We may still be celebrating things virtually, but that has yet to stop me from baking for my friends and family. We’re hosting a virtual baby shower for my friend today and I wanted to make this adorable elephant cake to match her nursery theme!
While we might not be able to enjoy the cake together, it’s the thought that counts.
I’ve avoiding making an elephant cake for the longest time because I was always scared of the trunk and the ears. But after a little strategizing to figure out how to make this cake, I realized it’s not as hard as you might think!
With the help of some cake decorating-friendly rice krispies (more on that below) and pink fondant, this elephant cake is a lot of fun to make.
Making This Little Elephant’s Ears & Face
While I’m always team buttercream, there are some situations where using a bit of fondant just makes sense.
Plus we’ve already put so much energy into making the cake layers and buttercream from scratch, a tiny but of fondant never hurt anyone. I used black, white and pink fondant to make my elephant’s face and ears.
Those ears would be just about impossible to get right without using fondant. Trust me, I tried using rice krispie treats and it was a no-go. They were way too thick!!
Making this Elephant Cake with Rice Krispie Treats
You read that right! A batch of cake decorating-friendly rice krispies makes this challenging cake shape so much more manageable.
By omitting the butter that is in most rice krispie treats, these rice krispie treats set quite firmly once they’re cooled.
This allows you to creatively and easily shape your cake. I used the same technique to make my Patrick Star cake I highly recommend if for larger shaped cake like this.
Substitutions and Swaps – Pink Funfetti Cake Layers
This elephant birthday cake uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have all of them on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.
Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this elephant cake recipe.
All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with AP flour, but you can use a gluten free flour blend (be sure to also follow my tips below) or cake flour if that’s all you have on hand. I don’t recommend using straight almond flour though!
Granulated Sugar – I do not recommend reducing the amount of sugar or changing the type of sugar, as it will change the texture of the cake layers.
Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand you can use it in place of the unsalted butter in this recipe. Just be sure to omit the salt that this cake recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place!
Egg whites – If you don’t have egg whites on hand (I use the type out of the carton), you can use 4 whole eggs in place of the egg whites. Or you have an egg allergy you can use flaxseed eggs or an egg replacer.
Sour Cream – You can also use full fat yogurt, buttermilk, whole milk, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
Vegetable Oil – You can use any flavorless oil in this recipe. Canola or even sunflower oil would work great!
Vanilla Extract – Other extracts can also be used in place of the vanilla extract. Feel free to use almond, coconut, or even pistachio extract.
Gel food coloring – Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) can be used in place of the pink gel food coloring to make this cake!
Sprinkles – I find rainbow jimmies work best in this funfetti cake recipe and highly recommend using them. If you don’t have any you can omit them from this recipe.
Substitutions and Swaps – Grey Buttercream Frosting
Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place!
Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe if that’s what you have on hand.
Coloring these funfetti cake layers is totally optional, but it creates a fun surprise when you cut into the cake!
I used gel food coloring to make these cake layers pink. Liquid food coloring can work too, but it can throw off the consistency of the cake batter if you add too much.
I highly recommend using gel food coloring. Gel food coloring is concentrated so it allows you to use less. A couple squirts will create a beautiful pink shade.
Gel food coloring is also thicker so it won’t change the consistency of the cake batter. Americolor and Chef Master are my go-to brands of gel food coloring and I order them on amazon.
Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) can be used in place of the gel food coloring! The colors won’t be quite the same, but it will still be beautiful.
Tips for Making The Best Elephant Cake:
Be sure to properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
Natural food coloring (either liquid or powder) can be used in place of the gel food coloring. The colors won’t be quite the same, but it will still be beautiful.
Ingredients at room temp mix together better, so be sure you set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
Mix your cake batter just until the ingredients are incorporated. This will ensure your cake layers are tender and fluffy.
Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. This makes it easier to stack and frost.
Make this elephant cake vegan or dairy free if needed! Use your favorite type of dairy free milk to replace the buttermilk and heavy cream, and use vegan butter sticks in place of the butter. For the eggs I recommend using an egg replacer like this.
Make your frosting ahead of time too or save any leftover frosting. It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month. Or store it in the freezer for up to 3 months! Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency smooth again.
A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious.
If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist. It can be stored in the fridge like this for up to a week.
Let Me Know What You Think!
If you try this elephant birthday cake recipe, I’d love to hear what think of it! Please leave a rating and let me know your thoughts by sharing a comment.
Also please tag me @chelsweets! Use the #chelsweets so that I can see your amazing creations on social media.
Hello! Is there a way to just convert the cake recipes and make a sheet cake instead of using the multiple layer round cake pans? Do you think if I just put the batter into a large sheet pan and watch the time it would work out the same? I’ve sent you two messages on IG trying to ask the question with no response.
Saturday 23rd of January 2021
Absolutely beautiful. Can I 1/2 the cake batter if I am making a dolly varden princess cake?
Hi, I’m Chelsey!
I'm a baking blogger and content creator living in NYC. I love creating stunning desserts that look just as good as they taste, which is why I'm obsessed with sharing tried and true recipes and tutorials that are aspirational yet totally achievable.