Fourth of July is one of my husband’s favorite holidays, and this year he asked if I could fill a cake with patriotic M&Ms. He became a citizen in 2019 and we didn’t get to do the fireworks thing last year because, well, 2020. I had never made a piñata cake before but figured why not try?! I filmed the whole thing too, you can watch it on my YouTube. Jon makes a cameo at the end, here’s a sneak preview 😄
Prepping the cake layers and frosting
I like making all the pieces of a cake a few days ahead of time to make the whole process feel more approachable. I’ll typically make the cake layers one night, the frosting colors another night, and then save the assembly for the weekend. To make the cake layers for this I used Sugar Geek Show’s white cake recipe. I loved how this tasted, and the cool thing about her site is that you can specify the size of your cake pans and the number of layers you’re making and it’ll tell you exactly how much batter to make! I made two 6-inch cake layers for this, one red and one blue. I took her recipe and added some Americolor gel food coloring to each layer.
Maybe you’re thinking: but I see 4 cake layers in that picture?! You are correct. I only baked two cake layers. Then I did something called torting, which is a fancy word for cutting cake layers horizontally into thinner layers. I’ll explain how I did that in the next section.
For the frosting, I made a big batch of white buttercream and set aside a bit which I dyed red and blue for the swirls on top and decorations on the side.
Finally, I got a giant container of patriotic M&Ms to fill the cake. Hooray!
Assembling the piñata cake
I had all the pieces of this cake ready to go:
- One 6-inch blue layer
- One 6-inch red layer
- Patriotic M&Ms
- White buttercream
- Red and blue buttercream
The first step was leveling off the top of each cake layer. Cake layers often rise into a dome shape, so you’ll want to trim this dome off if you’re stacking layers to make sure your cake is even. I did this using my cake leveler but you can also use a serrated knife. I injured myself doing that (on last year’s July 4th cake 😬) so I won’t be trying it again for the foreseeable future.
With leveled layers, it was time to tort them. I also did this with a cake leveler, this time cutting halfway across each layer. That left me with four thinner layers: 2 red and 2 blue.
The signature feature of a piñata cake is a surprise filling in the middle 🎉 To create that, I needed to cut a hole in three of the four layers. I almost cut a hole in all four, that would have been bad. You want the top layer to be a regular layer (no hole in the middle). I used my circular cutter to cut the center out of three layers, and used a tape measure to make sure it was positioned right in the middle of the layer before I cut into it.
With three hole-y layers and one full layer I was ready to assemble. I first placed a blue layer on an 8-inch cake board and then added a nice thick layer of white butter cream on top. I repeated that with a red layer and then another blue layer, each with holes in them. Then for the most fun part: adding the M&M surprise. I scooped M&Ms into the hole in the middle of these 3 frosted layers, filling until the M&Ms were level with the top of the cake. I then added one more layer of white buttercream and placed the full (un-holey) red layer on top.
Before frosting this I put the whole thing in the freezer for a few minutes. Freezing a cake in between steps is key to making it easier to frost. This way crumbs are less likely to come off when you’re adding frosting.
I was originally planning to crumb coat this cake, but the first layer of white frosting was looking very smooth so I decided not to. I did want to add decoration though, can’t have a plain ‘ol white cake!
Adding red and blue flair
One of my favorite parts of cake decorating is that I’m never quite sure how a cake will turn out when I start. I knew this cake would have the hidden M&M surprise, but I didn’t have a plan for decorating the outside. First I decided to add a few dollops of red and blue frosting around the sides, smooth it with a bench scraper, and see what happened. This turned out really cool! I was worried the red and blue would blend together and make purple, but this was not the case. I worked the bench scraper around the cake in small sections, but if I do this effect again I might do it in one sweep for a cleaner look.
Finally, I wanted to decorate the top. I’ve seen lots of videos of making multicolor swirls before and this felt like a good time to try it out. To my surprise, it worked on the first try! You do this by piping lines of different colored frosting on a piece of plastic wrap, rolling the plastic wrap into a sausage roll, snipping one end, and putting it in a piping bag.
Tada! It was magical. I used my Wilton 1M tip to pipe swirls on top. So that I didn’t end up with awkward swirl spacing (nobody wants that) I piped 4 spaced out swirls around the cake to start and then filled in the gaps.
The result was this lovely patriotic cake with the best M&M surprise. This was so fun to make and cut into, I’ll definitely make more piñata cakes 🙂
Ideas for a cake I should try next? Let me know in the comments!