Vintage Harlequin Cake Recipe with an Extraordinary Heirloom Strawberry Frosting

Harlequin Cake cutaway photo by BakeThisCake

100 years in the making!  Drum roll for the 1910 Vintage Harlequin Cake sometimes known as a Neapolitan Cake! A lovely little pink and chocolate and white charmer filled with delicate Strawberry Heirloom Frosting and frosted with Strawberry Whipped Cream! Short-listed for the  Wow Factor, whether you use regular stacked cakes (vintage style) or go for the dome.

You’re party guests will be sayin, “I wanna marry this cake!” haha! 🙂

Harlequin Cake with slices out balloons in background by BakeThisCake photo by  LifeForcePhotos

We trust the tried-and-true home bakers of decades past who dedicated themselves to the Home Craft Arts. Yeah! Plus vintage cakes are cool…and (as my friends tell me) they’re SEXY! haha! And nothing beats a very special homemade cake frosting, am I right?

Harlequin Cake Slice Being Removed LifeForcePhotos for BakeThisCake


It’s always more festive when we’re dining on a make-shift table under the sky — and the weather’s behaving lately (SORTA)…so let’s DO IT!

1.) Grab up your best picnic basket! Or use a box lined with a festive apron or two — or just use a shopping .bag lined with bright cotton kitchen towels.

Picnic Basket photo by Leslie Macchiarella for BakeThisCake

2.  Grab your mum!  Or, if she’s not available in the flesh (always in spirit, am I right?), grab the kids or your buds.

My mum’s in her 90’s (but I’ll never tell) and she, like me, or me like she (her?)…well, we ALL like a nice old-fashioned scratch cake at nearly every gathering. My girls do too. Just a little slice’ll do you and any occasion becomes a cake party. 🙂

Granny Vi at he birthday picnic photo by Leslie Macchiarella for BakeThisCake

The Birthday Mom!

4.  Get thee to a nice spot of earth! Spend some head time thinkin up a cool setting  (my brother chose the lovely gated Highland Camrose Park in Hollywood — it’s public but reservations are required — haha!) or make it the beach with a blanket or the backyard with a bench or your balcony with some chairs or even the living room with a tent. 🙂

Picnic benches BakeThisCake

3.  Haul out your easy-to-travel outdoor dishes! And tell your peeps to haul out their something nummies. Now let’s have ourselves a picnic party in the shade with a nice vintage cake! Oh, did I mention the champagne! oh yeah!

Picnic Table with Potluck Food BakeThisCake

To our little gathering we brought: Christine’s Asian Barbecued Chicken, Leslie’s Deviled Eggs, Mark’s Heirloom Tomato-Basil-Mozzarella Salad, Felix’s Crab Salad, Christine’s Cheese Quiche and Leslie’s Potato-Bacon Salad.

Picnic Lunch by BakeThisCake

Home Helps vintage cookbook photo by Bake This CakeHarlequin Cake! We’re doing a turn-of-the-Century cake recipe for this picnic party from a recipe by the first teacher at The Boston Cooking School. Her name was Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln — and we pulled her cake recipe from that charming little classic, “Home Helps: A Pure Food Cook Book…A Useful Collection of Up-to-date, Practical Recipes by five of the Leading Culinary Experts in the United States“..

