After my brain cupcake trick went mega viral (I’m talking 50 MILLION views), I really wanted to try something similar on a full-sized cake. I couldn’t quite figure out where to get a silicone mold that would be big enough for a 3 layer cake, so I just went the traditional route and piped the brain pattern directly onto my cake. I do still love how it turned out though! It’s mildly realistic without being so gory that you don’t want to eat it. Layers of fluffy vanilla cake, silky buttercream, and tart raspberry jam make this a well balanced and delicious cake that brings that WOW factor!
Here’s that viral vid:
The base of this cake is simple – just classic vanilla cake layers, but dyed pink to add to the brain effect. The raspberry jam filling is of course, there for looks… but it also brings a lovely balance to the cake as the freshness and tartness cut through the sweetness of the frosting and cake. The buttercream brings a beautiful velvety texture, and allows you to create the squiggled brain folds. And the final touch that brings it all together is the raspberry reduction as fake blood. This also helps to cover any imperfections in your finish, and detracts a little from the piping so your patterns don’t have to be perfect! Win-win.
You can use any buttercream you’d like here, but I would recommend my classic American buttercream as it is smooth and bubble-free, so you can get a nice smooth finish when piping those brain folds.
Here’s a short video showing the process:
And a longer video with more detail:
Vanilla Raspberry Brain Cake
- 1 1/2 cups (195g) flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk
- 1/4 cup (55g) butter room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 1/4 cup (60ml) canola oil
- 2 eggs room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 drops red or pink food dye
Raspberry Jam Filling
- 1 cup frozen raspberries
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 cups butter softened
- 4 cups icing sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 2-3 drops pink food dye
For the Vanilla Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour three 6-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper for easy removal.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set this dry ingredient mixture aside.
- In a separate large mixing bowl, beat the room temperature butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy, which should take about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the canola oil and continue to mix until well combined with the butter and sugar mixture.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Mix in the vanilla extract and the red or pink food dye. Adjust the amount of food dye to achieve your desired brain-like color.
- Gradually add the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk in two or three additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined; do not overmix.
- Divide the cake batter evenly among the prepared cake pans.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.
- Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Better yet – wrap the layers in plastic wrap and place in the freezer, to make decorating easier!
For the Raspberry Jam Filling:
- In a saucepan, combine the frozen raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the raspberries start to break down.
- At this point, we're going to set aside some of the juice to make a reduction, to act as our "blood". Strain the raspberry mixture over a small bowl, until you have about 1/2 cup of juices. Set this aside. Then plop the mixture back into the pan to continue making your jam.
- Stir continuously as the mixture thickens, for about 5-7 minutes.
- In a separate small bowl, mix the cornstarch and cold water to create a slurry.
- Once the raspberry mixture has thickened, add the cornstarch slurry to the saucepan and stir to combine.
- Continue to cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens to a jam-like consistency. This should take an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Remove the jam from the heat and allow it to cool.
- For the reduction, take the separated juices and place it over medium heat. Bring to a very low boil, and let it reduce for a few minutes until the juice becomes sticky. Set aside to cool.
For the Buttercream
- Prepare buttercream according to instructions (check the "Classic American Buttercream Recipe" page!). Add in pin food dye to make it a brain-y colour.
Stacking the Layers:
- Start by placing one layer of your *fully cooled* vanilla cake on a clean, flat surface or cake board.
- Spread a layer of pink buttercream on top of the cake layer.
- Use a piping bag with a round piping nozzle to create a “dam” of buttercream around the outer edge of the cake layer. This dam will help contain the raspberry jam.
- Fill the center of the cake layer with the raspberry jam filling.
- Carefully place the second cake layer on top, pressing it gently to secure it in place.
- Repeat the process of adding buttercream, a dam, and raspberry jam filling for the second layer.
- Add the final cake layer on top.
- Now you have a three-layer cake with alternating layers of cake and filling.
- Apply a crumb coat to the entire cake. This is a thin layer of pink buttercream that seals in any loose cake crumbs. It doesn’t need to be perfect, as it’s just the first layer.
- Place the cake in the refrigerator and chill it until the crumb coat is firm, typically for about 30 minutes.
Carving the Cake:
- After the crumb coat is chilled and firm, carefully carve the cake into the approximate shape of a brain.
- Apply a second crumb coat to seal any newly exposed cake surfaces.
- Return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until the second crumb coat is firm.
Piping the Brain Pattern:
- Prepare a piping bag with pink buttercream and a round piping nozzle.
- Pipe a squiggly brain pattern onto the cake, covering the entire surface. Be creative with the pattern to make it look like brain folds.
- Place the cake back in the refrigerator and allow the piped buttercream to chill and set until it’s firm.
Applying Raspberry “Blood”:
- Using a pastry brush, gently coat the entire cake with the raspberry jam reduction. This will create a “blood” effect.
- Ensure that the reduction is evenly applied and dripping down the grooves of the brain pattern.
- Once you’ve achieved the desired look, return the cake to the refrigerator for a final chill until the raspberry “blood” sets.
Make Ahead Tips:
- The individual cake layers can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container (or wrapped in plastic wrap) at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Be sure they are well-wrapped to prevent them from drying out.
- The raspberry jam filling can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- The buttercream can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or the freezer for up to 3 months.
Serving at Room Temperature:
- While it should be stored in the fridge, for the best flavour and texture, it’s recommended to serve this cake at room temperature. Remove it from the fridge and allow it to sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving.