Flag Cake Recipe for Normal People

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I’ve been ogling flag cakes for years. Those gorgeously layered, red, white, and blue baked beauties that the instructions swear are easy to make. (I see what you did there, Pinterest. Pulling me in with that “you can do it!” and “don’t you want to be the person who makes a flag cake!” and “CAKE CAKE CAKE!” swoonage.)

And so for years, I’ve been trying.

One recipe looked super easy because it was essentially it’s a sheet cake with a nice fruit topping. No big deal. I’m not inept. I can make this. Truth: The icing bits that make up the white stripes? Those MELT in the hot July sun. Messy, melty cake is not what I was going for.

Another recipe had me making several layers and cutting circles out of a blue layer to add in another red layer and white layer and create that perfect-cut red, white, and blue that you see all over the Internet and makes you slobber. It was great, except it wouldn’t stay upright. The blue part kept leaning off the cake and trying to crumble to the ground in a way the frosting wouldn’t prevent. And it was more of a neon blue than a star-spangled navy. So… no again.

Another one was just so disastrous we’re not going to even talk about it because blue food coloring can be really, really hard to get out of camouflage, BTW, and if you ever figure out how, please let me know. But my self-esteem and kitchen were devolving into one rather blue, messy, unsuccessful attempt to bake one rather innocuous flag cake. I was living this in real life, minus the existential crisis.

This was not going to fly.  I’m a military spouse. Flag cake SHOULD be in my existence. If ANYBODY is going to be serving a flag cake on the Fourth of July, IT’S GOING TO BE ME.

(That, and I called Publix and they don’t sell one.)

So I decided I had to figure out how to hack it. A way for the rest of us normal people with things like screaming children and loads of laundry and no sous chef or head cleaner-upper to make flag cake. For someone who isn’t Martha, doesn’t even buy her magazine until it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m like oh yeah… that, and STILL DESERVES TO BE A FLAG CAKE EATING PATRIOT.

And guys, I did it.

So with no further ado:

The Flag Cake, For The Rest of Us. (Hint: The secret is more flour.)

You’ll need:

2 batches of cake batter (boxed or homemade)
1 3/4 teaspoons extra flour
2 8 or 9″ cake pans, greased twice
4 cups heavy whipping cream
Powdered sugar (at least 5 T, more for preference)
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
Red, blue, and black food coloring (Wilton’s gels are perfect for this)
Biscuit cutter

Instructions for normal people:

One of the problems we kept finding with flag cake recipes was that because they are so multi-layered and tall (this one finished at just over 7″), and because you’re generally serving them outside in the July heat, they tend to start tilting like the Tower of Pisa. And then falling over. Letting your flag cake break under the heat of the midsummer sun is like letting the crown win.

You just can’t let that happen.

Accordingly, we found the best way to prevent this Pisa-esque toppling was to weight the layers with a little more flour at the bottom. You’re going to add the additional flour to each distinct layer in the pan right before you bake it – super easy.

Make your first batch of the cake batter and split it evenly between the two greased tins. This first batch will be the white layers – layer one and layer three. Layer one, on the bottom, needs to be the sturdiest, so once you have split the first batch of batter evenly between the cake tins, thoroughly mix in one teaspoon extra flour. Make sure there are no lumps – mix mix mix.

For the other tin – layer three – add in a quarter teaspoon of extra flour and thoroughly mix it in.

Bake the two cakes until done, cool, and remove the cakes from their tins.

Wash, dry, and regrease the tins and then split the second batch of batter evenly between them. These are layers two (red) and layer four (blue). For layer two, mix in the last half-teaspoon of extra flour. For the top, or blue layer, you won’t need to mix in extra flour, but both layers require food coloring. Fun!

