Pink Chess Cake with Ombre Icing

Yes, I know that, strictly speaking, I have already posted about these two items separately. If you can’t remember them, here are the links to the Chocolate Chess Cake and the Ombre Icing posts. However, this is a cake I made for the 6oth birthday of one of my partner’s work colleagues, Stef. She loved the way I decorated the cake with different tinges of pink buttercream in the shape of roses and asked me to make a similar one. The cake, however, had to look beautiful both on the inside and on the outside, so we opted for a chess cake. Being it for her mum, though, she asked me whether I could make it a pink checkerboard cake and I do like a challenge.

It only took a few twists of the original recipe to make this stunning cake. I decided to fill it with mixed berry jam to echo a traditional Victoria sponge, but the possibilities are, I believe, endless. Also, needless to say, this cake requires you to be extremely patient and to be proficient enough at piping, as that is what makes the sponges and the buttercream decoration. If you don’t like the method indicated here to make a checkerboard cake and you prefer something a little bit more defined, then I suggest you bake 4 different sponges (this is a three-layer cake, but you’ll need the extra sponge to compensate), 2 for each colour, and then you cut equal circles from the cake and re-arrange them as needed.


Ingredients (for the cakes and filling)

  • 400g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 400g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • pink food colouring
  • 200g mixed berry jam

Ingredients (for one batch of butter icing, you will need at least 4)

  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pink food colouring
  • dark chocolate, to write on top (optional)


  1. To make the sponges, start by pre-heating the oven to 180C and greasing and lining three 20cm round tins. The quantities above might make more mixture than needed, but I always prefer to have extra than to have to improvise.
  2. Put the butter into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the leaf attachment and beat until very creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, followed by the vanilla extract. Occasionally scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the mixture is evenly combined.Keep beating until the mixture is very fluffy and much lighter in colour.
  3. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Scrape the sides down to ensure the whole butter mixture is thoroughly incorporated. beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes, then slowly add the flour and the baking powder and keep on beating until the mixture is even and you can’t see any lumps.
  4. Transfer half of the mixture to a big bowl, then add enough pink food colouring to tinge it a good shade of pink. Remember when baked the colour tends to fade slightly. Add 1 tbsp milk to the pink batter and the remaining milk to the plain one. Transfer both cake batters into two piping bags with no nozzle.
  5. Snip the end of each piping bag so that you end up with a hole about of about 1cm, then start alternating the colours and piping circles in the baking tins. Start from the outside and move towards the inside, ensuring the colour rings are even and alternated between sponges (if you started with a pink outer ring in one tin, the remaining two will have to have the plain one on the outside).
  6. Bake each sponge for about 20-25 minutes until well risen. Check with a skewer that the sponges are cooked, then remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. After about 20 minutes, remove them from their tins and invert them onto a towel on the wire rack. Peel the parchment off the bottom and leave to cool completely.
  7. Now that your sponges are made, you can start making 1 1/2 batches of butter icing to sandwich them together and make the crumb layer. The latter is a plain butter icing layer on the outside of the cake which ensures no crumbs get mixed up with the intricate outer design and spoil it. You will need to apply this in two stages, so allow plenty of time for refrigerating the cake.
  8. To make the butter icing, put the butter and the icing into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the leaf attachment, then beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add the icing sugar (this can get very messy!) until fully incorporated and increase the speed to high. Beat for a few minutes, then add the milk and vanilla and beat the mixture for a good 3 minutes, until fluffy and very light in colour.
  9. Transfer the mixed berry jam to a small bowl and lightly beat with a fork to loosen it up. Transfer about 1/3 of a batch of butter icing to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle and get your sponges ready. Place the first sponge onto your cake base/platter, then pipe a thick and even circle of butter icing on the edge. This will ensure the filling does not escape while assembling. Fill the space in between with half of the jam. Top with another sponge, ensuring the outer layer is the opposite colour to the one of the bottom sponge. Use the rest of the butter icing to pipe another ring and fill it with the remaining jam. Top with the third and last sponge.
  10. Now spread the remaining butter icing onto the top and the sides of the cake using an offset spatula or a rubber one, ensuring all the gaps between the sponges are filled and the cake is evenly covered. The final result doesn’t have to be perfect as this layer will be covered with another one. Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes, until the butter icing is solid.
  11. Cover the cake with another layer of butter icing, this time ensuring the finish is as smooth as possible, especially on the top. Take your time and don’t rush things as this can be quite tricky. Don’t panic if the butter icing is slightly uneven as you can sort it out with the next step. Refrigerate the cake for a further 30 minutes.
  12. Remove the cake from the fridge and warm your spatula in a jug of hot water for a couple of minutes or under hot running water. Use it to smooth the surface of the butter icing and remove the excess one. The warmth from the spatula will help the butter icing to slightly melt and fall into place. Once done, refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes and prepare more butter icing mixture for the next step.
  13. Now, I find it easier to colour the butter icing gradually as I go and to start from the bottom of the cake as it ensures the roses do not fall off and have something to lean on. That said, if you prefer to make different butter icing colours at the same time, please be my guest.
  14. Start adding a few drops of pink food colouring to the butter icing until you tinge it of a delicate shade. Remember you will have to build up with the colour and in my experience there is a limit to the amount of colour butter icing can take and how dark it can get. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and start piping rosettes all around the base of the cake in an even layer. Once you have completed a layer, squeeze the leftover butter icing back into the bowl and make it a darker shade. As you create each shade, use the darker one to fill the gaps left between the rosettes in the previous colour. This will ensure the colours blend in more gradually. For this cake, I had to leave the top free so as to be able to write something onto it. However, you can also choose to continue the decoration as on the sides (in which case you might want to double the rosette layers you make per shade) or do something else altogether, the choice is yours. Once you are done decorating your cake and are satisfied with the end result, chill it in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but ensure you serve it at room temperature.
  15. If you’re wondering why it looks like the writing is detached from the cake, it’s because I wrote the different letters on baking parchment and then transferred them onto the cake. I wanted it to be perfect and didn’t trust my piping skills enough to do it on the cake directly. If you serve the cake at room temperature, the chocolate will slightly melt and the letters will adhere to the cake better.









3 thoughts on “Pink Chess Cake with Ombre Icing

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