Celebrate summer with this sweet and tangy Cherry Limeade Layer Cake, inspired by the iconic fizzy beverage from Sonic Drive-In.
Cherry limeades are nostalgic for me. I’ve loved them for ages – since my high school days. They always bring back memories of marching band. I was drum major my senior year, and a cherry limeade was often my reward after marching and practicing for hours in the blistering sun. Maybe someday I’ll digress on that amazing life-changing and very disciplined experience here, but for now I’ll stick to the sweet stuff. Sonic Drive In was on the way home from school, and the cold fizzy beverage was like an antidote to the heat and exhaustion. I’ve translated those sweet, tangy flavors into a summery cake made for sharing!
The alternating layers of cherry and lime are doused in simple syrup. Cherry syrup for the cherry chip layers, and key lime syrup for the lime layers. It gives the cake a damp, almost wet crumb and really turns up the volume on the flavors.
Baste those cake layers just like a turkey at Thanksgiving! Use a lot of syrup for a wet crumb, or a little syrup if you’re looking for a more spongy cake crumb. The texture you see here is a result of using all of the syrup. This makes the cake layers delicate to stack, so take a little extra care when handling them. Making this cake reminds me a lot of my 7UP cake – another beverage inspired confection!
Now that get-togethers are a thing again, this cake is perfect for a crowd of people. Five 8-inch rounds makes a tall, generous cake, so it’s perfect for potlucks and all kinds of summertime events. The flavors are so refreshing. And with the syrup-soaked layers, I think this cake is fantastic chilled.
Frosty-looking frosting? Yes!
A hefty cake requires a lot of frosting to fill and cover it all, so expect to use a lot of butter. I must have tried five different frosting techniques before I found one that suited my vision. I wanted the cake to look frosty (like accumulated ice crystals) and white buttercream smudges over chilled pink frosting worked well enough. Just drag the white frosting around the cake using a bench scraper and don’t aim for perfection. I think I may try this technique on a winter-themed cake.
To finish, add a few swirls of frosting on top, and the all-important maraschino cherry and lime garnishes. Sonic Cherry Limeades have exactly two cherries in the bottom of their large cups, unless you ask for extra. I always do.
Side note – I dip-dyed the napkins you see here back in May, which matched this cake perfectly! I loved using them here. You can find my tutorial on how to dip dye your own right here on Confetti Fix.
See all those soaked layers stacked up? So packed with flavor! I recommend using key lime juice in a bottle, because it’s one of those conveniences that doesn’t sacrifice taste. Key limes are tiny with bold, tart flavor, and juicing a bunch of them for this recipe would be a total pain. If you can’t find key lime juice in a bottle, then regular bottled lime juice would work, as well as fresh-squeezed standard limes.
The cherry chip layers are so speckled with chopped maraschinos. If you’ve ever made a cherry chip cake, then you may see a familiar flavoring – almond extract. It really brings forth the maraschino flavor. Together with the lime layers you can’t help but feel like it’s party time. It’s just an all-around FUN cake!
I have a summer bucket list this year, which involves lots of family time and patio parties and picnics on the lawn. I can’t wait to share this treat with my people. And it’s certain that I’ll be sending them home with a few slices.
Cherry Limeade Layer Cake
- 8 inch round cake pans (3)
- cake smoother
- Piping bag with large closed star tip
Cherry chip layers
- 1 3/4 cups whole milk room temperature
- 6 egg whites room temperature
- 3 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
- 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cups unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 1/3 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
- 1 drop red soft gel food color
- 1 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries
Cherry soaking syrup
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1 cup milk
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup key lime juice
- 2 1/2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon) salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon lime zest fine
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter softened
- A few drops of lime green soft gel food color such as Chefmaster Neon Brite Green
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup key lime juice
Lime buttercream and decors
- 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
- 12 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 6 tablespoons key lime juice
- Milk or cream to thin
- 1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt
- A few drops of soft red gel food color such a Chefmaster Super Red
- 8 maraschino cherries with stems
- 8 fresh lime wheels
- 2 tablespoons white nonpareils optional
Cherry chip layers and cherry syrup
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three round 8-inch pans with flour-based baking spray.
- In a large glass measure, whisk together the milk, egg whites, cherry juice, and almond extract.
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Set the mixer to medium speed and alternately add the flour mixture and liquid mixture; begin and end with the flour. Scrape down the bowl. Continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add a small drop of red gel food color; mix. Fold in the chopped cherries.
- Evenly divide the batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tester comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool in the pans 5 minutes before turning them out on a wire rack to cool completely.
- For the cherry syrup, heat the sugar and water in a microwave-safe glass measure for 2 minutes at 100% power. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cherry juice and almond extract; stir. Baste the cake layers on all sides using a pastry brush. Use all of the liquid for wet crumb, or use about half of the syrup for a drier crumb.
Lime cake layers and lime syrup
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Coat two round 8-inch pans with flour-based baking spray.
- In a large glass measure, combine the eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and lime juice. Whisk together until combined.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer add the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and lime zest. Whisk to combine.
- Turn the mixer to medium speed and add butter a little at a time. Increase to medium speed until the butter has coated the flour and the appearance resembles coarse wet sand.
- Slowly add half of the wet ingredients until a thick batter is achieved. Mix for 1 minute and scrape down the bowl. Add 1-2 drops of lime gel food color; mix. Add remaining wet ingredients and beat until incorporated. Divide batter between the two pans.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool cakes 10 minutes in the pan and then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.
- For the lime syrup, heat the sugar and water in a microwave-safe glass measure for 2 minutes at 100% power. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Add the lime juice; stir. Baste the cake layers on all sides using a pastry brush. Use all of the liquid for wet crumb, or use about half of the syrup for a drier crumb.
Buttercream and assembly
- Cream the butter in the bowl of a large standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add half of the confectioners’ sugar and mix until incorporated. Add the remaining sugar and mix on low. Dribble in the lime juice a tablespoon at a time. Increase mixer speed. Add milk or cream a little at a time to bring to spreading consistency. Beat in the salt. Whip on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until lightened and fluffy.
- Remove 1 1/2 cups of frosting to piping bag fitted with a large closed star tip. Cover the tip with a damp paper towel so the frosting doesn’t dry out.
- Begin with a cherry chip layer placed on a serving plate of cake board. Do this carefully if you used all of the soaking syrup as the wet cake layers will be delicate. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on top. Repeat process alternating lime and cherry cake layers. (Order: cherry, lime, cherry, lime, cherry.) Coat the entire cake with a thin layer of buttercream (crumb coat). Refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes.
- Tint the remaining frosting with 1 small drop of red gel food color. Mix well. Increase color intensity if desired with more food color (aim for a medium pinky-red color). Cover the chilled cake with the tinted buttercream and smooth evenly with a cake smoother or bench scraper. Refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes.
- Place a few dots of white frosting from the piping bag on the outside of the cake over the pink frosting. Use a cake smoother or bench scraper to lightly scrape the white frosting over the first layer of frosting. Don’t aim for a perfectly smooth surface, the outside edge should look like accumulated frost (small accumulated ice crystals).
- Use the bag of white buttercream to pipe 8 mounds of frosting on the top edge of the cake. Top each mound with a maraschino cherry. Add a fresh lime wheel half between each mound. Sprinkle over the white sprinkles, if using.
- Serve slices of cake at room temperature or chilled. Cakes with a wet crumb are especially good chilled and eaten on a hot day.