainbow Cake

Many people found it amusing when I said I was going to make my own birthday cake this year. It’s rather unusual isn’t it? My hubby gave me a slight wince when I told him, and asked if I was being serious. But if you know what you want and you know how to make it happen, I figure, why not right? With a cheerful and colorful vision of a Chinese style bakery cake in mind, I got to work creating the fluffy, fruity, and distinctively childlike cake of my dreams.

So what exactly is a Chinese-style cake? For those of you who might not know, Chinese style bakery cakes are sponge cake based and typically have a light, airy texture. The cakes are adorned with fresh or canned fruits and finished wish a simple whipped cream frosting. The cake gets it’s almost bouncy texture from a frothy and light meringue-based batter.

As I tend to like twists on the usual, I decided to create my birthday cake based on a cake called Happy Rainbow from a bakery in Hong Kong called Maxim’s Cake Shop. The cake is made from the traditional and favorite Chinese combination of sponge cake, fruit, and whipped cream, but with the aesthetic appeal bumped up a few notches (and minus the marshmallows).

The key to a pretty rainbow chiffon cake is 1.) to create a stiff meringue, and 2.) to be gingerly in handling the batter, and 3.) to measure the batter out accurately. As long as you have a stand mixer, there’s nothing to making a stiff meringue. Other than observing a peak on a properly stiffened meringue, you should also be able to turn the entire bowl of whipped meringue over you head without it falling down…if you are feeling adventurous, try it!

Since a small dab of gel food coloring is added to each 1/5 portion of this cake’s batter, it’s very important that the cake maker be gentle in folding in the gel coloring, as more remaining air bubbles in the batter equals a fluffier cake. Measuring out the cake batter into 5 exactly equal amounts not only helps the cake layers look more beautiful, but also helps the cakes to cook evenly so that some layers don’t end up dryer than others. A common kitchen scale and several pushes on the “tare” button is the best way to make this happen.

It’s also important to paper towel-blot any of the sliced fruit you use in this recipe to remove any excess moisture off the fruit’s surface. If the fruit isn’t dried well, the colored fruit juices will leave an unpleasant, streaky appearance against the whipped cream frosting. For best results, place sheets of paper towel above and below the sliced fruits the night before you plan on putting the cake together. For the same reason, it’s also a good idea to use fruits that are relatively firm, not overly ripe or mushy.

I enjoyed my pretty slice of Chinese Bakery Rainbow Cake with some of Harney & Sons’ Birthday Tea this year. The experience made me feel like a happy little 5-year-old again, just as I had wanted it to. Another wonderful tea to serve with this light and lovely cake is some flowery Jasmine Tea, which will bring out the cake’s gentle vanilla, almond, and lemon flavors. And with that, I’d like to extend a sincere thank you to my followers and readers, especially those who took time out to wish me Happy Birthday this year! Wish you were here to share a slice of cake and cup of tea with me!

Chinese Bakery Rainbow Cake

Makes 1-6″ cake. You can easily make an 8″, 9″, or 10″ cake by doubling the ingredients and adding to the baking time. 

Ingredients:

{Cake}

1 cup sifted cake flour

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil

4 eggs

1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp cold water

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

5 colors of gel food coloring-pink, orange, yellow, green, and purple

{Whipped Cream Frosting}

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 packets whip cream stabilizer

3 Tbsp powdered sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice powder (optional)

{Garnishes}

fruits of your choice, sliced 1/4″ thick (I used organic strawberries, mango, canned pineapple slices-cut in half, and kiwi), blotted well with paper towels

1 tsp apple jelly

Equipment:

5- 6″ round aluminum cake pans

stand mixer

hand-held mixer with whisk attachment or large wire whisk

medium mixing bowl

5 medium bowls

scale

large rubber spatula

small rubber spatula or spoon

large cooling rack

toothpicks

cake spatula

paper towels

cake comb (optional)

pastry brush

6″ round cake board

Directions:

1.)  Make the Cake. Place egg whites in mixing bowl of the stand mixer. Set egg yolks aside in a medium bowl, then and add water, oil, and extracts. Place flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into another medium mixing bowl. Mix the dry ingredients with a wire whisk until evenly incorporated.