Paul Cezanne’s Harlequin

Here is Mrs. Mary J. Lincoln’s actual Harlequin Cake recipe on page 21:
Three-fourths cup of Cottolene [Brand name of a cottonseed oil shortening]; two cups sugar; three eggs; one cup milk; three cups pastry flour; two slightly rounding teaspoons baking powder. Rub to a light cream the Cottolene and sugar; add the well-beaten egg yolks, and when this is light add the milk. Mix together the flour and baking powder, and stir into the egg mixture. Beat the egg whites stiff and beat them thoroughly into the dough. When it is light and fine-grained divide the dough into four equal parts. Have two parts the color of the dough. Color the third with one square of unsweetened chocolate, melted. Color the fourth with pink coloring, and bake each part on a Washington pie plate* [almost like a regular cake pan]. When all are done, lay first a light cake, then the pink, then another light, then the chocolate. Between the layers spread lemon jelly, and frost with white frosting. [*Most folks consider the Washington Pie Plate to represent a Boston Cream Pie pan — basically a regular cake pan, an 8″ or 9″ cake pan with straight 2″ edges, though I see it was called “a pie plate with a wide brim” in the 1904 “World’s Fair Souvenir Cook Book” by Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer at p. 107, with other variable references, so let me know in the comments section if you know more about this pan (pleeze).] 🙂

Roses at the Picnic Table 2 Bake This Cake

Fill Pans Experiment!  We’ll be using this historic recipe — with a Hollywood Bowl look — cause we’re using filled pans. And we’re picnicking right next to the Hollywood Bowl. Boom baby! Party going on now!

For this big dome cake, we made 2 separate batches of the same recipe.  Just seemed easier somehow. Plus we didn’t realize the 4-piece dome pans hold a double amount of cake batter than a typical cake. (It helps if you have the instructions. I didn’t cause they weren’t in the second-hand box).  But I finally found them HERE. I’ll be the first to ask Betty C to pump up the instructions a bit.  But these pans are fun for a way-different cake shapes — if you get some tips (from me) on what to watch for when you use them.

Betty Crocker Bake n Fill 4 piece bake set Bake This Cake

First Important Tip! Search (hard) for the fill marks on the dome pans!

Here is a sponsored link to a 4-piece pans set in case you wanna fill a cake with something yummy (it could be ice cream or custard or something fluffy!): Betty Crocker Bake N Fill Pan Set . You may also use this recipe for a 4-layer cake in the original 4-layer cake style using 4 regular ole’ 9″ cake pans.

So you don’t need the fill pans to strike a lovely colorful layered look for your special celebration cake.  Just use 4 regular cake pans and layer them from bottom to top.  As Mrs. Lincoln said in her recipe: “…lay first a light cake, then the pink, then another light, then the chocolate”. Voila! Harlequin!

Betty Crocker Bake n Fill Pans in the box Bake This Cake

Oh, and I’ve got a checkerboard pan (that I haven’t yet tried) for future experiments too! Wilton Checkerboard Cake Pan Set So many fun cakes to bake!  (Did I mention I’m a sucker for kitchen gadgets and as seen on TV stuff?)  haha!

There are also mini fill pans on the market (whoo hoo!).  We’re gonna have so much fun testing this little gift from Wilton!  Here’s a sponsored link if you want to try them out before we do (give us your baking tips!)  Wilton Tasty Fill Set of 4 Mini Cake Pan SetWe’ll keep you posted on the vintage cakes and fillings we bake for these little charmers!

Wilton Mini Cake Pan Set Bake This Cake

Modern Update To Recipe: On our final cake testing, we changed “Cottolene” [we tried using shortening at first] to unsalted butter and we substituted cake flour for regular flour, otherwise, the recipe is pristine history in the baking.  Oh, also, we assumed from testing that recipe’s call for 2 rounded teaspoons of baking powder actually indicated a full Tablespoon, so we went with that. Oh, and I guess we substituted an electric mixer for the “rubbing” required.  haha!

