Strawberry cake's a southern celebration, often appearing on Juneteenth picnic tables. Traditionally, it's plain cake layered with strawberry buttercream. I've always wanted more strawberry flavor, so I put it in the cake and topping here. Dehydrated strawberries, now sold everywhere as snacks, moisten and soften in a cream cake batter, delivering super berry sweetness. Fresh berries get to shine all by themselves, sitting pretty in a whipped cream cloud.
Pistachio Semolina Cake
Jessica Koslow of Sqirl, Silver Lake
If you have never made a cake before and love chocolate, this is the cake that you should bake. Because it is an easy cake for a beginning baker, I sometimes refer to it as the world’s easiest chocolate cake—but don’t think that it doesn’t deliver in the flavor department! The results are spectacular. Plus, this is the cake that I always make for a crowd, as you can cut it into as many as 48 pieces. In this variation on a Texas sheet cake, I’ve loaded both the cake and the icing with ground cinnamon, giving it a distinctive Tex-Mex flair.
There are those among you who swear the best damn lemon cake is The Best Damn Lemon Cake. I thought so too…until this recipe was sent to me by my daughter, Toni, who lived on East 62nd Street when she began to make it. When I sent this recipe to my friend Craig Claiborne, he printed it in the New York Times. It became amazingly popular. Devin, the young man who took care of our swimming pool, once even baked this cake on his charcoal grill (he didn’t have an oven). It came out perfectly!
For much of my childhood, this was my mom’s go-to cake. Each sponge cake layer is mixed with a different ingredient (poppy seed, prunes, walnuts), and then basted with sweetened condensed milk and left to soak. She just called it “three-layer cake”—so I pressed her for its actual name:
One summer, my family and I went on vacation to Scotland, where I ate haggis every day and enjoyed truly the best fish-and-chips in the world in the lovely little seaside town of Anstruther. On the short drive from Anstruther back to St. Andrews, a pasture full of Holstein-Friesian cows caught our eye. We just had to stop. Turns out, they were grazing in the pasture of a dairy that had a restaurant. Stuffed though we may have been, we just couldn’t keep ourselves from buying some fresh cheeses and several desserts. This one was our favorite. Thank you for the recipe, St. Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company!
My father, Ivor, is from a small town in the center of South Africa and, although his family’s background is English and Eastern European, he was raised with strong Dutch influences. One Dutch passion he passed down to me is his love of black licorice, specifically the salty, chewy sort—not the soft, sweet kind. Whenever we visited family in South Africa, my dad would bring home bags of what we knew as dubbel zout (double salt)—coins of salted black licorice about the size of a quarter. I devoured them every chance I got, relishing the savory, saline exterior before it gave way to the barely sweet, chewy center. Dad’s other sweet vice, which I also inherited, is chocolate. Not white. Not milk. Simply pure and dark. So, it was in honor of him, and our shared love of these two confections, that I concocted this deep, dark chocolaty cake, which gets a touch of sophisticated salt flavor, plus notes of molasses and anise, from what might seem to be an unlikely partner: black licorice. Paired together, the two confections make for a brilliant duo that is both delicious and not-too-sweet.
Banana bread was always a staple in my mom’s kitchen when I was growing up. Over the years, I have riffed on her recipe in dozens of ways: adding chocolate chips, nuts, or spices; swinging from quick bread to cake; icing or dusting it with confectioners’ sugar. Then, about a year ago, I decided to play with the idea of a banana upside-down cake, topped with banana slices and salted caramel, which both soaks into the cake and drips all around it when the pan is inverted. That little idea turned out to be a total keeper. Here it is.
This cake’s color hinges on the anthocyanins found in red wine and raw cocoa, as even organic brands of “natural” cocoa powder lose their colorful potential in the roasting process. They create a shockingly pale batter, but in the oven it develops a mellow burgundy hue and rich cocoa flavor (plus, these acidic ingredients make for a velvety soft crumb). Paired with light and tangy Cream Cheese Frosting, it’s everything red velvet should be.