Easter Polka Dot Cake

My parents were in town last week for my son’s birthday party, so they were around when I was making and photographing some SugarHero desserts. When my mom walked into the kitchen and saw this cake, she stopped, smiled and said, “Oh honey, everything you make is so—”
A pause.
What was she going to say? Beautiful? Gorgeous? Stunning beyond measure?
“—time-consuming.”

BUSTED.

Easter Polka Dot Cake | SugarHero.com

My mom does not lie—many things that I make and post here are time consuming. Let’s be honest about this. I’m no Rachael Ray, and very few of my recipes could be described as quick or easy.  This is something I think about frequently, both because it causes me to be working in my kitchen at unholy hours of the night, and because I’m aware that fast and easy foods are the flavor du jour. We live in a Pinterest world, and that means few ingredients, minimal steps, and instant gratification. Basically, the exact opposite of everything I make.

Easter Polka Dot Cake | SugarHero.com

On one hand, I want to give the people what they want. Of course. What good is a recipe blog if no one ever makes the recipes? On the other hand, what’s the point of having a personal blog if you’re writing to popular opinion and not your own tastes? I go back and forth on this issue on a weekly basis, but what it usually comes down to is the fact that I can’t bring myself to make and post things that I’m not really, really excited about.

And what excites me most are semi-ridiculous things like are sky-high mousse desserts, homemade stuffed doughnuts, eight layer cakes, and swirled tarts topped with whipped cream and chocolate curls and homemade truffles. In my world, more is more, and I just need to own it. If people pass by my recipes in favor of ones made with a cake mix*, well, that’s the way the overly complicated cookie crumbles.

 *I should point out that this particular recipe does make use of a cake mix, though, so y’all should come back here right now! 

Easter Polka Dot Cake | SugarHero.com

Now that I’ve effectively talked you out of ever making one of my recipes, let me sell you on this polka dot cake. I won’t tell you it’s fast, because I like you too much to ever lie to your face. But I pinky-swear to you that it truly is easy. The polka dot pattern on the outside is made by pressing candy into frosting, which requires zero planning and very little thought.

The polka dots on the inside start as mini cake balls, which every single person on this planet and a few intelligent apes have probably made by now. Cake + frosting + rolling = instant cake balls! The cake balls are suspended in yellow cake batter before being baked, which again doesn’t take many brain cells. Both aspects are simple on their own, but when you combine them, you end up with a whimsical cake with a super-fun surprise inside.

Easter Polka Dot Cake | SugarHero.com

To make this even more Easter-appropriate, you could roll your cake balls into egg shapes, and decorate the outside with an Easter egg pattern. You might be able to see in some of the pictures that I got a little ambitious and tried to make multi-colored cake balls with stripes or dots inside. It worked, but I didn’t think the effect actually looked very appetizing, so I abandoned the idea–but you could certainly experiment with combining colors to form cool patterns! The cake itself is a lemon cake with coconut buttercream, so it tastes light and springy. It’s the perfect way to end a special Easter dinner, or you can use this technique to make any special occasion cake. Birthdays, anniversaries, and major holidays all call for surprise polka dots, in my opinion.

Easter Polka Dot Cake | SugarHero.com

And don’t worry, this story with my mom has a happy ending. To punish her for her brutal honesty, I served her a big slice of this cake that as soon as I was done taking pictures. That’ll show her.

