Naturally Colored Rainbow Pound Cake

If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know that I never shy away from a chance to add color to my desserts. I typically do that with gel food color, as it’s an excellent way to pack a colorful punch without introducing lots of moisture or solids to a recipe. However, I also adore the ways that fruits and vegetables can add natural color to foods! This rainbow pound cake is colored with four different fruits/vegetables/botanicals, which give the final cake a really beautiful muted swirl. Small amounts of each colorant are added here so they don’t add much flavor to the cake. If you want a specific flavor, I recommend adding a clear extract (like almond, vanilla, or rosewater) to the cake batter.

Working Natural Colors into a Recipe

Adding gel food colors to a recipe is simple, as they’re formulated to have very low water content and to be highly concentrated. This means that you only need a little bit to get the color you need, and that little bit is rarely enough to mess with the structure of your recipe.

Working with natural colors is a different story! There are a lot of ways to add color to a dessert using fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs, and they all have different implications for the final structure and flavor of a recipe. I want briefly to run through some coloring options and their possible effects on baked goods so you can get comfortable adding color to your bakes in the future!

Quick Reference: Adding natural colors

CategoryHow to IncorporateExamples
PowderedPowders tend to clump when added to a wetter materials. To prevent clumps and ensure even blending, mix the powdered element with a small portion of your batter (about 1/4 cup batter for every tablespoon of powder) and mix well to form a paste. Stir that paste into the rest of your batter.Turmeric, Matcha, red beet powder, spirulina
InfusedFor elements that need to be steeped in liquid to release their color, I recommend making a very concentrated infusion. To do this, steep the coloring ingredient in hot water (milk/cream also works, if that fits your recipe better). Use 2 tablespoons of hot water for every 1 tablespoon of coloring ingredient. Let steep for 5-10 minutes to extract the color, and then strain the colored “tea” into your batter and blend.Dried butterfly pea flower, dried hibiscus
LiquidI urge caution with these! Adding large amounts of liquid can change the makeup of your recipe a great deal, and isn’t the most effective way to add color. Not only does it change the hydration of a recipe, but many fruit juices are acidic, which will throw the recipe’s leavening system (the baking soda/baking powder) out of whack. Many fruits also change color when they’re heated or mixed with components with different acidities, so the color of your batter isn’t necessarily representative of what your final dessert will look like. For example, rhubarb puree starts out pink but turns grey-green when added to acidic cheesecake batter and heated. If you need to use a fruit juice, I recommend heating it until it reduces down to a thick, concentrated syrup and adding that to your recipe instead.Fruit puree, fruit juice, tea

The Pound cake

I need to take a moment to talk about the pound cake itself, because it’s so so gooood. The naturally colored marble pound cake is based off of the powdered sugar pound cake by Amanda of Midwest Nice – it’s a recipe that’s been in her family for years, and it’s clear why.

Using powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar reduces the amount of air that can be whipped into the cake batter, creating an amazingly-plush crumb. Granulated sugar is typically creamed with butter in cake recipes because the granules behave like tiny paddles that pull air into the creaming mixture and create lightness in the whipping butter by forming a zillion little air pockets. When the cake bakes, the starch in the flour swells into stable networks (gelatinizes is the fancy technical term!) as the sugar dissolves, retaining the air pockets that the sugar and butter worked so hard to create.

When powdered sugar is used in place of granulated sugar, like in this pound cake, the air pockets typically formed during the creaming stage don’t form. Instead of whipping air into the butter, the powdered sugar just dissolves. This means that the air pockets in the batter are much smaller, yielding a very smooth, close crumb. This crumb has a velvety texture when you eat it, and it melts in your mouth beautifully.

Whether adding color or not, this cake is definitely going to be my go-to pound cake recipe going forward!