Tools Needed for Harlequin Cake:
4 cake pans 9″ for the traditional 4-layered cake or 1 set of 4 Fill Pans for the dome cake
Cooking spray for 9″ cake pans or 1 Tablespoon of shortening for the dome pans (cause you can’t use cooking spray for some dome pans, check the instructions!)
Electric mixer
2 Large mixing bowls (1 for batter, 1 for dry ingredients)
1 Small bowl or cup (for fork beating egg)
1 Small bowl or cup (for melting a chocolate square)
1 Quart-sized container (if you have a hand-mixer for beating 3 egg whites, or substitute a Medium Bowl)
2 Medium-sized bowls (for chocolate and pink batters)
Measuring cups and spoons
3 Bamboo Skewers (or similar tool, for cake stability)
Optional: Grapefruit knife or other thin bendable blade instrument to use in case the small dome cake sticks in the pan (that’s what happened to me)

3/4 cup unsalted butter (about 1-1/2 cubes), room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
3 cups cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract, fine quality
1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (aka baker’s chocolate)
a few drops of pink or red food-grade food coloring

Place the oven rack in center position and preheat the oven to 325.

Spray  cooking spray over 4 cake pans (9″ diameter) or rub 4 fill pans with shortening.

Rough chop and nuke in the microwave for a few seconds to bring to room temperature:
3/4 cup unsalted butter (about 1-1/2 cubes)

Butter to bring to room temperature Bake This Cake

Using 2 small bowls (or cups), separate the yolks and whites of:
3 large eggs

Using an electric mixer, beat for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy:
the prepared (room temperature) butter

Creamed butter for Harlequin Cake Bake This Cake

Beat into the creamed butter for about 2 minutes on high-speed:
2 cups granulated sugar

Sugar beaten into creamed butter Harlequin Cake Bake This Cake

Using a fork, beat the separated egg yolks until thorough incorporated.

Beaten yolk for Harlequin Cake Bake This Cake

Beat into the creamed butter/sugar mixture:
the separated egg yolks

Yolk beaten in Harlequin Cake Batter BakeThisCake

Beat into the batter for about 1 minute:
1 cup milk (we used 2%)

Harlequin Cake batter BakeThisCake.

In a large bowl, whisk until fully incorporated:
3 cups cake flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder

Whisking dry ingredients for Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Beat into the batter:
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract, fine quality

Beating vanilla into Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Beat into the batter on high-speed for about 1 minute:
the mixed dry ingredients

Creamy Harlequin Cake batter BakeThisCake

In a small microwave-safe bowl or cup, melt in the microwave for about 30 seconds in intervals, stirring with a fork or spoon:
1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate (aka baker’s chocolate)

Partially melted chocolate for Harlequin Cake Bake This Cake

Stir the chocolate until melted thoroughly and let it sit on the counter to cool while you continue prep of the cake.

Melting chocolate for Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

With an electric mixer, beat on high-speed for about 1 minute:
the separated egg whites

Tip: If you have a hand-held electric mixer, you can use a plastic quart-sized container to get the job done quickly for such a small batch of egg whites cause it’s deep and fits the mixer perfectly and won’t cause egg white splashing. 🙂

Whipping Egg Whites tip BakeThisCake

Using a spatula, fold the egg whites into the batter using nice gentle overhand strokes.

Folding egg whites Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

The egg whites should be fully incorporated into the batter in a nice, smooth and fluffy texture.

Finished batter Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Separate out one-fourth of the batter into a medium-sized bowl (a soup bowl is fine).

Using a spatula, fold into the batter the room temperature melted chocolate and scrape the batter into the small dome pan to the indicated level mark.

Tip: The melted chocolate should not be hot or it will melt the butter ingredient.

Swirling melted chocolate into Harlequin Cake Batter BakeThisCake

Separate into a medium-sized bowl, one-fourth amount of batter and drop a few drops of pink or red food coloring to pink up the batter to your color preference.

Load the pink batter into the bottom of one of the big round pans to the indicated level mark.

Pink food coloring to Harlequin Cake Batter BakeThisCake

If you want to get a little fancy, dollop a bit of plain batter into the center of the pink batter.

White and Pink Batter for Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

You may also dollop a bit of plain batter on top of the chocolate batter in the dome pan (although we overloaded the pan beyond the level marker and ended up chopping away the white portion we added here)…so be sure to look for the level marks

Chocolate and plain batter for Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

The dome pan is now loaded with chocolate batter that has a small bit of plain batter on top…although it should be a little lower in level.