Easter Polka Dot Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Cake,
Serves: 12-16
Ingredients
For the polka dots:
  • 1 box white or yellow cake mix, plus ingredients to prepare mix
  • Assorted food colorings
  • 2 cups prepared frosting (from a can is fine)
For the lemon cake:
  • 9 egg yolks
  • 1½ cups milk, at room temperature (2% or whole recommended)
  • 1 tbsp lemon extract
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 15.75 oz (2¼ cups) granulated sugar
  • 15.75 oz (3⅔ cup) cake flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 oz butter, at room temperature
For the coconut buttercream:
  • 9 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 14 oz (2 cups) granulated sugar
  • 1 lb butter, softened but still quite cool
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2-3 tsp coconut extract, to taste
To Assemble:
  • Pastel sixlets, sugar pearls, or other sprinkles
Instructions
To Make the Polka Dots:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Prepare the box mix according to the package directions. Divide the batter between five or six small bowls. Add a small amount of food coloring to each bowl to make different pastel shades. Scrape the colors into small cake pans, pie tins, or other small oven-safe containers. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed. The baking time will vary depending on how much batter you use and the size of the pan, so watch the cakes carefully and start checking for doneness after 10-15 minutes of baking.
  2. After the cakes are baked, let them cool completely. Crumble the cooled cakes into separate small bowls, then add a spoonful or two of frosting to each bowl. Work the frosting and cake together with your fingertips until the cake is moistened and holds its shape when rolled into a ball. (If you have ever made cake balls before, you are looking for the same texture as cake balls.) If necessary, add more frosting until you get a consistency that's easy to work with, but stop adding frosting before the cake gets greasy or gummy. Roll the cake into small balls of different sizes, and place them on a wax paper-covered baking sheet. Cover the sheet with cling wrap and keep it in the refrigerator until you're ready to make your cake layers. The polka dots can be made up to a week in advance, and kept in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.
To Make the Cakes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line three 9x2-inch cake pans with parchment paper, and spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the yolks, ½ cup of milk, and lemon extract in a small bowl, and whisk gently to combine. Set aside for now.
  2. Combine the lemon zest and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix together with a paddle attachment on low speed for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the room temperature butter and the remaining 1 cup of milk to the flour, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds, until the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn the speed up to medium and mix for 90 seconds. With the mixer running on medium-low, add the egg yolks in three batches, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. At the end, stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides with a spatula so that the batter is well-mixed.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans. Take the cake balls and press them into the batter, pressing some all the way to the bottom, some into the middle, and leaving some on top. You don't have to use all of the cake balls, but do use a lot of them—it takes a surprising amount of polka dots to make the cake slices look well-dotted!
  5. Bake the cakes at 350 F for about 25 minutes, until they're puffed and golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool the cakes completely.
To Make the Coconut Buttercream:
  1. Combine the egg whites and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan—this is your makeshift hot water bath. (Alternately, you can use a different bowl or an actual bain marie and then transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl once it’s heated.) Add an inch of water to the bottom of the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer.
  2. Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.
  3. Beat the whites on medium-high speed until they are no longer warm to the touch—feel the outside of the bowl, and make sure that it is around room temperature. Depending on your mixer and the temperature of your environment, this may take 15-20 minutes, or more. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the softened but cool butter in small chunks, a tablespoon at a time, making sure to wait in between additions. It may separate or look a little gloopy at this point—fear not. Once all of the butter is added, increase the speed again and whip until it comes together and is light and fluffy. If, after 5 minutes, it hasn’t come together, refrigerate the mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes, to cool the mixture down, and whip it again.
  4. Add the salt and 2 tsp coconut extract, and mix until well-blended. Taste the frosting and add more coconut flavoring if desired. The buttercream can be made in advance and kept at room temperature if you’re going to use it the same day, or refrigerated. If it’s been chilled, let it sit at room temperature until it softens, then re-whip it to get the fluffy texture back before you use it.
To Assemble:
  1. Trim the tops of the cakes so that they are level. Place one cake layer on a cake cardboard (ideally) or a plate. Spread a generous cup of frosting on top of the cake, extending out to the sides. Place a second cake layer on top of the first, and top that one with frosting as well. Finish with the third cake layer, then cover the sides and top of the cake with a thin layer of frosting, then refrigerate until firm.
  2. Once firm, spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting. To get a very smooth finish, I like to run very hot water over an offset metal spatula, wipe it dry, then slowly run it over the sides and top, rinsing frequently. The heat of the metal helps to smooth out the frosting. Finish the cake by pressing Sixlets, sugar pearls, or other sprinkles into the tops and sides of the cake. For the best taste and texture, serve this cake at room temperature.
62 Responses to Easter Polka Dot Cake
  1. Medeja says:

    I think that is the reason why I admire you and your creations so much.. you make things that are time consuming, but really special and beautiful!

  2. I love all your complex desserts! I have one question though, don’t the cake balls get over baked because they”re essentially baked twice?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Chloe! That’s a good question, and you might think that they would. Fortunately they don’t get hard or overbaked. I think the fact that they’re mixed with frosting helps to keep them moist. I really couldn’t tell a texture difference between the cake balls and the rest of the cake, it’s kind of amazing.

  3. Haha most of my friends will never make anything from my blog (or even try) because they are convinced every single recipe is time consuming. While this is true for some it’s not all! But yea cakes definitely take some time, especially something crazy fun like this one! Love how you increased the size of the sprinkles from the top to the bottom on the outside. That definitely took some time ;-)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Haha, my friends and family are the same way. I guess it works out because then I can foist my baked goods on them. And yes, I was maybe a liiiiittle bit fastidious about the sprinkle placement, hah. Thanks Erin!

  4. emily says:

    Everything you make DOES look very time consuming. BUT everything you make is also stunning and delicious. So there is that. :)

  5. I always enjoy when your posts come to my inbox! This one is so pretty!!!!!! I don’t wear polka dots but I love this cake =)

  6. I, for one, appreciate the time and effort you put into your creations. I am a mostly “from scratch” girl, too, and people are always telling me that I could make the same thing from a box or a can. Um… no thank you. Some things just can’t be rushed. Anyway, this is a beautiful cake!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Becky! No judgment for others who like to use mixes, but for me the work is part of the process and the reward. (Although I actually have a soft spot in my heart for brownie mixes…go figure.)