Here’s the most important advice I have for this cake: Do not be shy with your food coloring! The red layer will need at least four drops of red food coloring. The blue layer will need one drop of black food coloring and at least three drops of blue. The black food coloring is to give it a navy tone – it’s what will keep the blue from turning bright aqua. As you’re mixing the color in, make sure the batter looks sufficiently bright. A pink and pale blue cake won’t have quite the same impact, so when in doubt, add more. (Just don’t add more black!)

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Bake, let cool, and de-pan.

With the four layers all cooled, you’re going to trim the rounded top of the cakes off. Using a large serrated knife (a bread knife is great here), start at the edge of the cake and drive the knife straight across, skimming off the rounded top to make a flat cake layer. Reserve the discarded cake.

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Depress the biscuit cutter into the blue layer of cake and remove the circle it cut leaving a blue cake “donut.” In the skimmed extra layer of red cake, repeat the process, and insert the red cake “donut hole” into the blue cake “donut.” Mmm, cake donuts.

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Now it’s time for frosting.

To make the frosting, beat the chilled whipping cream on medium-high in a chilled (in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or the freezer for 5) metal bowl using a chilled whisk. The chill is important here – it’s how you’re going to stabilize the cream and keep it from melting straight down your cake. As the cream starts to thicken, gradually add in the lemon juice and powdered sugar until you reached the desired taste and consistency. The longer you beat the frosting, the thicker it will get.

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Spread the frosting across your cake layers, building up from layer one until you have completed the cake with the “donut” layer on top. Carefully frost the outside of the cake, taking care to not tear the cake layers as you cover them in the stabilized whipped cream.

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If you’re feeling extra awesome, crumble some of your discarded cake layers into a decorative ring along the top. Or cover with sprinkles, insert a sparkler, do whatever it is you do to make your cake awesome. (You could of course color the whipped cream, too, and decorate it and red, white, and blue! Or you could be like me, and just decide this is awesome enough and it’s time for cake already.)


Chill the cake until serving, present to your friends, slice it open to reveal your flag, and gush as they tell you how awesome you are. Look at that flag cake! You’re so awesome, they’re right. Take that, Martha! Any layman can make a flag cake. Even if it does take some extra flour to keep it from falling over.

Flag cake forever.

About the Author

Raleigh Duttweiler
Raleigh Duttweiler is a writer and social media expert living just outside the gates of MacDill in sunny Saint Petersburg, Florida. A Marine Corps wife, she has navigated the stress of Active Duty moves, trainings, and deployments, and now that her family has transitioned to the Reserves, she's experiencing the "weekend warrior" side of military life. (NB: It's not quite as part-time as advertised.) When not writing about benefits and military families, Raleigh posts here about truly life-altering, important issues like What Not to Wear to a Military Ball (visible thongs), Military Halloween Costumes We Love to Hate (ones that generally resemble both military uniforms AND thongs), and how to pack awesome care packages. She is passionate about spouse employment, higher education, and helping families navigate the often-bumpy transition back into civilian life. Raleigh also manages the SpouseBUZZ and Military.com Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages, so be sure to say hi!
  • Mona

    Good job. (Gotta tell her that right?). And I bet it is so good (doesn’t really look that good).
    You tried. Ah huh!!! You’ll get better. (God only knows).
    Bless your heart and thank you so much.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      This is the best flag cake by a normal human I’ve ever seen. Care to try your hand at it and link the results?

      • mona

        Not only no but hell no….I will buy one..if I get one… or make a jello cake…. they are pretty simple…

    • Brigid

      I’ve made flag cake recipes too. She’s right. They are impossible!

    • ophiolite

      Personally, I am impressed by her efforts. I can’t even make a regular cake not look like a wreck. I think it’s awesome that (1) she tried, (2) it looks like a flag- mission accomplished, (3) it has directions an idiot like me could likely follow.
      Let’s give her the props she deserves. That sh*t looks super involved.

