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  • Writer's pictureDiana Lee

A Tropical Pineapple and Orange Mousse Layer Cake.

Panda Bakes Pineapple orange mousse tropical cake

'Living in Italy is like a holiday that never ends, right?'

It's what a friend of mine from NYC said to me when she came by Milan a few weeks ago. I guess from the point of view of an outsider, especially one from NYC, the slower pace in this country, can make it seem so. Do I believe it? Maybe, but based on the idea of 'holiday' being something different to merely being the opposite of 'work'.

If holidays are about having the luxury of time to stop and enjoy all the little things in life, whether that is the friendly chat with the locals, eating amazing food or having the time to create it from the best ingredients you can buy (and in Italy it is easy to do so, not to mention relatively cheap compared to places like Australia), or simply being able to stop to admire that beautiful pink building without being rushed off the pavement, then yes, I would say that life here can feel like a holiday, most days.

I believe that's also what she meant then when she made that comment as we were walking around my hood, fyi I had just said hello to my mini market man, my Egyptian tailor guy, then a few neighbours who were walking their dogs all as we covered the distance of about 100 metres, and we had had the tastiest arancino at midnight the night before for 3 euros at a Sicilian spot near my house, go figure.

Or maybe it was due to the observation that from Milan we can easily go away to the most amazing seaside towns in just a few hours by train. Or the frequency of which people do this here. Or all of the above.

Anyway, in light of all these things, I would say that I am very much for Team Italy than anywhere else right now in my life (the key here of course, is 'right now' 😑 let me stay in this mood for a little before I change my mind guys.)

....... .

Of course, all this has nothing to do with this pineapple face cake that you see above and which is probably the reason why you clicked on this post. So lets get on with the important business.

I had made this pineapple, orange tropical mousse cake a few months ago for a friend's birthday, in the stifling heat of August. And, to be totally honest, I had seen the image of such cake floating around on the internet previously, so that's not entirely my idea. Credits go to whoever came up with the genius idea to put an emoji-face to a cake with a pineapple toupee.

The image I saw didn't come with a recipe however. So here is the one I came up with, with all sorts of tropical island holiday things going on in my head (it was just a few days before my vacation after all). It is made up of:

- a pineapple and orange mousse;

- 2 layers of my favourite vanilla cake recipe to which I added the zest of two oranges; and

- my trusty vanilla buttercream with yellow colouring for frosting the cake.

This cake is going to need a bit of advance preparation. So here are some tips:

- you can prepare the cake layers ahead of time, let cool completely, split them horizontally in half to make 4 layers, wrap tightly and freeze them (I always do this a week ahead - I'm so over burning the midnight oil making cake by now)

- you're going to want to prepare the mousse the night before, or rise and shine early in the morning, as it will need about 4 hours to set to an acceptable thickness to be useful to you (ignore this, and you will end up with a soupy mess dripping from the sandwiched layers, I warned you.)

- the buttercream as well can be prepared a couple of days ahead - wrap with plastic and store in the fridge, then when you need it just give it a beating for a few minutes to soften it up again. I don't usually do this because buttercream usually comes together quick and its pretty foolproof.

You got all of that, ya?

So go on, give it a go and give me a shout out if you need any help.



P.s. oh and here you can go judge me by my fridge contents as well. Be nice. 😅

Panda Bakes Pineapple orange mousse tropical cake


Makes a 4 layer, 20 cm cake that shouts PARTAAAAAY from miles away


Vanilla sponge cake

Pineapple and orange mousse

Vanilla buttercream frosting

Emoji face



double the recipe for my favourite vanilla cake to make 2 x 20 cm layers

zest of 2 oranges


200 g pineapple, keep the top of the pineapple head for the cake 'toupee' later

1 orange, zested, and 2 tbs juice

150 g sugar

5 g gelatine leaf, or 15 g gelatin powder

250 ml heavy cream, cold


100 g butter, at room temperature

300 g icing sugar, sifted

1 tsp vanilla

2-3 tbs milk

yellow food gel colouring


a small amount of marzipan

black food gel colouring



Finely chop the pineapple and blend into a chunky puree - if you have a food processor you can get it done in a cinch! Transfer to a small heavy based saucepan and add the zest, orange juice, sugar and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and whilst continuously whisking, cook for about 7-10 minutes until thickened.

Soften the gelatine leaf in warm water for 5 minutes. Remove, squeeze out excess liquid, add to the pineapple mixture and whisk to combine. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic, and let it chill in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes, until cool.

In the meantime, use an electric mixer to beat your heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold it into the pineapple mixture, being careful not to lose too much of the volume. Cover the mousse with plastic and chill for at least 4 hours to allow it to set (or just leave it overnight as I did).


Follow my recipe for my favourite vanilla cake until the part where you add the milk and vanilla. Add in the zest at this step and finish the recipe. Let cool completely.

It's easier to assemble the cake if you let the layers chill in the fridge for at least half an hour, so wrap with plastic and chill.

If you are making this with more than a couple of days in advance, split the layers in two horizontally now, to make 4 layers, before wrapping each of the layers in plastic and freeze.


Beat the butter alone with an electric mixer at high speed for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Add the sugar, vanilla and milk and beat for an additional 5 minutes. You can always adjust the amount of milk depending on the consistency you want.

Add the yellow food gel a few drops at a time and beat the cream to achieve the yellow-ness that you want to achieve. Keep in mind that a little colouring goes a long way!


You should have 4 layers of cake. Place one layer on the cake board, securing with a dab of buttercream between the cake and the board.

Transfer the buttercream to a pastry bag, cut the tip making an opening about 1cm in diameter. Pipe the buttercream on the surface of the sponge to create a circle along the edges. This would work as a dam to stop any mousse from escaping to the sides of the cake when you put the other layers on top.

Using a spatula, scoop out a third of the mousse, or however less mousse that will fit in the circle without going above the level of the buttercream 'circle'.

Place the second layer on top, and repeat the process of - buttercream dam - mousse. Repeat for the third layer of sponge cake also. Top off the cake with the final sponge cake layer.

Now you are going to frost the cake. Using a spatula, cover the entire cake with a thin-ish layer of buttercream. Smooth it out, but don't worry too much since you will be covering it with star shapes after. Transfer the cake to the fridge and let chill for 30 minutes.

Once the cake has chilled a little, place the chopped head of the pineapple on top of the cake. Try to cut off as much of the pineapple flash as possible, but make sure to keep a nice, flat enough surface that will make the pineapple top stay supported on the cake.

Prepare the buttercream for decorating by transfering it to another pastry bag fitted with a star shape nozzle. If you have a cake turntable at this point it will be very very useful. Now, pipe out small stars all over the cake: work in rows starting from the bottom of the cake, all the way around, then up, finishing off by covering also as much as you can of the base of the pineapple toupee.

For the face, take off a small ball of marzipan (you will need less than the size a quarter of a golf ball) and dab some black food gel into it. Folding over it repeatedly, incorporate the colour into the marzipan. Pull off a small amount and roll out into a tube with the thickness of 5 mm, cut off 4 cm - this will be the smile. Make two little dots for the eyes. Stick them on carefully to the cake.


I know, making party cakes ain't a simple process. But to hell with it - seeing adult friends high on sugar make it so worth it. 😂

Panda Bakes Pineapple orange mousse tropical cake

Panda Bakes Milan
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