The inspiration

  • This butterfly pea flower marbled pound cake by Ethany of @tenderherbs
  • The muted rainbows of Liz of @buuckfarmsbakery

The Overview

The Quick Look

ComponentsSource/Adapted From
1Rainbow Powdered Sugar Pound CakeMidwest Nice
1aBlue Cake BatterLanibakes
1bYellow Cake BatterLanibakes
1cGreen Cake BatterLanibakes
1dOrange Cake BatterLanibakes
2Vanilla GlazeLanibakes

The Breakdown

Component 1: Powdered Sugar Pound Cake

Makes 1 9×4″ loaf cake

  • 227 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 227 grams powdered sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 245 grams cake flour
  1. Spray a loaf pan with pan spray or brush it with oil. Line the pan with a strip of parchment paper that covers the bottom and long sides of the pan.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350F.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 227 grams of butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 227 grams powdered sugar.
  4. Cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3-5 minutes, until very creamy and light in color.
  5. Add 4 eggs to the butter mixture, one at a time. Wait until the egg is fully mixed in before adding another. Scrape the sides of the bowl down between eggs.
  6. Add 245 grams of cake flour all at once. Mix on low speed to incorporate the flour.
  7. Scrape the sides of the bowl down with a spatula. Mix for another minute on low speed to ensure everything is well blended.
  8. If you’d like to skip the coloring portion of this recipe and just make a delicious plain pound cake, jump down to the Assembly tab.
Component 1a: Blue Cake Batter
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 1 tablespoon loosely packed dried butterfly pea flowers
  • 215 grams cake batter
  1. In a small bowl, pour 2 tablespoons of hot water over one tablespoon of dried flowers
  2. Let sit for 5 minutes, until the water has turned deep blue and has cooled
  3. Press the water out of the flowers with the back of a spoon and remove the flowers
  4. Add 215 grams of cake batter to the blue tea and stir to combine
Component 1b: Yellow Cake Batter
  • 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric
  • 215 grams cake batter, divided
  1. In a small bowl, combine 30 grams of cake batter with 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric. Use a spoon or small spatula to combine the two to form a paste,
  2. Add 185 grams of plain cake batter to the bowl and stir to blend the yellow batter into the rest of the batter
  3. Set aside
Component 1c: Green Cake Batter
  • 2 teaspoons matcha powder
  • 215 grams cake batter, divided
  1. In a small bowl, combine 30 grams of cake batter with 2 teaspoons matcha. Use a spoon or small spatula to combine the two to form a paste,
  2. Add 185 grams of plain cake batter to the bowl and stir to blend the green batter into the rest of the batter
  3. Set aside
Component 1d: Orange Cake Batter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red beet powder
  • 215 grams cake batter, divided
  1. In a small bowl, combine 30 grams of cake batter with 1 1/2 teaspoons beet powder. Use a spoon or small spatula to combine the two to form a paste,
  2. Add 185 grams of plain cake batter to the bowl and stir to blend the pink batter into the rest of the batter
    • Beets are one of the vegetables that change color when they react with acids! We have a family of compounds called betalains to thank for beets’ purple-red colors. When red-purple betalains are exposed to heat and acid, they degrade and leave yellow-orange coloring behind.
  3. Set aside
  1. Dollop a large spoonful of one colored batter into the bottom of the lined loaf pan.
  2. Repeat with the other colored batters, dolloping them in a random pattern so that each color is adjacent to different colors.
  3. Keep adding dollops until all of the batter is gone.
  4. Drag a sharp knife or a chopstick through the batter 1-2 times to blend the colors a little further. Don’t do more than 2 passes of your colors might get too muddy.
  5. Bake the cake for 60-70 minutes, until the top is risen, matte, and light brown and the cake feels set.
  6. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes.
  7. After 15 minutes, use the parchment sling to remove the warm cake from the pan. Set the cake on a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
Component 2: Vanilla Glaze
  • 75 grams powdered sugar
  • 45 grams of cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon clear artificial vanilla extract
    • Feel free to use real vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste here, but I adore the nostalgic flavor of clear vanilla
  1. Combine 75 grams of powdered sugar with 45 grams of cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  2. Stir to combine into a a smooth, thick glaze
  3. Pour the glaze over the top of your cooled cake
  4. Top with sprinkles, if desired

Note: the surface of the glaze will crust over as it sets, but will stay soft underneath the surface

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