Locked Pans on baking pan Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Now fill the large dome pan with chocolate to the indicated level and fill the regular looking cake pan with plain dough to the indicated level (which should be about 2/3 full, I believe, since I still cannot find the level mark on the flat regular-type cake pan). .

Chocolate and plain batter pans Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

For the dome pans, I baked them for this recipe at 325 degrees for 95 minutes (that’s about 1 hour and 20 minutes) until the centers test clean, but the regular sized cake pans should bake about 25 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. .

Small Chocolate Dome Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Small Chocolate Dome

Preparing the Heirloom Strawberry Frosting

Tools needed for Strawberry Heirloom Frosting:
Medium sauce pot
Medium bowl (for holding 2 c butter)
Electric mixer
Measuring cups and spoons

Ingredients for Strawberry Heirloom Frosting:
2 cups (4 cubes) unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
3 Tablespoons seedless strawberry jam
2 cups low-fat milk (2% is fine)
1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) cornstarch
2 drops of fine quality food grade pink or red food coloring
Optional: 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sifted powdered sugar (variable to taste, we didn’t use this)

Rough-chop into chunks:
2 cups (4 cubes) unsalted butter

Bring butter to room temperature in the microwave in 5- to 10-second intervals.
the chunked butter

Beat on high for 7 minutes until light and fluffy:
the room temperature butter
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
Tip: A long beating time is required to bring this frosting to the point of dissolving the sugar and creating a light and fluffy consistency.

Meanwhile, back at the corral…

In a medium pot over medium-low heat and using a whisk to stir regularly, bring to a low simmering boil:
2 cups low-fat milk (2% is fine)
1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons) cornstarch
Tip: Whisk the cornstarch in thoroughly before the heat takes hold in the pan to be sure there are no lumps in your sauce.

Immediately upon boiling, reduce heat to “barely bubbling” and stir continuously for about 2 minutes to achieve a glossy smooth custard.

Heirloom Frosting Custard BakeThisCake

Remove custard from heat and stir it with a whisk for a couple of minutes to reduce the temperature.
Tip: Adding a blistering hot custard into the butter-sugar mixture will melt the butter so be sure to cool this custard a bit before using it in the mixing bowl.

Using a spatula, drop bits of the room temperature (or warm but not hot) custard into the butter/sugar mixture with the mixer on low until all is fully incorporated.

Turn up the mixer to high-speed and beat for 3 minutes until light and fluffy and glossy.

Creamed butter and sugar for Heirloom Frosting BakeThisCake

Beat into the butter/sugar mixture on high for an additional 1 minute:
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
3 Tablespoons seedless strawberry jam

Adding Strawberry Jam and color to Heirloom Frosting BakeThisCake

Add a few drops of high quality food grade pink or red food coloring and beat until well incorporated.

Strawberry Heirloom Frosting by BakeThisCake

Assembly, Filling and Frosting the Cake:

If you’re following Mrs. Lincoln, using traditional 4 layers of cake pans, remember what she said: “….lay first a light cake, then the pink, then another light, then the chocolate”.

If you’re using the dome fill pans, watch carefully…

First challenge — getting the cake outta the pans!  I had a time with it! My fellow baker friends helped me through it in the middle of the night by suggesting I use a grapefruit knife to carefully cut away the stuck small dome cake (the big dome released on target).

Harlequin Cakes 2 stuck in the pans BakeThisCake

Leaving the hollow cake inside the pan, spread the frosting into the well.

Frosting the inner dome Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

You will be placing the small chocolate dome cake upside down inside the larger pink hollow cake.

Small Chocolate Dome Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

A perfect fit…the small chocolate dome snugs into the frosting filled pink hollow dome cake.

