Cakes to Bake Every Month in 2021
The start of a new year is always filled with delight, but we’re guessing you agree when we say we’ve never been more excited to see the calendar hit January 1 than in 2021. Since we were home perfecting our baking skills in 2020, it’s only fitting that we begin the year with a cooking challenge of sorts. Focus on wellness? Would love to. Hit the gym more often? Maybe. Leave off the glass of wine with dinner? Probably not. Plenty of well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions are forgotten by mid-February, but we’ve got a program we bet you’ll stick to the whole year. Each month, bake a cake. Think of this list as your baking bucket list for the year. Not only does finishing a baking project come with a personal sense of accomplishment, but we think your family will get behind this monthly tradition as well. Expert home bakers will love the challenge of a Gingerbread Cake Roll in December, while novice ones can breeze through a one-dish Wacky Cake. With this variation of cake recipes, you’ll hone your decorating abilities and try something new. Celebrate the holidays with new cake traditions and make the sweetest memories with your family while baking. Whether you prefer cupcakes, cheesecake, luscious layers, or Bundts, there’s a cake for every taste and skill level on this list. As 2020 showed us, you never know what kind of wrench life will throw in your plans. No matter the resolutions you leave undone, there’s always, always, always cake. If you’re ready to up your baking game, preheat the oven and pencil in these recipes—it’s time to get started.
January: Wacky Cake
Recipe: Wacky Cake
Start the year off right with this decadent vintage dessert that's perfect to share with any chocolate lovers in your life. If you’re on dish duty, consider making this cake: The entire recipe comes together in the actual baking dish, no mixing bowls required! Similar to a Texas Sheet Cake, the fudgy frosting is poured over the cake while it’s still warm for the dreamiest texture. The only thing this chocolate dream could use is a cold glass of milk on the side.
February: Lemon Raspberry Cake
Recipe: Lemon Raspberry Cake
Brighten up your usual red velvet or chocolate Valentine’s baking project with this gorgeous confection. Layers of tender lemon cake meet fluffy cream-cheese raspberry frosting in this elegant dessert. You don’t need expert decorating skills to pull this one off—simply smooth the frosting and top with fresh raspberries in a half-moon shape. Since this cake is totally from-scratch, you can make the cake layers up to a day in advance to save you time the day you intend to serve it. Secure each layer tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble your final masterpiece!
March: Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Recipe: Cinnamon Coffee Cake
As cold February weather begins to thaw, so too does our aversion to leaving the house. Luncheons, book clubs, and spring gatherings begin to fill up the calendar in March, and a good coffee cake recipe will be your best friend. Keep this easy recipe in your back pocket for afternoon tea with the neighbors, Sunday brunch with the in-laws, or Tuesday dessert after dinner. Though we can’t resist a slice with our morning coffee, this versatile cake feels appropriate for just about any occasion. The sweet, crunchy streusel is the true star of this dense cake, and it can be made a day ahead of time. Grab your mixing bowls and tube pan—you’re about to make someone’s day.
April: Coconut Cupcakes with Birds’ Nests
We will always have a place for carrot cake on our Easter table, but this year, we’re all about trying new things. There’s no sight more welcoming (or adorable) than these pretty pastel cupcakes. Though it looks like a seasoned Test Kitchen professional decorated them with intricate frosting nests, those are actually made of coconut flakes! We promise: This is a DIY you can actually do. We used coconut milk and coconut extract in the batter for the softest cake that has way more oomph than a boxed coconut mix. We added both ingredients to the cream cheese frosting, too, for a finished product that’s fluffier and richer than the original. Serving these cupcakes is easier than slicing a layer cake while family members wait, and each one is like a present on a plate.
May: Pineapple-Ginger Upside-Down Cake
Pineapple upside down cake is one of our favorite retro recipes of all time, but even we’ll admit: It needed a glow up. Not only did our Test Kitchen create a fresh new take on the flavors, but they even glammed up the pineapple ring-maraschino cherry presentation. The most delicious aspect of a pineapple upside-down cake is the caramelized fruit. With our sliced pineapple topping, you actually get twice as much of that sticky-sweet goodness since it covers the entire cake. Grated fresh ginger adds a brightness to the recipe that you didn’t realize was missing. Even though this cake looks like it came straight from the Instagram of a baking blogger, anyone can pull it off. Why? As with many of our staple recipes, this one comes together with the help and ease of your trusty cast-iron skillet.
