Citrus Ombre Cake

This ombre cake decorating technique comes courtesy of the first winner of BBC’s The Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber. It’s deceptively simple while producing a stunning product, so naturally it caught my interest.

Ombre Cake

I used this technique to finish off a citrus cake. The cake itself is a simple lemon sponge, filled and crumb-coated with an orange buttercream icing, and finally finished off with lime buttercream dyed three shades of pink.

I’m a huge fan of The Great British Bake Off. If you love baking, you owe it to yourself to watch this competition. Already three seasons in, the competition pits amateur bakers against each other, eliminating one every episode until a winner emerges. And let me tell you, these challenges are far from easy. I’ll never join a competition like this though. Baking for me is all about fun, and the Bake Off competitors for the most part don’t look like they’re having fun. But watching from the comfort of home, I get to pick up quite a few tips and recipes from the show.

Anyway, back to Edd Kimber, the first Bake Off champion. I follow Mr. Kimber’s baking blog The Boy Who Bakes, and some time back he posted a video demonstration for decorating a cake with a fish-scale pattern going around the sides in an ombre swirl. Mr. Kimber’s instructions are straightforward and easy to follow, so watch his video below before attempting this cake.


  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 60g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest from half a lemon (or use a lemon essence/oil)
  • 100g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

For the orange buttercream filling/crumb-coat:

  • 75g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp orange zest (opt./or use orange essence instead)
  • About 1 tbsp orange juice (freshly squeezed or bottled)

For the lime buttercream ombre icing

  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • A pinch of salt
  • About 2 tbsp lime juice (freshly squeezed or bottled)
  • Red food-colouring (gel form preferred)

Makes a tiny 5-inch layer cake. (Double the quantities for a 7-inch cake.)


Step 1: Preheat your oven to 175°C (350°F). Grease and line two 5-inch round cake tins.

Step 2: In a bowl, mix the milk and lemon juice together and leave for 5 minutes. In the meantime, cream the butter, sugar and salt together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest. Finally, sift in flour, baking powder and soda. Add the soured milk (which should have thickened up by now) and mix everything together until combined. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before decorating.

Step 3: First make the orange buttercream to fill and crumb-coat the cake. Beat the butter until it turns a pale yellow. Sift in the icing sugar and salt. Add the orange zest and mix well. Add in enough orange juice to thin your icing to a spreadable consistency.

Use about two-thirds of the orange buttercream to sandwich the two cake layers together. Use the remaining third to crumb-coat the cake. The purpose of the crumb-coat is to seal in the crumbs and prevent them from showing up in the topmost icing layer. So keep the orange buttercream icing thin all over the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least an hour to let the crumb-coat harden.

Step 4: Make up the lime buttercream icing the same way you did the orange buttercream. When you’re done, remove a third of it to fill a piping bag. To the remaining icing, add enough red food-colouring to it until you get a light pink. Remove half and fill another piping bag with it. With the last portion of icing, keep adding red food-colouring until you achieve a deep pink; use it to fill a third piping bag.

Decorate your cake as per Mr. Kimber’s instructions above.



Just a few additional notes from my own experience decorating this cake:

First, while the technique is simple, it takes a helluva long time to finish icing the entire cake, even if it’s a tiny 5-inch cake like mine. I think it took me about an hour to finish piping and smearing the sides, after which I had no more patience left so I just finished off the top with the deepest pink icing.

Two, make your ombre icing a little thinner than you normally would. As you can see my smears are a bit on the rough side because my icing is a tad too dry. Try to work in a cool environment so you don’t have to worry about thin icing falling off the sides of your cake.

Three, with it being such a tiny cake, I definitely could not use a palette knife to make the smears. But I had great success using a teaspoon to create these tiny scales. Of course, if you make a larger cake, use either a tablespoon or a palette knife for smearing.

Four, wipe clean your palette knife/teaspoon between smears so you don’t ruin the next colour.

Five, you don’t need three identical piping tips for this cake. Since you only need to create blobs before smearing them, I just cut the tips off my disposable piping bags.

Six, take the time to make sure each smear/scale is clean and sharp. Don’t be afraid to go over with your palette knife/teaspoon repeatedly until you get a nice sharp line. You’ll get a better finish that way.


Leave a Reply