2.)  Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites, then turn the stand mixer on to medium speed and whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. This will take about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix together thoroughly with the hand-held mixer (or large whisk) until the batter is completely homogenous, smooth, and light.

3.)  Add half of the batter mixture to the stiff egg whites, being careful not to deflate them. Use a large spatula to fold the batter in with the egg whites until the mixture is just homogenous. Again, be careful in trying not to deflate the egg whites.

4.)  Divide the Batter. Place the just emptied bowl (that used to have the egg batter in it) on a scale. Tare the scale to zero, then gently pour all the cake batter into it. Weigh the total weight of the batter, then divide this number by 5. (Example: The total weight of my batter was 605 grams. 605 grams divided by 5 is 121 grams. Thus, you will use 121 grams of batter for each cake layer).

5.)  Place one medium bowl on the scale, then tare to zero, and measure out 1/5 of the batter weight. Repeat this step another 4 times.

6.)  Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. You will now have 5 bowls of cake batter. With toothpicks, add a small dab of food coloring into each bowl, one for each color. Using a small rubber spatula, fold the coloring into the batter carefully, again repeating the mixing process for each medium bowl of batter.

7.)  Bake the Cakes. Pour each colored portion of batter into an ungreased cake pan. Place all 5 cake pans in the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. When cakes are baked, move them to a large cooling rack to cool for 10 minutes.

8.)  Use a knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the pan, then use your hand to peel them out of the pan entirely. Place the cakes on the cooling rack once again, until they completely cool.

9.)  Make the Frosting. Pour whipped cream into a large mixing bowl. Add the whip cream stabilizer, powdered sugar, and lemon powder (if using) then whip with hand-held mixer to stiff peaks.

10.)  Construct the Cake. Place the purple layer down on a cake board first. Apply a thin layer of whipped cream frosting, then place the kiwi slices on top of the whip cream, just shy of the edge. Apply another thin layer of whipped cream to fill in the gaps between the fruit. Repeat this process with the green cake, then the pineapple, the yellow cake, then the mango, the orange cake, then the strawberries, and then finally top with the pink cake layer. Apply a coating of whipped cream frosting over all the sides and top of the cake, then place in fridge to chill.

11.)  Decorate the Cake. After 10 minutes of chilling, apply another thin layer of the whipped cream frosting all around the cake. Use a cake comb to create horizontal lines all around the edges, then decorate the top of the cake with extra fruit. Use a pastry brush to apply some warmed apple jelly on top of the fruits for extra shine. For best results, chill the cake for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

53 thoughts on “Chinese Bakery Rainbow Cake

  1. I love those cakes – I ask for one every year! Actually, that is a good idea to make it yourself, then you can choose the fruits you want in it – there’s never enough mango in the cakes I get. I might have to try your recipe if I’m not too busy on my birthday.

    • I totally agree Char, when you make it yourself you have the ability to use and add the best of ingredients. If you do make it, let me know how it turns out! With your creativity and attention to detail, I’m sure it will turn out beautiful. 🙂

  2. Oh my God Bonnie, this cake is a work of ART! No wonder you made it yourself- I would expect to see something like this in a bakery. And Happy Birthday by the way ❤

  3. A very happy birthday to you Bonnie!! Leave it to you to make a rainbow cake even more awesome!! This is so beautiful and you’ve made it healthy-ish with fruits :D! All I made for my b’day was a mug-cake, haha!

    • Thanks so much Cecile! Your site is reminding me that I need to post about my trip to Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Cafe from a few weeks back (they have an awesome afternoon tea there). Thanks for dropping me a line and Happy Friday! 🙂

  4. Happy Birthday Bonnie!!! I wish you a great year ahead! I have no words left to describe your rainbow cake. It looks stunning and I just want to grab some for myself! Absolutely Mind blowing!!

