Surprise Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home
Total Time
Prep: 25 min. + decorating Bake: 30 min. + cooling
When a regular cake doesn't cut it, make a surprise cake. The first slice always earns oohs and aahs!

Updated: Mar. 19, 2024

We live for that feeling of awe when we see a decorated cake. There’s so much beauty: all of the intricate details—from the choice of sprinkles to the way the frosting swoops across the surface.

With a surprise cake, you get two of those “wow” moments: First, when you present the cake, and again when you cut into it and all of the colorful candies come spilling out.

When you want to make a cake that’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, a surprise cake is just the thing. We’ve got all the tips and tricks so you can nail this bombshell dessert the first time you make it.

What is a surprise cake?

Surprise cakes are layer cakes filled with candies that spill out when you cut into them. Just like pinatas, breaking that outer “shell” gets you to the goodies—which is why they’re sometimes also referred to as pinata cakes. But no matter what you call them, these cakes definitely create a moment of surprise for anyone watching!

Surprise Cake Ingredients

Ingredients Of Surprise Cake spread out on wood surfaceTMB Studio

Cake:

  • White cake mix
  • Eggs
  • Buttermilk
  • Vegetable oil
  • Blue, green, pink and yellow gel food coloring

Frosting:

  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Butter
  • Vanilla extract
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Assorted candy, sprinkles and mini white chocolate chips

Directions

Step 1: Make the cake batter

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of four greased 8-inch round baking pans with parchment, then grease the paper too.

In a large bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, buttermilk and oil and mix until well combined, about 2 minutes.

Step 2: Color the cake batter

divided colors in four baking tinsTMB Studio

Divide the cake batter between four bowls. Tint the first portion blue, the second portion green, the third portion pink and remaining portion with yellow food coloring. Transfer each of the different colored batters to their own greased cake pans.

Step 3: Bake the cakes

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring them to wire racks, removing the parchment paper. Cool completely.

Step 4: Trim each cake layer

Cake Layers Of Surprise Cake post trimmingTMB Studio

Using a serrated knife or cake leveler, trim the tops of each cake to be level.

Editor’s Tip: Save cake scraps for another use, like cake balls or another one of our ideas in our guide to what to do with broken cake.

Step 5: Make the frosting

In a large bowl, beat the confectioners’ sugar, butter, vanilla and enough cream to reach your desired consistency.

Step 6: Cut out the center of two cake layers

Hand Cutting Circle In Surprise Cake pink layerTMB Studio

Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle out of the center of the blue cake layer and the pink cake layer. (Save these cake scraps, too!)

Step 7: Assemble the layer cake

Hands assembling layers of the surprise cake on a cake standTMB Studio

Place the green cake layer on a serving plate and spread with 1 cup of frosting. Place the pink layer on top, and cover with another 3/4 cup of frosting. Repeat with the blue layer and another 3/4 cup of frosting.

Step 8: Fill the cake with candies and sprinkles

Hands filling surprise cake layers with sprinklesTMB Studio

Fill the center of the cake with assorted candies and sprinkles. Top with the yellow cake layer.

Step 9: Decorate the cake

Hands Applying Frosting To Surprise CakeTMB Studio

Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. If desired, use additional frosting and sprinkles to decorate. Store in the refrigerator until serving.

Step 10: Serve and surprise!

Make sure everyone is watching when you cut the first wedge out of the cake, and wait for the collective gasp!

Surprise Cake Variations

Feel free to get creative! Use whatever flavors of cake and frosting you like. Go with a yellow cake mix brand to keep it simple, or use your favorite from-scratch cake recipe to make your dessert even more impressive. We used food coloring to make yellow, blue, green and pink layers of cake, but any colors will work. Or, go the chocolate cake route.

Can you make a surprise cake ahead of time?

Yes—in fact, it would be much easier if you planned ahead. Make and bake the cake layers a day ahead to give them time to cool. That way, you can take your time to assemble and decorate the cake without having to rush to finish the entire project in the same afternoon or evening.

Surprise Cake Tips

Surprise Cake with sprinkles pouring outTMB Studio

What else can you fill a surprise cake with besides sprinkles?

We filled ours with M&Ms, sprinkles and mini chocolate chips, which are fairly common fillers for surprise cakes. However, there are other options. A few mini Oreos would be fun. Sixlets or malted milk balls would work just as well. Feel free to get creative, but remember that you want the candies to fall out of the cake easily. Candies like Sour Patch Kids or other gummy varieties might not come tumbling out of the cake on their own.

Finally, particularly flavorful candies like Red Hots may impart some flavor on the cake itself, depending on how far in advance you make the surprise cake—so be mindful of the candies you choose, and how they might mix with the other flavors.

When can you serve a surprise cake?

Surprise cakes is a wonderful choice for birthday parties, bridal and baby showers, anniversaries, graduation and engagement parties and more. Match the colors of the candies, cake layers and frosting to the theme of your gathering for an extra “wow” factor.

Watch how to Make Surprise Cake

Surprise Cake

Prep Time 25 min
Cook Time 30 min
Yield 16 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 packages white cake mix (regular size)
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Blue, green, pink and yellow gel food coloring
  • FROSTING:
  • 8 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
  • 1-1/4 cups assorted candy, sprinkles and mini white chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line bottoms of 4 greased 8-in. round baking pans with parchment; grease paper. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, buttermilk and oil; mix until well combined, about 2 minutes. Divide batter between 4 bowls; tint 1 portion blue, second portion green, third portion pink and remaining portion yellow with food coloring. Transfer batters to prepared pans.
  2. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes before removing to wire racks; remove paper. Cool completely. Using a serrated knife, trim tops of cake layers to be level (save cake scraps for another use). For frosting, in a large bowl, beat confectioners’ sugar, butter, vanilla and enough cream to reach desired consistency.
  3. Using a 3-in. round cookie cutter, cut a circle out of the center of the blue cake layer and the pink cake layer (save for another use). Place the green cake layer on a serving plate; spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with the pink layer and 3/4 cup frosting. Repeat with blue layer and frosting. Fill center of cake with assorted candies and sprinkles. Top with the yellow cake layer.
  4. Spread remaining frosting over top and side of cake. If desired, use additional frosting and sprinkles to decorate. Store in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Facts

1 piece: 574 calories, 27g fat (13g saturated fat), 50mg cholesterol, 353mg sodium, 84g carbohydrate (71g sugars, 0 fiber), 2g protein.