Checkerboard Snow Cake For Christmas – Gluten and Dairy-Free with Natural Colours

Let it snow, let it snow…

I love making checkerboard cakes. They look impressive but are so easy! This Snow Cake is absolutely delicious with its lemon, coconut, vanilla combo, and white chocolate flowing over the citrusy butter cream frosting! Try it, you can’t go wrong. Or can you…

I sure made a right and proper mess this time around. I was having a bit of a frenzied day, and with temperatures soaring and Christmas fast approaching, something had to give sooner or later.

Christmas at my place

Christmas at my place (the calm before the storm)

It all started with wrong measurements. I was doubling the portions to make a double-decker of a cake, but forgot to double up the sugar. Batch one down.

As I had managed to successfully mix up batch number two I was starting to feel the hurry, and I accidentally turned the dial on my mixer to full speed, resulting in a flying circus of eggs and flour. Hoopla.

On the third attempt I got as far as adding colour. This is the exciting part, as you really never know with natural colours. They aren’t as stable as the synthetic ones, and might look differently based on what they react to in your mix. With my track record that day I should probably have been more careful, like testing a small portion rather than colouring the whole batch. Alas, my patience was worn thin and I took a gamble. Before I could say stupid I had a double batch of groggy looking purple cake batter. I played with the idea of turning it into an “advent cake” instead, but really, who want’s to eat a purple cake.

Snow Cake – Vanilla, Lemon and Coconut

Batch four came along just fine. I crossed my T’s and dotted my I’s carefully with no time to lose. At this point I had used pretty much every piece of equipment in my kitchen, not a measuring spoon was left unturned. I had no time to fanny about with cleaning in between each batch, and the level of recklessness was nearing fast and furious. There was egg thrown across the counter and up the back wall from my blender incident, and flour and water footprints between the bench and the sink. My fridge and stove looked like a Friday night crime show, with icing sugar fingerprints and a disturbing red splatter of food colour. In less than 90 minutes my guests would arrive, and I hadn’t even so much as thought about dinner!

Snow Cake – Vanilla, Lemon and Coconut

I had lined 4 pans for the cake. I find that easier than trying to slice a larger cake into several pieces. The sizes come out more accurate that way. As I lined the pans I thought to myself: “no time for nit-picking, just get it done” and I “invented” a rather lazy way of throwing the baking paper into the tins. Australians like to say “she’ll be right”, which I made my mantra for the day.

With the colours good to go and one giant purple cake finally out of the oven, I was ready to fill my pans and get this show on the road. Only my lazy baking paper invention wasn’t all that keen to play along.. As I poured, the sides fell into the mix and disappeared in the batter. I tried to fish them out with one hand whilst pouring with the other, but all I got was green batter all over my clothes. And guess what, natural colours make just as stubborn stains as their synthetic counterparts. In fact, on fabric they are remarkably colour stable!

I figured what the heck, I’m not starting over, and in the spirit of haste I decided to cram all the pans into the oven in one go. I got 3 pans on top, and had to find room for the fourth on the rack below. I knew I had squeezed it pretty tight, and it looked like the bottom cake might rise up into the rack above, and so I decided to move it one level to be sure.

Anyone who bakes knows that opening the oven door half way through is never a great idea. Cakes can sink faster than your blood pressure as soon as that heat escapes. Knowing that I had to be quick, I only opened the door ever so slightly, trying to balance the top tray one level up. With three full cake tins crammed onto it, the balance was staggeringly out of kilter, and as I pulled the rack towards me out flew the last straw for the day.. I don’t know what led me to believe I could successfully move a hot and crammed baking tray with just one hand anyway. No sooner than had I touched the rack, was I covered in green (and very hot) cake batter. So was the inside of the oven and my kitchen floor. The whole pan had come flying out of the oven, and there was absolutely no saving it. I couldn’t exactly start cleaning the oven and ruin what was left of the cakes, so I simply had to close it up knowing that there would be a solid, baked and burnt crust of green cake throughout the oven for me to scrub off later.

As I stood in the middle of my trashed kitchen, covered in green gunk and looking at what seemed like an ocean of cake batter on the floor, I heard the drumming sound of a wall clock ticking above my head. Tick tack, your guests will be here any minute you silly woman.

I’m not even sure what came out of my mouth at that point, but I know it wasn’t Christmas carols.

Snow Cake – Vanilla, Lemon and Coconut

The remainder of my cakes all sunk in the middle, except the one on the bottom which rose right up to the next rack and had metal bars stuck in it. Every cake had baking paper baked through it, none of them were even and the air bubbles were so big I could probably wear one as a toe ring. The only success was the ugly purple cake, which tasted wonderfully and looked like it was meant for halloween.

When my guests arrived I had morning hair, a green battered outfit, wet slippers with red icing and a kitchen that looked like a Who had thrown up on it. My friend leaned over the kitchen counter, touched my face and said “uh, there’s a little something on your face”. What, you mean you can see my skin though this?

I suppose I don’t really need to mention that I melted the butter cream with the hot white chocolate (because I just didn’t have enough patience left to wait for it to cool), I forgot to place a cake base underneath before I assembled it (hence it’s on my turn table in the photos), and I only discovered after the photo shoot that I had taken all the photos on a night setting, giving them all a gloomy mood and a green tint. To top it off I cut it crookedly and forgot to turn the aircon on so that it melted during the shoot.