  7. Johlene says:

    How can anyone not love this cake.. it´s SpectacuLAR!! I agree to love what you do in this world of blogging you need to be true to yourself.. when I decided not to worry about everyone else but to ensure with every new blog post, I learn something new that will take me one step further, I started to relax and enjoy this journey! Hope you a super blessed Easter filled with love & joy!! xoxo

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you Johlene! I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s a lesson I keep having to relearn over and over, though. Hope you had a lovely Easter!

  8. Karen says:

    I love your recipes. I hadn’t thought of them as overly time consuming, but I’m always adding layers and combining recipes. I hope you never try to make things easier or less, I like you and your recipes just the way they are!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you Karen! I guess I don’t have a good perspective on things, because I don’t usually think of them as time-consuming either. But I’m probably not a good judge because I make layer cakes for fun, so…yeah. :)

  9. Denise says:

    Please don’t apologize Elizabeth — I’m so thrilled to find a blog where the recipes are “real”. Blogs and recipes like yours are few and far between but so very appreciated by those of us who do still bake and love fun and fancy. Thank you and keep the “time consuming” recipes coming!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you so much, Denise! That really means a lot to me–I am so glad to know there are other folks like me out there, who enjoy the occasional impractical dessert! Thank you for reading, and please let me know if you have any requests. :)

  10. Liz says:

    I love this cake….even if it does look time-consuming! I know my kiddies would love it and it would be so worth it to see their faces when I cut into it! Happy Easter Elizabeth!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks Liz! It could definitely be toned down and made easier by using just a few colors of cake balls–that would be a pretty fast recipe. I can definitely see your kids loving it, and I’m sure you could put a really creative spin on it!

  11. This cake is so gorgeous! Time-consuming or not, it’s beautiful. I absolutely love those pastel sixlets on the outside, and of course the polka dots on the inside! You definitely have some insane cake-decorating skills, and impressive patience skills, haha. :)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you Beth! I admit that I’m a little Sixlet-obsessed lately, and I’m not even sorry about it. They’re just such a fun and easy way to class up a cake without putting in much effort!

  12. I loved this post, obviously for the beautiful cake, but also for your commentary on the world of blogging. I too find myself constantly battling between the recipes I know people want to make in 10 minutes on a weeknight, and recipes I actually enjoy cooking. For me it’s often about the process, I enjoy the PROCESS of spending time on cooking things. 5-ingredient slow cooker chicken with onion soup mix and cream of whatever is just not my style. And I’m glad in the dessert world, it isn’t yours either! Might as well do what you love. :) It’s the reason I’m in your fan club!

    • Elizabeth says:

      I agree, Meggan–the process is a big part of it! And also, I really just prefer an end product that is beautiful and a little fancy, and if it requires a few extra hours, so be it! I’m happy in the kitchen with my podcasts and my mixer, anyhow. :) I’m in your fan club too–air kisses!

  13. Cindy says:

    My mom thinks everything I make is too time consuming, as well! Even things that ARE NOT, like vinaigrette.

    Sometimes extra time is worth it for cuteness + deliciousness.

  14. Ash says:

    You know, I’ve never gotten “time-consuming” but my family does like to sigh at me and say, “why does everything you make have to be so complicated?” Sure, simple recipes are nice for everyday, but they’re for people who don’t really love to cook and are just doing it because they need to eat something. This cake looks stunning, awesome use of those sugar pearls. It took a lot of time, sure, but it wouldn’t look nearly as amazing if it hadn’t.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thanks so much, Ash! One person’s time consuming or complicated recipe is another person’s blissed out kitchen time. :) So glad to know I’m not the only one! Carry on friend.

  15. Danguole says:

    Pshaw, I hope your mom has learned her lesson! Punishment by cake. Love it.

    #realtalk I seriously don’t know how you do it. You are a true artisan.

  16. Margaret says:

    Wow…. That will teach me to never again comment on your recipes! I actually meant it as a compliment to your skill and talent and artistry. Not only was it beautiful, it was delicious,too..

  17. Liz says:

    Your desserts are always breathtaking! Thanks for the on-going inspiration!

  18. Kim says:

    I love the graduated sizes and the ease of using sixlets and candy pearls. This would go really quickly!

  19. I love lemon and coconut for spring flavors. And time consuming? Maybe. But there is always a time and place for those extra special occasions. As long as we know it going in, I’d say thumbs up. If people want quick/easy/lazy, go with bundt cake. Umm. Hmm. Why do I have so many bundt cakes on my site?
    I love what you do. ;)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Ha! You are so right about bundt cakes. My big problem with them is that they don’t have enough frosting, or maybe it’s that they don’t have enough layers. Obviously I have a little bit of a problem…

  20. dina says:

    what a stunning cake!

