This show stopping cake features a winter scene painted with BUTTERCREAM! This technique is much easier than you’d think and so fun to execute.
Painting can be so relaxing and eating cake is a favorite hobby of mine. Why not combine the two into one delicious masterpiece?!
If you find cake decorating to be a bit intimidating then check out my How to Decorate a Cake post, it has lots of helpful tips and a full how to video.
How do you Paint with Buttercream?
- First off gather the tools you’ll need. Food coloring, some clean brushes and/or a palette knife or two.
- Bake a cake and whip up some Swiss meringue buttercream. You can use other frostings but this one is the most forgiving.
- Smooth the cake and chill, you want a firm surface to work on.
- Sketch out your idea, mix some colors and get to work!
- It’s easiest to paint from back to front. Lay out your background, get it to a place you’re happy with then move to the mid ground and then the foreground.
- Use a toothpick or skewer to sketch details and remove buttercream.
- If things are getting too soft, chill the cake until firm.
Some Tips and Pointers for Making this Cake
- If you’re not using 6-inch pans, double the recipe for 8-inch pans or triple the recipe for 9-inch pans.
- If you see little clumps of butter after you mix the wet ingredients don’t panic, it all works out by the time you mix in the dry ingredients. You can even use melted butter and warm the milk and sour cream up a bit if you like.
- You can substitute whole milk yogurt for the sour cream if desired, I do it all the time and can’t really tell the difference.
- To get FLAT layers that are moist inside and out try using cake strips! You can buy a set on the shop page or make your own from foil and paper towels at home. I made a whole blog post on it so check it out if you’re interested!
Steps to Make a Painted Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour four 6” pans (I recommend using cake strips as well). Use a food processor to grind up the graham crackers then whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Mix the buttermilk, vanilla and sour cream in a separate bowl.
- Cream the butter in a stand mixer and add the sugars. Mix them together until they are light and fluffy, then add the eggs and one egg white in one at a time mixing until incorporated.
- Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture in alternating batches. Start and end with the flour mixture. Mix until just combined and give the bowl a final scrape down. Pour the batter evenly into your pans and bake for about 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center, comes out clean then allow time to cool.
- Separate the egg whites and place them in a glass bowl with the sugar and salt then give the mixture a brief whisk. Prepare a pot with simmering hot water and make sure the bowl will not touch the water.
- When the water is simmering, place the bowl over the pot. Whisk the egg whites occasionally while it warms up then whisk it constantly. Heat the mixture until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F then transfer to a stand mixer.
- With a whisk attachment, whisk until you get room temperature, glossy peaks. Switch to a paddle attachment and while the mixer is running on low, add tablespoon sized dollops of room temperature butter. Make sure to let each piece incorporate before you add the next. Once all the butter is incorporated, add the vanilla and transfer it to a piping bag. Once you’ve frosted your cake, place it in the fridge to chill for 20 minutes or so until it’s firm.
1. Start by sketching your idea out. I always measure the height of my cake as well as the length I expect the scene to be. The sketch can be really rough, it’s just a guide. You can also make notes for colors to help guide your palette.
2. Mix your colors up. For this cake I used several palettes and mixed a bunch of tones up. You can mix from primary colored dyes or get a big set of Americolor gel food coloring, which works great.
3. Start painting the background. You don’t have to worry about blending the colors at this point, just get color onto the cake. I used a small brush but a palette knife would work too.
4. Once your background is roughed out, start blending! I used a big brush but a pastry brush would work too. Try using long strokes from light to dark areas and clean your brush frequently by wiping off with a paper towel.
5. Now you can begin painting details in the background. In this case those are trees, which I am painting with a light green buttercream using a small brush.
6. Paint your middle ground objects. My barn has a fair amount of detail so I’m using a small brush as well as a tooth pick. The pick can help you sketch onto the buttercream and remove colors to help define lines.
7. I have some big trees to paint so I’m using a bolder green since their close to the viewer and a palette knife to really lay lots of color and texture down.
8. I’m defining the snowy foreground with VERY light grey-blue mounds and more white buttercream to create contrast. Using a palette knife allows you to lay big patches of color down and not worry about brush strokes.
9. Finish off by adding any remaining details to the foreground. I painted a fence and some bushes using smaller brushes and toothpicks to remove any errant buttercream.
If you’ve tried this painted cake then don’t forget to rate the recipe and let me know how you got on in the comments below, I love hearing from you!
For the Cake
- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour 150g
- 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs 63g
- 1 tsp baking powder 4g
- 1/2 tsp baking soda 3g
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1g
- 1/4 tsp all spice 250mg
- 1 cup unsalted butter 230g, room temp
- 1/2 cup sugar 100g
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar 200g
- 3 large eggs
- 1 egg white
- 1/2 cup buttermilk 118mL
- 1/2 cup sour cream 115g
- 1 tbsp vanilla 15mL
- food coloring
For the Swiss Buttercream
- 5 egg whites at room temperature
- 2 cups unsalted butter 452g, room temp
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar 300g
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract 5mL
For the Cake
- Set oven to 350F. Butter and flour 4 6" cake pans (I recommend using cake stripes as well.
- Whisk all the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, vanilla and sour cream.
- Cream the butter in a stand mixer and add sugars. Mix until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs and white in one at a time mixing until incorporated.
- Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture in alternating batches. Starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just combined, give the bowl a final scrape with a spatula to get any unmixed parts on the sides and bottom.
- Pour batter into your pans and bake for about 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean from the center.
For the Swiss buttercream
- Add egg whites, sugar and salt in a bowl.
- Give the mixture a brief whisk.
- Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bowl.
- Whisk the egg whites occasionally while it warms up. When the mixture has warmed, whisk it constantly. You will heat the mixture until it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF or until it's not grainy between your fingers.
- Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer, mix with a whisk attachment until you get room temperature glossy peaks.
- Switch to a paddle attachment and while the mixture is running on low, add tablespoon sized dollops of room temperature butter making sure to let the butter incorporate before you add the next piece. Once all the butter is incorporated, go ahead and add the vanilla extract. You can transfer it to a piping bag or to a ziplock bag to store in the freezer.
For the Assembly
- Pipe buttercream onto first layer and repeat until cake is assembled.
- Pipe on final coat of buttercream. Smooth with bench scraper and off set spatula.
- Place in the fridge to chill.
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