    • Melody

      Using two cake mixes is what makes this cake ridiculously tall. I make four layer cakes all the time with ONE cake mix and split the layers (AND you won’t have to worry about layers falling off!). You wouldn’t be able to have a separate red and blue layer so I’d use just red and white layers and either tint the icing blue, add blueberries to icing (between layers) or any number of ways to make the top icing blue. A tasty filling and even icing I make is made by using vanilla instant pudding, add one cup of milk and whisk for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Fold in a container of thawed Cool Whip and mix well using a rubber spatula (making sure to scrap bottom since pudding is heavier). You can add food coloring or even try with any other flavors of pudding, too.

  • mona

    omg girls get a clue… good criticism is great for the soul….I was teasing her… she did do an excellent job… a little funning doesn’t hurt…. you guys are way to sensitive… lighten up…

    • Leah

      So was it good criticism, or teasing? It can’t be both, either it was what you consider “good criticism” or you were just teasing and you didn’t mean it at all. Which one?

  • Antonym4U

    I think constructive criticism is helpful, but I don’t think ‘doesn’t look all that good’ falls under that umbrella. I think it looks great. Good criticism must be great for YOUR soul, I guess. What exactly IS ‘good’ criticism?

  • Jess

    I think this looks great! The frosting layers look thick enough to be the white stripes, so I might even use all red cake!

  • Chrys Kendall

    My favorite is called “Wave Your Flag Cake”. It’s pretty simple although it is time consuming to get the strawberries cut in half and placed just right. You can find it on the Kraft website. http://m.kraftrecipes.com/recipedetail.do?recipeid=50205&cn=US

  • Shaina

    Where does the extra red cake come from to take the “donut hole”? There is no hole in the red layer

    • Brenda

      You cut off the rounded top so you have a thinner, flat red cake (very commonly done with professionally decorated cakes. The rounded top you cut off is used to fill in the blue layer.
      “With the four layers all cooled, you’re going to trim the rounded top of the cakes off. Using a large serrated knife (a bread knife is great here), start at the edge of the cake and drive the knife straight across, skimming off the rounded top to make a flat cake layer. Reserve the discarded cake.

      “In the skimmed extra layer of red cake, repeat the process, and insert the red cake “donut hole” into the blue cake “donut.” Mmm, cake donuts.”

  • Linda

    I don’t understand where the small red piece on top comes from either.

  • Eunice

    Very Good effort and turned out well. Of course the easiest flag cake I’ve seen this year is made of cupcakes frosted in red, white & blue. Just decide how many you need of each color and arrange them in flag form.

  • brenda

    flag cake in a bowl. large clear bowl. white cake, red berries, blue berries, cool whip. layer of red berries on bottom, layer of cool whip and chunks of cake. red berries on top of that and cover in cool whip with red and blue berries scattered on top. chill well. serve

  • Carol

    What goes in the donuts?

  • latashalaval

    The Flag Cake can be your Show or Center Piece, then have a Big-Phat-Oggie-Googie Chocolate Cake as back up & for all those Vanilla ppl, a Nice, Bland Yellow or Angel Food Cake (ahh, thow some wanuts on it what the heck or Strawberries on the Angel Food version). Eat ‘Em Up … Yum-Yum!!!

  • hc.conn

    I like it :) It fits rights in to the “primitives” style that is popular where I live. It’s cute!