If it hadn’t tasted so darn delicious I would have thrown the whole darned thing in the bin!

Snow Cake – Vanilla, Lemon and Coconut

My guests had sausages and mash for dinner in the end, and we ate purple cake with leftover butter cream for dessert. I wonder if they’ll ever come back.

However, this infamous cake disaster tastes like absolute heaven, and with a little bit of luck (and notably less stress) you can make it a smashing Christmas success! No need to go all out and trash your kitchen.

All you need is:

  • Your choice of gluten-free vanilla sponge cake mix, three standard packs (can be egg-free)
  • 6 round cake tins approx 18cm / 7 inches diameter – or you can use two tins three times. Make sure the tins have straight edges.
  • Zest (finely ground) of 2 lemons, juice of 1 (1/2 cup juice)
  • Zest (finely ground) of 1 orange, juice of 1 (1/2 cup juice) (You can exchange these for 1 1/2 tsp citric acid if you please)
  • 1+1 tsp natural organic vanilla extract
  • Enough coconut milk (not coconut cream or coconut water) to replace the liquid in one of the cake mixes (depends on your brand)
  • 1 cup gluten-free dairy-free (optional) white chocolate chips (compound is easier to work with) – melted
  • Natural Green and Red food colours (see list of safe and unsafe food colours)
  • White sprinkles or preservative free desiccated or shredded coconut (free from sulphites E220-228) I used Hopper’s natural, failsafe 100’s & 1000’s


  • 500 grams of dairy-free butter (or butter) I used Nutellex
  • 1 tbsp rice milk/ soy milk or milk
  • 1 tsp of citric acid
  • 1 tsp organic natural vanilla extract
  • Enough gluten free icing sugar to achieve desired consistency

Snow Cake – Vanilla, Lemon and Coconut

Preheat the oven to 190 c or 374 f, or as directed on the pack if different (know your oven, temperatures may differ), and line your pans thoroughly.

Make up one of the cake mixes as directed on the pack, and exchange 1 cup of the liquid in the recipe for 1/2 cup of orange juice and 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. If the original recipe requires less liquid, simply adjust to suit, but making sure the amounts are half/half. If the recipe requires more, add the rest as water. Lastly you add the zest, mix well and place into two pans. If you only have two pans available, now is the time to put these in the oven.

Make up the second batch, adding half of the vanilla essence. Add either red or green colour as you please. You probably won’t need much colouring, so be careful. Keep going gently until you reach your desired colour. Fill the batter into two round pans and bake.

In the third mix you need to replace the liquid with the coconut milk, and add the second half of the vanilla. You add the colour lastly, green or red as you please, then fill into two pans.

Once the cakes have been baked, let them cool for 5 minutes before turning them out of the pans and onto a cooling rack. They need to be cooled completely before you start cutting them.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, you can make the butter cream icing. Mix the citric acid in with the icing sugar. Use an electric mixer to soften the dairy-free butter. Add the liquid, let it blend on slow whilst you slowly add icing sugar until you reach a firm but moldable consistency. Turn your mixer on medium to high, and let the butter cream fluff up properly for the next 2-3 minutes.

It is a good idea to put aside some of the butter cream for “glueing” the cake together. I use a separate bowl and utensils because I don’t want crumbs in frosting that goes on the outside of the cake. Don’t set aside too much, simply add more into your separate bowl as you go.

Click here for a detailed description with step-by-step photos of how to put together a checkerboard cake!

Winter Checkerboard CakeOnce you have built your cake you want to frost the outside with butter cream. It should be fairly even, but it doesn’t have to be perfect because you will be pouring chocolate and sprinkles over it afterwards. It is important that you place the cake in the fridge for 10-15 minutes in between the frosting and the chocolate so that the cake holds together nicely.

After the frosting I pour sprinkles (or coconut) over top of the cake whilst the melted chocolate is cooling down slightly. I pour the chocolate into a ziplock bag,  cut a little piece off the corner, and then pour the melted chocolate over the sides of the cake generously, letting if flow freely down the sides to make it look like snow. Let the cake harden in a cool place, but the fridge isn’t a great idea as the chocolate will “sweat” afterwards when you take it from the cold fridge to a warm room. If you live in a hot climate however (like me), you might still need to store it in the fridge or it won’t last.

The Snow Cake looks amazing on the table, tall and beautiful, not to mention very Christmassy! When you cut into it, your red, white and green checkerboard creation is revealed to the amazement of your guests. This really is a cake to impress with during the holiday season, it tastes positively divine and it really isn’t as hard as I made it out to be! 🙂

Happy Holidays!


5 Comments on “Checkerboard Snow Cake For Christmas – Gluten and Dairy-Free with Natural Colours”

  1. Wow, that was quite an adventure. I am exhausted just reading about your cake- baking day. You may not think that it’s your best attempt, but it sure looks fabulous!! And by the way, I love the photo of your home. Just so you know.. I’m going to do something similar. I love it!!!


Leave a Reply to Pat Greco Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: