Famous for her Rainbow Explosion Cake, Amirah Kassem is a firm believer in the birthday lifestyle and the power of sprinkles. She returned to Los Angeles from her Flour Shop bakery in New York over the weekend for a demonstration of her colorful exploding six-layer creation at the Williams-Sonoma store in Beverly Hills.
“On your birthday you wake up, you wear your favorite clothes, hang out with your favorite people, eat your favorite food and are just happy,” Kassem, who started out in the fashion world, studying at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising downtown, tells L.A. Weekly. “If you can create that on your birthday, you can create that all year round. Every day should feel like your birthday.”
Her new cookbook The Power of Sprinkles includes recipes for the explosion cake, magical cream cheese frosting, colors and dyes as well as sprinkle science and priceless frosting tips for a perfect cake.
While the multi-layered rainbow cake might seem daunting at first look, it’s deconstructed step by step in flip book photos for the creation inspired by cooking with her mother in her native Mexico. Kassem has partnered with the culinary store to create a kit that includes all the pre-measured dry ingredients, interior and exterior sprinkles, frosting mix and gel colors in a reusable paint can to make it even easier. All you need to add are eggs, milk, butter and cream cheese. The kit serves 15 and makes six 6-inch layers or three 8-inch layers.
“I created the kit specifically for anybody that’s intimidated,” says Kassem in between mixing batter colors. “When you break it down to what it actually is, in the book I made sure that even the stacking was a flip book. So if you don’t want to read it, you can literally just flip the page and see what you’re supposed to do next. I’m such a visual person, that I don’t want to read a lot of instructions, I just want to flip through a book.”
But it takes time.
“You’re adding different colors, letting things cool and doing a lot of steps,” she says. “ But if you look at it, it’s pretty repetitive. The way you dye the pink one is just how you dye the orange one. The way you stack each layer is the same. It takes about 90 minutes from start to finish. I like to think that baking is a little like laundry. You have these waiting periods, like when the cake is cooling that you can do something else. If you’re not patient like me, you can paint your nails in between and that way you know you can’t touch it.”
“The first part of baking is a little bit of a science project,” Kassem points out. “But once you’re done with that you can really make it your own. You can hombre pink cake, you can turn it into a flamingo, you can draw on it, you can cover it in different candies. You can get so creative with what you’re doing, once your batter is done. You can throw chocolate chips in or citrus zest. At that point you can add color and flavor .
Kassem, whose father is from Kuwait, grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico and spent her childhood baking with her mother. She struck out on her own and moved to Los Angeles for college with a passion for fashion and enrolled in FIDM. She then moved on to New York, where she worked alongside Johan Lindeberg in the launch of BLK DNM.
But the baking bug never really left her and the happiness it brought to people. In 2012 she left the fashion industry to set up her bakery business, Flour Shop and started creating cakes in the shapes of cheeseburgers, pizzas, buckets of popcorn and the explosion cake without the use of fondant icing (which she refuses to use.) In 2017, she and husband/partner Ross “The Boss” Harrow opened their flagship brick and mortar bakery in SoHo New York.
“During my fashion career, I found the pattern that I was always cooking for someone and found it joyful,” says Kassem . “The explosion cake really came to me because we always celebrated with pinatas in Mexico and are just such a big part of a birthday. Having our cake be a six-layer rainbow cake full of sprinkles on the inside and covered in sprinkles on the outside is just layers upon layers of surprises.”
And oversized crazy cakes are nothing new to Kassem, who has endless memories of baking with her mother and her abuela.
“Whenever it was someone’s birthday we’d plan out what we were going to bake, “ she says right before cutting into the exploding cake. “My birthday cakes were always a huge deal. I remember once my mom made me a life-size little mermaid cake. To this day I still don’t understand how it was so big and how she did it. My mom was a Pinterest mom before Pinterest. That inspired me.”
Kassem, who describes herself as 32 going on 13, believes that sprinkles are the band aid to everything. “No matter how badly you mess up, you can always cover it up with sprinkles and everybody will eat it up,” she says. “That’s The Power of Sprinkles.”