  21. Wow. I love this post so much. The cake is absolutely gorgeous, but it’s your words that I can so relate to!

    I always struggle with the same problem…do I post what I think the masses will like? Or what *I* like? In the end I always seem to come back to what I think is the main point…this is my personal blog, and I have to post the food I think is cool and interesting and hope that everyone else can find them cool and interesting, too :)

    That’s what makes each blog unique, right? Each has a personal flair!

    • Elizabeth says:

      Thank you, Rachael. I totally agree with you, and it’s so good to hear that this is something other people struggle with too. It’s hard to get past, because sometimes the things I love seem so specific! But you are so right, the most powerful posts (and blogs) are ones that have a specific voice and point of view. Cheers to keeping it real!

  22. The best piece of advice my father told me (like since I was 2 years old) was:

    “Don’t cut your standards to fit other people.”

    In my case, that means I use cake mix and other cooking/baking shortcuts because that is just ME. When people ask me for something more spectacular, well, I point them to YOU.

    So please, please, PLEASE don’t stop being you.

    P.S. Can we meet?

    • Elizabeth says:

      Lynn, I love, love, love that saying. Thank you for the wonderful vote of confidence–and you’d better not stop being you, either!

      And YES we have to meet! Last fall was a comedy of errors but I have a good feeling about this year. :)

  23. Rocquie says:

    That is one groovy looking cake!
    –Rocquie

  24. I love a good quick dessert, but I make tons of very time consuming things too. Sometimes the process is half the fun. This cake is gorgeous!

  25. Apparently I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my favourite blogs, because HOW DID I MISS THIS?? I absolutely adore the way you decorated the cake with the different-sized sugar pearls. To be honest, I’m kinda in your mom’s camp on this tho – I can’t see myself ever actually making something like this – but I can still pin it and use it as inspiration. :-)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Haha, fair enough! I pin plenty of things I’d never make in real life, but I enjoy the (excuse the pun) eye candy. :) Good to have you back, Laurel!

  26. Brittany says:

    what a fun cake. Are you a big fan of I am baker? She does the cake with surprise inside.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Yes! I haven’t seen her book but I know her site. She is amazing! I’m sure she does way more sophisticated things than just polka dots…I have a ways to go still. :)

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  28. Angie says:

    occasions lose their specialness if there isn’t something from mom that wasn’t time consuming!! my inlaws are not so pleasant about their brutal honesty 😕 so for the last few years my kids assured me that if it wasn’t some store bought glob of icing that you couldn’t eat cuz it hurt your teeth, that the alternative was fine too. .. SiL leaves it right in the Pyrex casserole dish, layers on the whole can of frosting, then covers it with plastic wrap 😣 (pet peeve) she considers the funfetti cakes to be a whole birthday party in a box 😬
    well no more I went all out this year!! I’m talkin tie dye cakes, Four Colored checkerboard cakes without the checkerboard pan and a very brave attempt at a topsy turvy! that actually brought wows at a friend’s multiple birthday bash😁 … my niece even asked me make her birthday cake this year (sorry barb ) And, Father’s Day has brought me to your cake balls w/o the pan, and I thank you for consuming so much of your time so that I may make my family smile with wonderment again! I’ll be making a spice cake featuring white chocolate polka dots and nice cream cheese frosting 😉

  29. Suzanne says:

    OMG………what an outstanding job and creative idea for decorating. You have set a very high standard for a gorgeous non-flowery cake. Too beautiful and looks so “doable”.

    I buy sixlets but didn’t know they came in different sizes. Do you have any idea how many bags you needed to decorate this cake. Did the different sizes come in bags? The little ones look like decorating tiny balls that come in tubes? Sure would appreciate a mini-lesson in what to buy. Again…wonderful accomoplishment.

  30. Amber says:

    I made this cake for my mother’s birthday! It was time consuming (considering I have little ones running around all day long!) but very fun and I absolutely loved it. I don’t think you could put enough cake balls in the mix to get the polka dot effect. I thought I had a lot, but once the cake was baked I could have used more. Plus I had a lot left over anyways that ended up getting ate! :)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Amber, I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it! It IS a lot of work (especially with kids around) but I’m glad that it was worth it. Happy birthday to your mom!

  31. Bianca says:

    Firstly, I love your cakes and all your awesome ideas.. I always try one when I am asked to bake for anyone!

    I have tried making this but with cake pops and I found all my cake pops lifted to the top of the cake and as the cake baked they kept rising to the top. How can I prevent the cake pops from rising and keep them lower down on in my cake?

    Thanks
    Bianca

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi Bianca, When you tried the cake, were you using this recipe or another one? (Like a cake mix?) I haven’t had a problem with the cake pops rising, I think because the batter is thick so the pops remain suspended in it. A thinner batter, like a cake mix, might behave differently.

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