14 Showstopping Cakes to Make Any Occasion Special


[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, Yvonne Ruperti, J. Kenji López-Alt]

When it comes to dessert you have no shortage of options—cupcakes, brownies, pies, and more—but for a celebration you just can’t beat a cake. A towering layer cake like our devil’s food or coconut varieties will always impress, but that’s just the start. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, a holiday, or just want an extra-special dessert, keep reading to find the perfect cake for any occasion.

Classic Vanilla Butter Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

If you’ve never made a layer cake before, this butter cake flavored with vanilla extract and toasted sugar is a good place to start. Here we decorated the cake simply with vanilla buttercream and Valrhona pearls, but feel free to get as creative as you’d like.

Get the recipe for Classic Vanilla Butter Cake »

Devil’s Food Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

More of a chocolate fan? This intense cake is made with plenty of chopped dark chocolate and Dutch process cocoa powder, plus lots of coffee to bring out the chocolate’s bitter side. This is another great cake for beginners because the batter comes together in a single pot.

Get the recipe for Devil’s Food Cake »

Triple Coconut Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

When I was growing up I asked for the same thing every birthday: my mom’s coconut cake. Her cake was made with chocolate, but I wouldn’t have said no to this version either. The basic technique is the same as our butter cake, but we replace the butter, all-purpose flour, and milk with virgin coconut oil, coconut flour, and coconut milk. Finishing with coconut frosting and toasted coconut flakes really makes it a quintuple coconut cake, but who’s counting?

Get the recipe for Triple Coconut Cake »

Brown Butter Carrot Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Carrot cake is a little more polarizing than chocolate or vanilla, but fans of it will love our triple-layered version. We highlight the flavor of the carrots and pecans with brown butter and whole wheat flour, which also keeps the cake light and fluffy. Tangy cream cheese frosting provides some balance to the earthy cake and candied carrot “roses” make the cake extra festive.

Get the recipe for Brown Butter Carrot Cake »

Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Chocolate isn’t just sweet—it’s full of complex flavors. I’m particularly fond of its fruitier side, which this cake emphasizes with the addition of tart cherry juice. The cherry flavor goes beyond the cake itself, though—we top it with whipped cream flavored with freeze-dried berries.

Get the recipe for Chocolate Cherry Layer Cake »

Blackberry Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Our butter cake batter is already perfectly hydrated, so adding a moisture-rich blackberry purée requires cutting out the normal wet ingredients. That’s not a problem, though, because the berries are acidic enough to tenderize the cake, and they also happen to give it a gorgeous color too. To ensure the color comes out right, make the batter with only egg whites—yellow yolks will mix with the purée and turn the cake an unappetizing green color.

Get the recipe for Blackberry Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting »

Double Strawberry Cake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Strawberries do not work as well in a cake batter as blackberries do. They are significantly less acidic, so using enough strawberry purée to get the pH down would add too much moisture to the batter. Our solution is to add pulverized freeze-dried strawberries to the mix, which gives the batter plenty of acidity and boosts the strawberry flavor and color as well.

Get the recipe for Double Strawberry Cake »

Chocolate Meringue Cake With Whipped Cream and Raspberries

[Photograph: Nila Jones]

This elegant dessert pairs thin chocolate cakes with crisp meringue, airy whipped cream, and an intense raspberry sauce. Adding a little instant coffee to the cake batter amplifies the flavor of the chocolate, and plenty of sugar keeps the cake moist. Don’t worry if you’ve never tackled meringue before—the French meringue we use here is the easiest type to make.

Get the recipe for Chocolate Meringue Cake With Whipped Cream and Raspberries »

Texas Sheet Cake

[Photograph: Carrie Vasios Mullins]

This massive sheet cake is the way to go if you’ve got a big party to feed. The classic Texas sheet cake technique sounds strange but works perfectly—rather than creaming the butter and sugar you melt the butter, bring it to a boil with the water and cocoa, and then mix in the dry ingredients. We like to bake the cake in a large, shallow jelly roll pan so that the layer of slightly tangy chocolate icing ends up being almost as thick as the cake itself.

Get the recipe for Texas Sheet Cake »

Easy, Light, and Tender Honey-Vanilla Almond Cake

[Photograph: Jennifer Latham]

Not every cake has to be as rich and sweet as our previous recipes. This one is practically healthy (and totally gluten-free) thanks to the protein-rich almond flour. Keeping the cake light is all about properly beating the egg whites—start them at room temperature, use impeccably clean equipment, and beat only until they form soft peaks.

Get the recipe for Easy, Light, and Tender Honey-Vanilla Almond Cake »

Flourless Chocolate-Chestnut Torte

[Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

Another gluten-free option, this chocolate torte is flavored with a nutty chestnut purée. The chestnuts are pretty mild and easy to overwhelm, so we cut down on the amount of chocolate and add a dash of bourbon to enhance their flavor. For even more chestnut flavor and a prettier presentation we top the cake with more chestnut purée.

Get the recipe for Flourless Chocolate-Chestnut Torte »

Japanese Cotton-Soft Cheesecake

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

If you think cheesecake has to be heavy, think again. This Japanese version is made by folding airy meringue into the batter, which makes for a cake that is almost unbelievably light. Don’t worry—adding sour cream and lemon juice to the batter ensures it has that classic cheesecake tang.

Get the recipe for Japanese Cotton-Soft Cheesecake »

Easy No-Bake Cheesecake

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Looking for a more traditional Western-style cheesecake? This incredibly quick no-bake recipe is the way to go. We love no-bake cheesecakes not just because they are so easy, but because cutting out the eggs really lets the flavor of the dairy (heavy cream and lots of cream cheese) shine. Graham crackers are the obvious choice for the crust, but nutty Biscoff cookies are even better.

Get the recipe for Easy No-Bake Cheesecake »

No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake

[Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

This no-bake cheesecake has a double-dose of chocolate—we mix melted bittersweet chocolate into the cream cheese and sugar filling and use chocolate cookie wafers for the crust. Like our standard no-bake cheesecake this only takes 15 minutes of active time, plus 4 hours in the fridge to set. Give the cake about half an hour at room temperature before serving.

Get the recipe for No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake »



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