  • Cecelia Rodman

    I admire your efforts. Wouldn’t it be easier to make one white cake mix devided into two pans. Let them cool for ten or 15 minutes or per instructions on box. Remove from pans and freeze them. I usually flash freeze them and then place into a ziplock plastic bag for storage in the freezier for when I am ready to ice them. You can make them a day or two ahead as long as they are frozen and wrapped well in the freezier. When you are ready to put the cake together – Make a double batch of iceing. Each separate. Put one and a half batch aside( this is the white). Divide the remaining batch in half. Color one red and the second blue. Take one of the white cakes out of the freezier. Leave the other on in the freezier Using a serretted knife cut the frozen cake in half so that you have two layers. Cut by placing the knife point half way into the middle section. Try to keep the point in the same position by moving the blade toward the left and the cake toward the right. If you are left handed go in the opposite direction. Remember the cake is frozen. Place the top cut layer upside down on the bottom of the platter. Now quickly ice that layer with either the red iceing or the blue iceing. Try to leave a quater of an inch free of iceing when spreading on the cake sections. You do this to help keep the colored iceing from bleeding into the white iceing on the sides. Place the bottom of the cake you just cut upside down on the iced cake. Ice the bottom of the the cake with the white iceing. Now you are ready to use the remaining section still in the freezer. Remove and slice it in the same way as the first. Now add the bottom layer onto the cake with the white iceing. Ice this layer with the remaining color. Add top and ice the entire cake white and trimmings if you like. The colored iceing looks much better than using color dyes and is much healthier. You don’t have to add any extra flour, and you can make the lighter calorie cake of your choice as well as cutting back on layers. You will have a nice looking layered cake. I hope this helps. I use the same layering method for all my cakes.

    • Melody

      I completely agree and also make multi-layered cakes this way, as well: ONE cake mix – four layers. It’s no wonder the cake above is so tall (too tall!). One way to ‘slice’ the layers evenly is to use thread or unflavored dental floss. Simply wrap thread evenly around the outside perimeter of the cake and when the ends come together, slowly pull in opposite directions until they pull through. You can also use this method to slice an iced sheet cake – especially helpful so you won’t have to keep wiping the knife off.

  • Jessie

    Hidden Flag cake

    •2 boxes of Moist Deluxe Classic White Cake Mix (1-tint with Royal Blue, 1-keep white)
    •1 box of Moist Deluxe Strawberry Supreme Cake Mix (tint with Red No-Taste)
    •Food Color Gel: Witlon Red No-Taste & Wilton Royal Blue
    •White Icing: Buttercream or Whipped Cream of your choice
    •Pudding or Icing for between the layers
    •Red & Blue Sprinkles
    1.Bake 1-white cake, 1-blue cake, and 1-red cake in 9×13 rectangular pan
    2.Slice the red and white cake horizontally in 3-same height. Cut the blue cake vertically into 4-same width (9″ divide 4), we only need 2-pcs of 1/4 of the blue cake.
    3.The stacking order is: red (1st slice), white (1st slice), red (2nd slice), white (2nd slice). Spread with pudding/icing in between layers before you stack the cake slices.
    4.Next, cut the 3rd slices of red & white into 2-same width (9″ divide 2). Stack (red, white, red) on the center of the cake, then put the 1/4 of blue cake on the right & left side of the cake. Remember to spread with pudding/icing in between to make all the layers stay together.
    5.Cover the cake with buttercream/whipped cream and it’s ready to SURPRISE everyone.
    6.To serve it: cut in half the long-side of the cake, then slice it to serve to the guests, so everyone could get the flag-cake.
    7.Enjoy… Happy Baking ;)

    • Jessie

      I tried to post a picture of this cake, but it didn’t come through…it’s a fairly simple cake to make and very pretty

    • Melody

      A good filling for between layers is to take a small box of instant pudding (any flavor) and mix with one cup of milk; whisk for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Then add the contents of a small container of Cool Whip (thawed, of course) and gently fold it in. Easy and delicious!

  • jacey_eckhart

    I love all the cake advice. I think I’d make more cakes if I had friends like all of you!

  • Whythehassle

    Don’t really care for this cake but make sure the frosting was SNOW white instead of cream color and make sure the sides of cake are COMPLETELY covered, not bare spots as I see with this one. I make four layer cakes all the time for charity auctions and I use two deep Wilton cake pans and split them in half in the manner one lady explained earlier. I do make everything from scratch and I do put the layers in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for a couple of hours for ease in frosting with NO crumbs in frosting. You can also put on what is know as a “crumb coat”, which is a very thin coat of frosting, refrigerate for half and hour, then put on a full thick frosting all over cake. My last cake sold for $150.