Small Chocolate Dome Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Slice the regular cake in half horizontally and separate the layers. I used a cake lifter but you can you a pancake flipper or two if you like. 🙂

Cutting bottom cake for Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Frost the middle and top of the regular-sized cake with the Heirloom Strawberry Frosting.

Bottoom frosted cake Harlequin Cake BakethisCake

Now flip over the pink dome cake (that has been frosted and snugged with a mini chocolate dome cake) and place it on top of the frosted regular cake.

Moving Dome Cake with a cake mover Harlequin Cake Bake This Cake

Give a thin layer of frosting to the cake at this point (a “crumb coat”) to keep crumbs in place and to give some added goodness.

Stick 3 bamboo skewers down through the cake and clip off the tops with scissors to assure stability.

Crumb Coat Harlequin Cake with support spikes BakeThisCake

We piped on a whipped cream frosting made by whipping a pint of heavy cream, beating in Harlequin slice BakeThisCakeabout a half cup of powdered sugar, a Tablespoon of seedless strawberry jam and a 2 drops of pink food coloring.  We put it all in a piping bag and hauled it to the picnic on ice and then piped the cake just before serving.  I think it kind of looks like a pink igloo but mom likes pink and we were trying to make it look like marshmallows (ha!).  You could smooth it out or swirl it up and that might look nicer. 😀

Whipped Cream Frosted Harlequin Cake BakeThisCake

Well there you go. The full circle of picnic, cake baking, filling and frosting for your party cake pleasure vintage style.

We’d love to see photos if you bake this cake!

AND I love reading your comments in the comments section, thanks!

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Happy Vintage Baking!


Mark Christine and Felix 2 at Camrose Park Picnic BakeThisCake

Ready to picnic party!

Mom's Birthday Earrings Bake This Cake

Mom’s Birthday Earrings

Picnic Party Laughter2  Bake This Cake

Picnic Food Party!

Leslie's Old Fashioned Potato Salad For a Crowd BakeThisCake

Leslie’s Classic Potato Bacon Salad for a crowd!

Felix's Picnic Crab Salad Bake This Cake

Felix’s Picnic Crab Salad!

Mark's Italian Heirloom Tomatoe Salad Bake This Cake

Mark’s Italian Heirloom Tomatoe Salad

Julie with Granny Vi BakeThisCake

Julie with Granny Vi

12 thoughts on “Vintage Harlequin Cake Recipe with an Extraordinary Heirloom Strawberry Frosting

  1. I just found the three pans – 1 dome, 1 tall and one fill pan – at a thrift store. They looked interesting though I didn’t have a clue what they were for. i thought maybe a steamed pudding mold. I searched Google images for pudding molds, baking pans and found the picture of the pans on your site. I can’t wait to try them out! When was that set available? Looks like 50s or 60s. Thank you for having these pans on your website.

  2. I have read references to Washington pie pans in the 1870s – possibly earlier. They were the standard pan used in making cream pies which I believe is the original term used for a layer cake. References to layer cakes appear in the 1880s – one of the earliest is in Household Hints by Emma Whitcomb Babcock which can be found on

  3. Reading your posts I think we may be long lost sisters! I collect vintage cookbooks, recipes, and unusual pans! Keep up with your awesome job! I’d love to see the recipes for the picnic food though….

    • Hi Shelly! Nice to meet you. I’m so glad to hear you’re preserving the history of the kitchen arts along with me. 😀 I’ll see what I can do about wrangling the recipes for ya and I’ll post short versions of the recipes in the captions of the photos. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful day, great memories were made I’m sure. Great tutorial on making the cake, it looks so beautiful. Not sure I’ll run out and find one of those pans but I might just try the cake recipe in layer pans! Thanks for sharing at Thursdays Treasures, following you now on FB!

    • Thanks, Shawn, for dropping by and for the kudos! P.S. I’m so on to your step-by-step for butter pie crust! Cause when it comes to pie crust, I’m a total novice so I’ll be running your recipe in hopes of gaining speed there. 🙂

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