How to choose the right cake for every occasion

Image for article titled You need a new sheet cake in your life

Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

The wide variety of cakes that exists in the world is exciting, if a bit overwhelming. Deciding between a butterfly-shaped cake with motors or a thumbnail-sized three-dollar candle tower of cupcakes can have you questioning your life choices.

Fortunately, there are cakes that make things easier. Cakes that can feed a crowd and provide a delicious exclamation point at birthday parties, congratulatory celebrations or the first day of summer. This occasion calls for a sheet cake! …Bbut wait, what kind of cake sheet? Genre who stands up, the guy in a dish, or the guy in a saucepan? Before you throw down your whip and order 200 micro cupcakes, here are some tips for choosing the right cake sheet for your needs.

Thekiss sheet cake

Also searchable as a “snack cake”, this is the lower maintenance version of the two sheet cake types. A little cake, like this one from Taste of Homeis a layer of cake baked in a round or rectangular pan covered with a layer of icing or glaze or served plain. This method of making cakes has been around forever, and many home cooks casually call the rectangular variety a sheet cake. What makes this kind of cake appealing is the invitation to daily indulgence; it’s meant to be enjoyed whenever you feel like eating. Great for almost any casual situation, you can bake a nine inch square cake for yourself on a Tuesday or an impressive full size baking sheet when hosting a reception with more than 40 guests. Most often, this sheet cake is not so formal in presentation; at most, it requires an unceremonious swipe of frosting and is served by scooping a slice straight out of the pan.

To make a snack sheet cake, first decide how many people you need to serve. An eight inch square works well for nine or 10 people. To serve a crowd of about 20, you can make two pans or use a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. For groups of 25 or more, use a half sheet pan (or even a full sheet if your oven is large enough). Keep in mind that these cakes will be thinner due to the shorter rim.

Judging how much batter you need for larger sheet cakes can get a little trickier. For 8-inch, 9-inch, or 9 x 13-inch sheet cakes, remember that a single box of cake mix would give you two 9-inch round layers. The above recipe for Taste of Home Chocolate Cake makes just over 3 cups of batter and bakes in an 8-inch square layer. With that as a guide, about 6 cups will give you two separate cakes, but you’ll only need 4 ½ to 5 cups of batter for a 9 x 13 inch Pyrex. For even bigger cakes, this painting of The Stay At Home Chef will be point you in the right direction, and using the two-thirds rule can help when filling pots. But keep in mind that baking a cupcake is supposed to be a casual affair; your cake can be thick or thin, so if your recipe is a little shy, don’t worry.

The layer cake

A multi-layered sheet cake is the most formal choice. Always rectangular and usually ordered in bakeries, this cake usually comes in three sizes: quarter sheet, half sheet or full sheet. Perhaps referring to this type of cake as a sheet cake is more popular in bakeries because they are always prepared in baking sheets and cut and assembled to the appropriate size from there. The advantage for these Cakes are you going to always get a big slice with two or three layers and frosting inside and out. These ssheet cakes n are masses of dessert, impressive in size, and provide a convenient canvas for decorations and cake art galore.

This is the kind of cake you see with faces printed on it; the kind of cake that comes decorated with plastic toys. They are usually ordered for special occasions as they take hours to make, may involve many mixing bowls, require various specialized tools for decorating and serving 15 to 20 people maximum. Unlike snacking cake, it would be very unusual to make yourself a multi-layered sheet cake like a “Happy Tuesday”, but I’m totally here for it.

There are two ways to get a sheet of cake. The easiest but most expensive route is to call or visit a bakery that makes them and let yourself be guided in your choice size, flavors, and the decorations they offer. Again, this can be quite expensive, depending on the time of year (graduation cakes are fashionable in May and June); you may need to place your order a month in advance.

The second way is to do the damn thing yourself. I’ll say it now, if you need a full cake, you should order it. Unless you already have full plates and an oven that can accommodate them, spending money on pans cuts your budget. If that’s not a problem, pick a regular cake recipe and decide how much you need to adjust to get the correct amount of batter you need for your pan size (like we did with the snack cakes). Remember, you will need at least two layers of cake and enough frosting to fill and cover everything.

When deciding which cake sheet is right for you, consider the occasion. Snack cakes are casual, more likely to be hand-held, an everyday type of cake. They work well in warm weather because you can skip melting buttercream frostings and substitute icing, powdered sugar, or nothing at all. They are also ideal for picnics, barbecues and street parties as they stay in the dish in which they were cooked, making them easy to pack and travel without risk of damage. accidents. Layer cakes are a more formal way to serve a large number of people; they are more substantial and you can have multiple toppings and flavor combinations. They also provide space for elaborate and dramatic decorations to make a celebration truly special. And, hey, if the party is big enough, you can always have both.

If you’re craving a summery cupcake right now, try my Strawberry Coconut Lime Cake. The flavors are crisp, tangy, not too sweet, and, after a dusting of powdered sugar, it’s ready to slice and carry on the couch. Although there is no alcohol in this cake (but I like where your head is), the lime zest adds a welcome margarita vibe to the flavor profile. Strawberries are in season right now, and this sheet cake uses a lot of it, but if you prefer another fruit then by all means, cut it and glue them on it.

Strawberry, coconut and lime snack cake

Image for article titled You need a new sheet cake in your life

Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann


  • ¾ cup canola oil or other neutral oil
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup almond milk or other milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons of yeast
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ pound strawberries, sliced
  • Coconut flakes for garnish (I use Bob’s red mill unsweetened coconut flakes.)

Preheat your oven to 350℉. Prepare a 13 x 9-inch baking dish by lightly buttering the inside and dusting with flour.* Cut the strawberries into halves or quarter-inch slices and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk oil, sugar and eggs until combined. Add the lime zest and juice, yogurt, almond milk and vanilla extract. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Use a fork and stir lightly to evenly distribute the yeast and salt.

Add the dry mixture to the wet in three batches, whisking each portion of the dry ingredients before adding the next. A few small lumps are okay.

Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and smooth it out. Place strawberry slices on top. You can arrange them decoratively or sprinkle them any way you want, just try not to crowd the top or they might sink to the bottom. Sprinkle coconut flakes on top.

Bake at 350℉ for 45-50 minutes. After 30 minutes, check if the coconut flakes are browning too much. If they start to puff up, take a sheet of aluminum foil slightly longer than the length of the baking dish and cover it. Carefully place the foil tent on top of the dish. Try to avoid contact with the center of the cake. Leave like this for the rest of the cooking time.

Cool the cake completely. Slice and serve as is or dusted with powdered sugar.

*Note: You box line the dish with parchment paper, but I don’t prefer this for a snack cake. It will be sliced, scooped up, and served in the baking dish, which can result in torn pieces of parchment sticking to the slices and general weirdness.