The only four cakes you’ll ever need for entertaining

Ben Mims
Los Angeles Times

Someone asks you to bring a dessert to a block party, birthday or barbecue. Or you’re heading out of town for a weekend getaway. Or you just need something to keep all the kids happy on a Saturday night. There’s really only one answer and it’s a thing everyone wants to eat: sheet cake.

Think of these as cakes that are as easy to make as a boxed mix but exponentially better-tasting. First, a classic chocolate number that will end your search for the perfect chocolate cake. It’s moist and cocoa-y enough to win over the adults but not turn off the kids. Next, a buttermilk cake packed with so much lemon your cheeks will twinge: zest in the cake, a lemon syrup to soak into the crumb and add moistness, and a final tart glaze for creaminess. Then there’s my favorite, an old-fashioned vanilla cake with shockingly vibrant pink icing. The color is what my grandmother always stirred into canned frosting to make it feel special, so I can’t omit it. Finally, a candy bar slab that hits all the right nostalgic buttons: a fluffy white cake, drowned in butterscotch sauce, showered in chopped toffee or Butterfinger candy bars. All the cakes are served in their pans (you could use disposable foil ones for zero cleanup) and get iced only on the top _ no pesky edges to deal with.

Present them with candles for the big blow-out, then set them on a card table for people to devour. If you have leftovers, they’re great for the kind of lazy snacking when the pork shoulder is on its sixth hour of cooking on the smoker or you just woke up from a nap and want a little something to perk you back up. There’s no one setting for these cakes, but they’re always there when you need them.

Pink Birthday Sheet Cake

1 hour. Serves 12 to 16.

Inspired by the birthday cake my grandmother made me every year, this is a from-scratch version of boxed cake and frosting that is just as easy as the store-bought version.

For the cake:

Nonstick baking spray

2 cups all-purpose flour

cup dry milk powder

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup whole milk

{ cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs

For the frosting:

cup all-natural vegetable shortening

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream

{ teaspoon vanilla extract

teaspoon fine sea salt

Red liquid or gel food coloring (optional)

1 Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2 {-inch metal baking pan with baking spray.

2 In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, milk powder, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, whole milk, oil, vanilla and eggs until smooth. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes.

3 While the cake is in the oven, make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat the shortening and butter together with a hand mixer on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, slowly spoon the sugar into the fat mixture until completely incorporated and smooth; add two tablespoons cream, the vanilla and salt. Slowly add drops of food coloring until it’s the shade of pink you want; go light for a baby pink or heavier for a more magenta-like hue. Continue mixing until the color is homogeneous; if the frosting seems too thick, add the remaining one tablespoon cream so that it is spreadable.

4 As soon as the cake is ready, remove the pan from the oven and scrape the frosting onto the cake. Use a rubber spatula to quickly spread it evenly over the top as it melts. The frosting will separate into opaque and solid sections, that’s OK; continue spreading it as it melts until it no longer is separated and the frosting forms an even, solid layer on top. Let the cake cool until the frosting becomes a crackly doughnut-like glaze over the cake, then serve while still slightly warm from the pan. This cake is also great served cooled completely to room temperature.

Make ahead: The cooled, frosted cake can be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept at room temperature for up to two days. The frosting can be refrigerated for up to five days. Let come to room temperature and beat again before using on the hot cake.


There are times when you want a fluffy frosting on your cake to swipe through with your fork at the end of a meal. This is not one of those times or cakes. My grandmother made me a birthday cake every year by scraping icing? dyed pink because, why not? ? onto the cake while it was still hot from the oven and spreading it over the top. The result was a thin, irresistible doughnut-like glaze that forms from the icing melting and resetting over the top of the cake. If you?re the type of person who gets weirded out by food coloring, you can omit it or use natural dye, although I think the blush ? or bashful ? shade of pink is what makes the cake so fun.