  5. Happy belated Birthday girl!! So freaky that your birthday is September 19! Fantastic job on the cake! It looks so good I can practically taste it. Your cake reminds me so much of the kind of cake we get back home. But that was in the past. These days, everyone seem to only want fudge cakes and truffle cakes. Looking at your cake, I feel like I’m 6 again 🙂 I hope you had a wonderful birthday!

    • Thank you so much girl! I know, isn’t it that funny about the 9/19 bit? 🙂 It’s funny how cakes are such a region specific taste preference. I’m still dreaming of your orange-chocolate cake from last week…a delicious and distinctively European combination! 😉

    • Hey Stefanie! Thank you so much! Chinese cakes are the best, aren’t they? I have no idea what took me so long, but I finally had a chance to check out your site…looks delicious and looking forward to your future posts!

  6. I know it might sound weird to some to bake your own cake.. but hey when you know what you want and if you’re SO good at it, then why not!! Chinese cakes are light and airy and totally delicious. I second your cravings, I would have died for a humongous bite of that wonderful cake! Great effort Bonnie.
    I hope you had a beautiful day and may you get all that wish for. Belated Happy Birthday!

  7. Happy Belated Birthday, Bonnie! Hope you had a very sweet birthday!

    Chinese style cake is the best! Very light with many fresh fruits! Your rainbow cake is over the top! Not only with the beautiful color layers of cake, but the fruits are in different colors too. Really pretty! I haven’t tried the Happy Rainbow cake before, but Maxim’s is definitely my favorite bakery in HK.

    • Thank you so much for the birthday wishes! You know what’s funny? I’ve never been to Maxim’s before…I was just dreaming about/planning my next trip back to HK and came across the Maxim’s cake picture. Since many Chinese cakes taste similar, I’m convinced mine tastes like theirs does, but I guess I’ll have to find out for myself someday soon! 😉

    • Thank you so much Cathleen! Ya, I like to do a lot of experimental baking, luckily things came together on my birthday. 🙂 BTW, just checked out your site…lots of great recipes and posts! 🙂

  8. This is amazing and sooooo CUTE! The color is mild and colorful, really love it 🙂 It’s quite late, but Happy Birthday!
    The combination of sponge cake, fruits and whipped cream are my favorite. I will never trust myself to decorate a cake that is this tall, but your tips are really helpful. I hope I will have enough courage to try this one out!

    • Oh Maggie, you could totally execute this cake! The cake may be a bit on the tall side, but because the cake is so light and airy it’s not at all difficult to put together. Thank you so much for the b-day wishes…always lovely to hear from you…Happy Friday! 😉

  9. This cake looks amazing! I love the colors, they look real pretty and soft. I bake a lot but somehow always sort of steer clear from cakes, they are big and intimidating! Yours look so lovely and yummy!!!

    • Wow, thanks so much Trang! The cake is really soft and light. From the picture I guess the cake looks big, but it’s actually only 6 inches…if you bake a lot, I bet you could easily make this! 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Hello! I tried this cake and unfortunatly the result was not so good for me :-(. The cakes did not really rise and they were quite compact. I don’t know where I went wrong.

    • Aww, that’s totally frustrating…so sorry to hear that that happened. Ok, so my first instinct is to say that it must have been a meringue issue. Meringues (whipped egg whites) can be a bit fussy sometimes because you are trying to preserve their fluffiness every step of the way.

      Were you able to whip the meringue to stiff peaks (i.e. they should be able to make a point when you dip the whisk in and remove it)?

      After making the meringue, there is a good amount of “folding” that occurs, especially because we are adding the heavier egg yolk batter mixture and colorings at that point. Did you notice if you still saw some air bubbles in the batter after incorporating the color in each?

      Finally, you could check the freshness of the baking power you used, but I suspect the meringue is the source of the fail.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

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