Celebrations call for elaborate, sweet, frosting-laden cakes that take a little more time to prepare. A special occasion allows for the detail and time of many-layered cakes with intricate piping. These cakes are different. The batter isn’t as sweet, and they’re not coated in frosting. These are breakfast cakes, mid-morning cakes, lunch cakes, afternoon tea break cakes, light dessert cakes. They’re cakes for a very merry unbirthday or for cloudy, gray days in need of a pick-me-up. They’re easy cake recipes, meant for anytime eating.
1. Walnut Jam Cake
No, this isn’t jam made from walnuts. It’s a cake made from walnuts and a scant bit of flour, topped with jam and slightly tangy whipped cream for balance. Deb of Smitten Kitchen warns that the full amount of jam and whipped cream make the cake a bit heavier than a snacking cake usually is, so adjust the toppings as the day wears on. The suggested jams are apricot, raspberry, or black currant.
- 1¼ cups walnuts
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, optional
- ½ cup jam or preserves
- ⅔ cup chilled heavy cream
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Directions: Toast walnuts in a shallow baking pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes and let cool.
Keep the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.
Pulse cooled walnuts and sugar in a food processor until finely chopped. Add butter and process until combined, then add eggs and vanilla and process until combined. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.
Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
Whisk lemon juice, if using, into jam. Spoon jam over cake.
Beat heavy cream with sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until it holds soft peaks, then spoon over jam.
2. Brown Butter Spice Cake
This cake is as much of a cake as banana bread is bread. It’s in the liminal space between the two, making it totally acceptable for anytime eating. It’s heavily spiced with garam masala and cinnamon, hefty from the whole wheat flour, nutty from the browned butter, and moist from the winter squash. Heidi from 101 Cookbooks recommends using the winter squash, though she does allow for a substitute of bananas.
- ½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
- 1 tablespoon toasted hazelnut oil, almond oil, more melted butter
- 1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus more for the pan
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 cup fine grain natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar, sifted, plus another 1½ tablespoons for topping
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup well-pureed roasted winter squash
- ¼ cup milk
- ⅓ cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
Directions: Melt the butter in a small pot over medium heat until it’s brown and has a nutty aroma. Stir in the toasted hazelnut oil. Set aside and allow to cool but not set. By doing the butter first you can complete the rest of the steps while it is cooling.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter and flour a 1-pound loaf pan, or a 9-by-5-by-3-inch pan.
Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, garam masala, and sea salt into a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl whisk the sugar, eggs, squash, and milk. Whisk in the melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in most of the almonds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with 1½ tablespoons of sugar and remaining almonds, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until the edges have browned and the center of the cake is well set but not dry. Test with a toothpick.
3. Chocolate Beet Cake
This cake uses beets to retain plenty of moisture, but the chocolate completely covers up the earthy flavor of the vegetable. David Lebovitz was roasting some beets anyway and used those, but you can boil them if it’s easier. Since there’s no reason to make them pretty, cut them into pieces for quicker cooking. Lebovitz also addresses the use of superfine sugar; if you can’t find any (called castor sugar over here), pulse normal sugar in the food processor for about 10 seconds.
The crème fraîche spread thinly on top gives the cake a bit of creamy zing, where the poppy seeds add a bit of pop. Altogether, it makes for a wonderful late-afternoon cake.
- 8 ounces beets, unpeeled, rinsed and scrubbed free of dirt
- 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, 70% cacao solids, chopped
- ¼ cup hot espresso or water
- 7 ounces butter, at room temperature, cubed
- 1 cup flour
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup superfine sugar
Directions: Butter an 8- or 8½-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Boil the beets in salted water with the lid askew until they’re very tender when you stick a knife in them — about 45 minutes. Drain, then rinse the beets with cold water. When cool enough to handle, slip off the peels, cut the beets into chunks, and grind them in a food processor until you get a coarse, yet cohesive, puree.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring as little as possible. Once it’s nearly all melted, turn off the heat but leave the bowl over the water. Pour in the hot espresso and stir it once. Then add the butter. Press the butter pieces into the chocolate and allow them to soften without stirring.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a separate bowl.
Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter is melted. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, then stir the egg yolks together and briskly stir them into the melted chocolate mixture. Fold in the beets.
In a stand mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff. Gradually fold the sugar into the whipped egg whites with a spatula, then fold them into the melted chocolate mixture, being careful not to overmix.
Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and reduce the heat of the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the cake for 40 minutes, or until the sides are just set but the center is still is just a bit wobbly. Do not overbake.
Let cake cool completely, then remove it from the pan. Spread crème fraîche on top and sprinkle with poppy seeds before serving.
4. Meyer Lemon, Olive Oil, and Cornmeal Snack Cake
Meyer lemons are slightly smaller and sweeter than a traditional lemon and can be hard to find. To fake a Meyer lemon, add a little pinch of sugar to the juice. This recipe from Keep It Simple Foods combines the texture of cornmeal with the brightness of the lemon for a perfect sunny morning snack cake.
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon curd
- Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
- ⅓ cup buttermilk
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1¼ cup flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a cake pan or fluted tart pan.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium speed until light yellow in color and fluffy. Then, add in the sugar, lemon curd, milk, and olive oil. Beat together for another two minutes. Then slowly add in the flour, baking powder, cornmeal, and salt. Mix until combined.
Bake 25 minutes. At the midway point, cover with parchment so that the top doesn’t get too dark.
Allow to cool and serve with lemon curd.
5. Black Sesame Pear Cake
This cake from Bon Appétit isn’t kidding around. It’s strongly flavored and ready to stand up to any kind of day you’re having. The first bite can be a bit of a shock, but subsequent bites are pretty dreamy. The recipe calls for chunks of pear, but if you’re not a fan of having chunks of anything floating around in your cake, grating the pear before folding it in is a suggested possibility. The buttermilk here is important for leavening. If you don’t have buttermilk, add two teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice to ¾ cup of milk.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing
- 1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup black sesame seeds
- 1⅓ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1 medium firm but ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, cut into ¼-inch cubes
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter one 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Whisk 1½ cups flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Grind remaining ½ cup sesame seeds in spice mill to form a thick paste, about 2 minutes.
Using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1⅓ cups sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Add sesame paste and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. On low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Toss pear with remaining 2 tablespoons flour in a small bowl; fold into batter.
Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into the center, about 50 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
6. Poppy Seed Cake
Rather than meeting expectations with a tired old lemon poppy seed batter, switch it up for a pleasant surprise with Lottie and Doof’s almond poppy seed batter. Just don’t eat it before a drug test; all those delicious poppy seeds can mess with the results!
- ¾ cup poppy seeds
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Directions: In a small saucepan, bring ½ cup of water to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the poppy seeds and cover. Let stand for 1 hour. Scrape the seeds into a blender and pulse until lightly crushed.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease and flour an 8-inch square baking pan, tapping out excess flour. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1⅓ cups of flour with the baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the granulated sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the poppy seed mixture and beat at medium speed until just combined. Add the eggs to the batter one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake the cake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a wire rack and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar, cut into squares and serve.
7. Chocolate Chocolate Teacake
This teacake from the Huckleberry cookbook via Serious Eats layers melted and chopped dark chocolate with cocoa powder for a seriously chocolaty everyday indulgence. Again, the acidity in the buttermilk here is important to the chemistry of the cake.
Serious Eats recommends a coffee-infused chocolate for bakers who really love the combination of coffee and chocolate flavors. For those who don’t like coffee, experiment with a strong cup of black tea.
- ¾ cup pastry flour
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup strong brewed coffee, cooled
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¾ cups coarsely chopped dark chocolate, 60 to 70% cacao
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 eggs
Directions: Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Sift together the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
Combine the coffee, buttermilk, and vanilla. Set aside. Melt ¾ cup of the chocolate gently in a small bowl set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Remove the pan from the heat, but leave the chocolate over the water to keep warm while you mix the cake. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Incorporate the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl well. Pause mixing and add the flour mixture. Mix just until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed, pour in the coffee mixture. Fold in both the melted and chopped chocolate.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake. Allow to cool completely in the pan.