How to Make a Dye-Free Pink Ombre Cake

I’m a little behind. My baby girl’s first birthday was over a month ago, and I still haven’t written a thing about it here! I’m blaming the snow that threw off our party schedule for 3 weeks.

I did post some photos, though, and I got more than a few questions about her pink ombre cake, so I thought I’d share how I made it. So many parents are avoiding artificial food dyes these days, and it’s so important for us all to know that giving up those chemicals doesn’t mean we have to give up the fun of a brightly colored birthday cake!

For my wee one’s first, I settled on a pretty pink cake in graduated ombre tones, colored entirely with the juice of a beet. Here’s how to do it (it’s easy!) along with some of my favorite cake decorating tips that I picked up throughout my years as a cake decorator. I hope you find them helpful!

Dye Free Pink Ombre Cake

First, decide on your cake flavor and bake (2) 8″ or 9″ round layers. Make sure they’re nice and cool before you begin decorating.

Cake Decorating Tip: I always bake my cake the night before, then cool and wrap it tightly. It’s sturdier and less likely to crumble after sitting overnight. It’s also a great idea to juice your beet the night before, too. I promise you’ll thank yourself later.

When you’re ready to get started, you’ll need a medium-sized beet. A beautiful red one, like this:

Natural Dyes

Now, juice that baby. I got about 1/3 of a cup out of my beet, which is great because it left me with extra juice to use later.  This cake takes about 4 tablespoons.

But before you go any further, take a moment and marvel at that color. Ma Nature knows what she’s doing, and those yucky chemical dyes can only wish they were this authentically and vibrantly PINK.

Natural Beet Dye

I prefer to cut the edges off my cakes right before I ice them. I think it makes each slice, and those bites on the edge, better. This was an 8-inch round and I cut a good inch off all the way around. (Use those pieces for “taste testing” 😉 or making crumbs for other recipes.)

Ombre Cake

Once your cake is ready and waiting and your beet is juiced, start making your icing.

Basic Fluffy Buttercream Icing:

  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 lb powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • 1/4 cup light cream or milk

Place butter in bowl of a stand mixer. Mix 1 minute on low speed, then 2 minutes on medium speed. Add extract and beat for one minute. Start adding powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time, until all is incorporated, alternating with dashes of light cream to maintain a creamy texture. (The amount of cream you use overall will depend on how thick you want your icing.)

*Tip: End by whipping your icing on a high speed for about 5 minutes. Then, once it’s nice and fluffy, add in about 2 more tablespoons of cream and beat on a low speed for about 2 minutes. Whipping it way up then bringing it back down will help eliminate air bubbles and achieve a nice silky texture.

Dye Free Cake

Add one tablespoon of juice to make a light shade of pink. Ice between layers, stack, and ice entire cake with a thin coat.

Cake Decorating Tip: Always start with more icing on top, not less. If you add it little by little, you’ll pull crumbs. If you pile it up in the middle, then push your icing over the sides of the cake (see center photo) your spatula will almost never touch cake. Then, once covered, you can pull some of that icing back off and there won’t be any crumbs in it! I promise, it works every time.

Dye Free Cake

See those bubbles in the side of the cake? Yeah, they usually bother me. I could have thinned it out a little more to avoid them, but I know I’ll be adding more beet juice to achieve my dark pink and that will thin my icing, too – maybe too much. (And this is getting covered up anyway, so whatevs.)

When you’re doing 3 similar colors like this, you can start with one bag and just refill it with the next darker shade (a great way to save bags) or fill 3 bags all at once (but then you’ll need 3 tips.) Either way, you’ll need 3 shades of pink, like these:

Natural Food Dyes Beet

For shades of pink: 

  • light = 1 tablespoon of beet juice (the same shade you made to ice the cake)
  • medium = add another tablespoon of beet juice to the remaining light pink icing in the bowl
  • dark = add 2 more tablespoons of beet juice to the remaining medium pink icing in the bowl

Cake Decorating Tip: Want to save BIG on piping bags? Hit up your local grocery store bakery. Be real friendly-like and ask them if they’ll order you a roll of the ones their cake decorators use. They’re great quality bags and WAY cheaper than those super pricey ones you find at the craft or kitchen stores. You’ll probably get 50 or 100 on a roll, and they are awesome to have around for so many kitchen uses. I never let myself run out! 

Using light pink, pipe on 2 adjoining rows of rosettes – one on the top of the side, and one on the outer edge of the top.

