While I can’t resist a barrage of colour on anything edible, I do sometimes wonder what artificial colourings do to our insides. So, much as I love decorating cakes with multicoloured layers of sugary neon fondant, I am also always on the lookout for clever ways of paring things back.

Hidden inside this simple vanilla cake is a subtle rainbow-stripe filling that satisfies my urges for food colouring, while the adornment of fruit on top makes use of the shades that nature has so kindly given to us. While developing this recipe, I happened to be working with a very special Chris Martin lookalike, and I realized how not being able to eat lactose can hinder some people from getting stuck in. So I found a way to make this recipe lactose-free.

This one is for you, Chris! It’s all for you!

Prep 1 hour, plus chilling

Cook 30 minutes, plus cooling

For the cake

Serves 8-10

  • 250g vegetable fat
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 250g self-raising flour, sifted
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • For the meringue
  • frosting
  • 3 egg whites
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 250g vegetable fat
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • bean paste
  • gel food colouring (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink)

For the decoration

  • 1 clementine, peeled and segmented
  • 4 strawberries, halved
  • 8 dried apricots
  • 8 green grapes
  • 4 purple grapes
  • 10 blueberries

Get baking

  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas 5. Grease the base of two 20cm round cake tins and line with baking paper.
  2. Put the vegetable fat, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, flour and baking powder into the bowl of a mixer, or use a hand-held mixer, and beat on high for 2 minutes, until you have a smooth and even cake batter.
  3. Divide the mixture equally between the two prepared tins, and level off the top.
  4. Bake in the oven on the middle shelf for 25–30 minutes, until the cakes are a light golden colour and coming away from the tin at the sides. A skewer inserted should come out clean.
  5. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and leave until completely cold.
  6. Meanwhile, make the meringue frosting. Place a medium pan on the heat and add about 2½cm of water. Bring the water to the boil, then leave on a low gentle simmer.
  7. Find a heatproof bowl that sits comfortably on top of the pan without moving too much. Put the egg whites and sugar into the bowl.
  8. With the bowl on top of the pan, begin to whisk with a handheld mixer on medium speed. The mixture needs to come up to 60°C. If you don’t have a cooking thermometer, test by taking a bit of the meringue and pressing the mixture between your fingers. Once you can’t feel any sugar granules, the sugar has melted and the mixture is ready.
  9. Take the pan off the heat and keep whisking. Add chunks of the vegetable fat and keep whisking. The mixture will begin to look runny and will then come together and look a lot more like buttercream.
  10. Add the vanilla bean paste and whisk it in. The mixture is ready to use straight away.
  11. Paint stripes of colour all around the inside of a piping bag, starting each stripe at the tip and working up to the top. Fill the piping bag with half the frosting mixture.
  12. Pipe frosting on to the top of one of the cakes, starting from the outside and working your way in until you get to the centre. Place the other cake on top.
  13. Using a spatula, place dollops of white frosting wherever you can see the coloured frosting, so as to conceal the rainbow surprise. Use the rest of the frosting to cover the whole top and sides of the cake. The mixture is airy, so you aren’t looking for a smooth finish, but for one that’s more textured.
  14. Now decorate the top by placing the fruit around the edge.