It's looking like our Fourth of July and summer gatherings will be a bit smaller — and a bit more virtual — this year. But that's no reason to not still welcome summer with a cake.
In case you haven't heard by now, my favorite way to celebrate the Fourth of July — aka the real start of summer — is with a dessert table.
This might mean a solid lineup of pies, ice cream, cookies, and so on. But, in my mind, if you really want a showstopper, you're going to need a cake — one that looks super fancy, but that you don't need to be an expert baker to pull off. From a classic red, white, and blue American flag cake to a zippy citrus upside-down cake that's popping with color, these cakes make the sweetest standouts. The best part? Just about all of them are beginner-friendly and perfect to enjoy all summer long.
Our best summer cakes
I couldn't round up the best Fourth of July-ready cakes without putting this American flag cake from Erin McDowell right at the very top. It takes a little bit of maneuvering (and math) to achieve that red, white, and blue surprise inside, but luckily there's a video to guide you every step of the way.
In this clever, sweet-tart strawberry cake from Nigella Lawson, a single dough does double the work. That means you can make your crumbly streusel topping and moist cake all from the same mixture.
This lovely layer cake — in which both the base layer and Italian buttercream frosting are lightly flavored with lemon — is perfect for special occasions. The raspberry jam sandwiched between makes it feel especially at home during the Fourth of July.
This extra-simple cake recipe highlights the best that summer has to offer, the most important of which is ripe, seasonal peaches. Make a few of these for your big summer holiday and I guarantee every slice will be gone.
Speaking of peaches, this peachy riff on Louisa's ethereally light and fluffy cake (it's one of our all-time most popular recipes) is perfect for any warm-weather gathering. But I especially like it for July, as that's when peach season hits its peak.
This towering beauty is stacked with layers of whipped cream, fresh banana slices, and a fragrant, spiced cake — oh, and don't forget the golden-brown meringue topping and toasty coconut flakes — before getting cooled in the refrigerator an hour before serving.
Few things evoke the nostalgia of summer more strongly than gooey, chocolatey s'mores roasted over an open fire. But if an open flame is out of the cards this summer, bake up this s'mores layer cake instead, which calls on chocolate ganache, whipped marshmallow frosting, and a graham cake to bring all those familiar flavors to the party.
If chocolate's more your vibe, you'll want to make this simple cocoa-packed number (complete with thick chocolate frosting). It is, in a word, perfect.
There are just two things you need to do to make this tasty olive oil cake shine: use super-ripe plums (if they're too firm, you'll notice later) and don't worry about sifting the flour (according to the recipe author, you can't tell the difference).
Make this bright and colorful not-so-short cake the centerpiece of your celebration, and kids and adults alike will be impressed.
For an even bigger dose of nostalgia, make this "coke and peanuts" sheet cake, which really does call for both Coca-Cola and roasted, salted peanuts in the recipe. Odd though the combination may sound, the ingredients team up to make a rich yet fluffy cake with some of the best frosting you will ever find.
If the weather is shaping up to be especially hot, make this banana pudding ice box cake — it's just five ingredients, no-bake, and, thanks to a stint in the freezer, extra refreshing.
If you want to bake something with a bit of added sophistication for the holiday, make this delicate pistachio cake with the slightest hints of lemon, warm cardamom, and floral rose water.
Instead of making an apple pie, however classic it may be, try this heavenly apple cake. It stays fresh and moist for days (meaning you can easily make it ahead of time), and it's totally irresistible.
This eye-popping upside-down cake might be beautiful to look at, but that shouldn't stop you from taking a bite. You can use any type of oranges you like, but the recipe's author recommends using a combination of whatever is in season.
Who says carrot cake need only be enjoyed in the spring? There are two things that make this one especially special. First: Using a Microplane, or even just the finest-side of your box grater, makes for a spiced cake batter laced with wisps of carrot (because cake should never remind you of salad). Second: Often dense cream cheese frosting gets lifted with a hit of vinegar, and whipped until ultra-fluffy.
Nothing says party quite like a cocktail and cake rolled into one. "On its own it's a pretty plain-looking thing," NYT columnist Melissa Clark writes. "But you can dress it up for a party, adding orange segments, berries, and dollops of whipped cream or crème fraîche to the top."
This no-stand-mixer-required, one-bowl-wonder of a cake came to us from pastry chef Jami Curl. Top this simple, incredibly moist vanilla cake with jammy strawberries and butterscotch whipped cream. Or, let your pantry odds and ends be your guide: Mix chocolate chips, toasted coconut, frozen fruit, or spiced nuts right into the batter.
A riff on a Texas sheet cake, this deeply chocolatey, thickly frosted chocolate cake defined writer Megan Giller's childhood. "The magic lies in its simplicity — along with sour cream, which makes it super moist," she writes. "After it cooled, my mom would top it with a simple chocolate buttercream frosting made with a splash of rum extract."
What is funfetti, if not edible fireworks in miniature form? Blogger and Food Network star Molly Yeh calls for artificially-colored sprinkles or nonpareils for the brightest effect, and imitation vanilla for the truest funfetti boxed-cake flavor. To ensure the sprinkles pop, she ditched the yolks for a pure white batter.