Natural Food Dyes Beet

Follow with the middle rows of medium pink rosettes, and finally, dark pink rosettes on the bottom row and center.

Dye Free Natural Pink Ombre CakeVoila! You’ve made a pretty pink ombre cake with absolutely no artificial dyes. Easy, right? Now you just have to decide if you’re going to let a little someone smash it!

Dye Free Birthday Cake



    • Wendy says

      Aw, thanks Robin! One good thing about this cake is that even if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t really show!

  1. says

    I tried making red velvet cake with beets before. It tasted good, but getting the ph balance just right to keep the cake red was a fail.

    I make pink frosting with cherry juice concentrate. Cheribundi works good.

    • Wendy says

      Yes! Plus, the cherry gives it a great flavor! The beets don’t add much detectable flavor, so I like to use them with almond extract.

  2. says

    Wow! You did an amazing job! This should be encased behind glass somewhere. Little dipped fingers are so cute but made my heart skip a little cause it’s too beautiful to eat!

  3. Nicole Sparks says

    Absolutely stunning!
    Do you have a method for blue green dyes too? My daughter wants a frozen inspired birthday and this cake would be perfect

    • Wendy says

      Not quite yet, but I’m working on it! Blueberries seems to work well, but I’m not sure that would be the right color for what you need. Definitely check out Color Garden Dyes. They’re fabulous and all natural.

  4. says

    Did the beet juice effect the taste of the frosting? or change it in any other way?
    It is a gorgeous cake and your daughter looks like she is ready to eat some cake. Happy Birthday to the both of you.

    • Wendy says

      Hi Traci,
      Others might disagree, but I would say no – you can’t taste it. I think beet flavor is pretty distinct and I can’t detect it at all. I use either vanilla or almond extract, but even without it, I don’t think you’d be able to taste the beet. (And back when I worked in bakeries and used food dyes, I could always taste those!) Another thing I noticed is that when you use paste or liquid food dyes, they often darken and separate a little from the icing overnight. I expected that with the darkest shade of pink, but it didn’t happen. Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. melissa says

    I want to try to do this for my daughter 1st birthday cake. I just am curious to know if it stains clothes and skin?

    • Wendy says

      It never has for us, Melissa. Especially not in the small quantities used. I spent many years working with artificial food dyes, and I’d say those might be worse for stains. They always took longer to come off my hands than the beet does.

  6. Jean Nkya says

    Love this and can’t wait to try it for my baby girl’s birthday next month. I’m thinking of doing a combined party for my son and daughter and thought it might be cute to try to make a blue cake as well. Any ideas on how to accomplish that without the dreaded dies? I was thinking maybe blueberries, but I have never tried anything like this before, so I thought I would ask your advice first. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Wendy says

      Thanks for your comment, Jean. I’m so glad you like the cake! I would suggest blueberries for a blue color, although it might be slightly purplish. I might also suggest looking at Color Garden dyes. They are available online, and they’re completely all natural and plant-based. They do have a blue color, and I believe they make it with red cabbage. Their products are great to have around in a pinch. I just used them to do my daughter’s 2nd birthday cake and honestly, I was pretty relieved that I didn’t have to get out my juicer for a little bit of beet!

      Good luck!

  7. Kara D says

    I used this idea to decorate my daughter’s first birthday cake! I did all a medium light shade of pink. I don’t have a juicer and simply used the juice from a can of beets. It worked perfectly! The taste is no different, although it did have a slight beet aroma. I’m going to check out those Color Garden dyes too for future cakes. Thanks!

    • Wendy says

      How fantastic! I’m so glad it worked for you. I never noticed a beet aroma to our icings, but if it didn’t affect the taste, I guess that’s good, right? I hope your daughter loved it!

  8. Sarah says

    I love this look! I have made several cakes, but this would be a whole new territory with the icing rosettes. I probably should practice first :) Do you think the cherry concentrate would use the same ratio? I’m not worried about exact colors like yours, so maybe as long as I keep the ratio between batches the same.

    Yeah… better practice first. So excited to try this for my baby girl’s 1st birthday!

    • Wendy says

      I would recommend a trial run, but the beauty of this cake is that neither the rosettes or color need to be perfect. Just try to keep the rosettes about the same size, and you’re good. It’s all in the wrist! (And you can practice on parchment and then scrape the icing back into the bowl so you don’t waste any.) :)

      Good luck, and happy birthday to your little one!

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