The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Burke/Triolo Productions (Getty Images)

We put a lot of ourselves into our cakes. Cakes just feel like more of an occasion unto themselves than cookies or pie or any other type of dessert: They demand a perfect rise. They require delicate piping and fanciful adornment. They beg to be sliced into geometrically precise wedges that you can pull from the whole and pose for the cameras. And there’s a needling societal pressure to share a cake once you’ve baked it, rather than plunking it down on your countertop and digging into it whenever the mood strikes. The recipes in this collection are for the latter group of cake bakers, the ones who don’t want to wait for a birthday or other special occasion to throw together a hit-the-spot dessert. Why should you? You’ve got the ingredients, the dream, and the drive. So go forth and indulge in some of our most reliable cakes.

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An easy starter cake for kids

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Pooja Makhijani

If you’re looking for a baking project you can do with the whole family, Wacky Cake is the recipe you need. It requires no specialized tools, no chopping, and uses few dishes for easy cleanup. Beyond that, though, it’s also a great cake for satisfying your chocolate craving when you’ve got very few ingredients on hand: it’s an egg-free, dairy-free treat that still comes out of the oven tasting rich and moist. While Wacky Cake tastes great on its own, you can top it with some buttercream frosting if you want to give yourself (or the kids) even more of a project. Get the recipe here.

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A cake to pair with coffee and chitchat

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Allison Robicelli

This Moravian “friendship” cake is one of the best types of recipes: the kind that every person can tinker with to make their very own. Plus, it has a second act that is quite possibly better than its original state: each side is griddled in a hot pan, the bottoms becoming a beautiful buttery toast, the tops becoming crackling, bruleed caramel. Much like love itself, this cake seems easy, but has so many ways to surprise you. There’s much magic to be found in this cake, especially when it’s shared. It can create new friendships and memories that you’ll hold dear. It can strengthen the bonds you have with the ones you love, who will be reminded that you’re the person who gives them delicious cake and therefore should be treated kindly. Get the recipe here.

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An easy, “just because” apple cake

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Stacey Ballis

Not every cake needs an occasion. Sometimes, the reason to bake a cake can be as simple as wondering what you’re going to do with the apples you bought and don’t feel like snacking on. This apple cake is a defensible breakfast choice, the perfect companion to an afternoon cup of tea or coffee, and still totally dessert-worthy. Even better, it’s quick to throw together and made mostly of standard pantry ingredients. This is the most important part: it has bittersweet chocolate chunks in it. No raisins or walnuts, nothing that can make the cake feel like it is more related to breakfast oatmeal than a treat, just large chunks of chocolate that create surprising pockets of bitter creaminess that offset and balance the sweetness of the apple. Get the recipe here.

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Make cheesecake in your Instant Pot

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Brian Leatart (Getty Images)

Any method you choose, cheesecake is made for novice dessert makers. You don’t need to cream butter and sugar as needed in a cake. You don’t have to make pastry crust, with its potential for shrinkage and cracking and overcooking. You mix up an easy batter, and pat a butter-crumb mixture into the bottom of your pan. The advantages of making cheesecake in an Instant Pot are plentiful: a lighter, mousse-like texture; drastically reduced cooking time; and consistent cooking temperature without the hot spots of a traditional oven bake. The crust won’t be quite as crispy in the Instant Pot, but you’ll have delicious, not-too-dense cheesecake in 30 minutes, so why not try it out? Get the recipe here.

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It’s banana cake, not banana bread

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Allison Robicelli

This caramelized banana upside down cake is drenched in brown sugar caramelized bananas, but you could argue it’s also a good source of potassium and vitamin B6. This, and all banana breads/cakes, will vary in appearance and taste depending on how ripe your bananas are. If your bananas are yellow, your cake will be fluffier and sturdier, since the bananas contain starch, and will have a good, clean banana flavor. If your bananas are very brown, your cake will be denser, flatter, and gooier, because most of the bananas starches have converted into sugars as it ripened, and it will taste much sweeter. Both types of bananas, and all the spotty ones that fall in between, will make a spectacular cake, so use what you’ve got. Get the recipe here.

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Peeled carrot cake is a fresh update on an old standby

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Ilana Gordon

Sometimes the best recipes come to you by accident. Ilana Gordon’s half-baked (sorry) decision to peel carrot ribbons for her carrot cake rather than use grated carrots resulted in a fun new dessert, one with delicate veins of carroty moisture that create a whimsical aesthetic, which is something that most carrot cake decidedly lacks. Most importantly, this cake is a nice reminder that mistakes happen. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, those mistakes taste delicious. Get the recipe here.

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When all else fails, make a dump cake

Illustration for article titled The best cake recipes don’t need a special occasion
Photo: Karl Gustafson

Go ahead and unite processed and homemade desserts under the holy banner of dump cake. You can make this thing in five minutes, and the prep couldn’t be easier: chopping up fruit is the hardest part, and that’s only if you opt for a fruit that needs chopping. Then you just dump a box of cake mix on top, with some added Sprite. The results won’t be a showstopper, but you won’t find a more concentrated cure for your sweet tooth anywhere. Have fun mixing and matching different box cake mixes and sodas, and find comfort in the familiar artificial flavorings you were raised on. Get the recipe here.

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