June: Brown Sugar Layer Cake with Peach Buttercream
When fresh peaches abound, peach cobbler tends to get all the attention. While we can’t argue that cobbler is incredibly delicious (and oh-so-easy!), we’re putting the baking skills we mastered last year to the test and trying a new way with peaches this summer. The lightly spiced cake layers made tender with buttermilk are amazing, but they’re really just the vehicle for the true star of this recipe—the Peach Buttercream Frosting. Be sure to use high-quality butter for this recipe that starts with our favorite trick for adding richness to any dessert: browned butter. Arrange a few juicy peach slices on top of the cake for a simple but stunning presentation. You’ll put your go-to cobbler recipe on standby once you slice into this beauty.
July: Strawberry Icebox Cake
Recipe: Strawberry Icebox Cake
Remember the whipped-cream-and-cookies cake from childhood? We fancied it up (but kept the charm and flavor) with this layered dessert. Homemade whipped cream flavored with vanilla extract and lightly tinted pink with strawberry jam makes it even more special. Whip the heavy cream a bit more than you normally would, but don’t overbeat it. You want it to be nice and thick so the layers are as neat as possible. You need just five ingredients to pull this one off, so it’s a great budget-friendly option when you’ve already spent a pretty penny on barbecue for your Fourth of July gathering. In the dog days of summer, it can get too hot to even think about turning on the oven, which is another reason why we love this no-bake dessert. Some wise words from the Test Kitchen to ensure your cake turns out: Use a cake stand that's at least 12 inches wide and place a paper doily (or parchment paper circle) in the center of the stand to use as a guide for building the layers. Finally, chill the cake in the refrigerator at least five hours. This gives the cookies plenty of time to soften so the cake can be sliced neatly.
August: Key Lime Sheet Cake
Recipe: Key Lime Sheet Cake
By May, the South is already in sweating-inside-despite-air-conditioning mode. June and July somehow get warmer but are bearable to those accustomed. Southerners know, though: August heat is another beast entirely. During sticky, inescapable August weather, there’s nothing more refreshing than the taste of cool Key lime pie. Lucky for you, we turned the Southern classic into an easier-than-ever sheet cake that’s made to feed a crowd. With a creamy whipped topping and tons of Key lime flavor, no one has to know this cake started with a box of mix.
September: Bourbon-Praline Cheesecake
Recipe: Bourbon-Praline Cheesecake
When the temperature starts to drop even the slightest bit, we’re ready to pretend "fall" is a season in the South. During autumn, or as we call it, football season, we love a bourbon drink to warm us up by a fire. Whether or not you like to sip bourbon, you’re going to love the richness it adds to this cheesecake. If cheesecake and bourbon weren’t enough to prove you should make this recipe, we’re here to remind you that it includes a praline topping. Our Test Kitchen’s secret to silky-smooth cheesecake? Room temperature cream cheese and eggs. This will ensure the eggs properly incorporate into the filling and it’s creamy as all get out. You can prepare the cheesecake and praline topping the night before you serve them, which is always a win in our book. A word to the wise: Make a little extra praline topping; it’s divine over vanilla ice cream.
October: Apple Butter Pound Cake with Caramel Frosting
For us, fall is all about baking with harvest fresh apples. Warm spices and baked apples make a house smell incredible, and this dense pound cake is the first recipe we’ll make for the season. When you cut into this cake, guests will be delighted by a surprise ribbon of homemade apple butter. Our Slow-Cooker Apple Butter is delicious over hot biscuits or pancakes, but it’s a perfect addition to this cake. Spooning caramel frosting over the elaborate Bundt pattern is visually beautiful but so much easier than icing a layer cake. Apple chips are a store-bought cinch to arrange on top.
November: Pecan Pie Cake with Browned Butter Frosting
Thanksgiving is usually all about the pie, but this year, we’re going rogue. Don’t worry—this pretty layer cake has all the flavor of your go-to pecan pie recipe. This stunner has pecan pie filling, pecan pie cake layers, and a rich and creamy browned butter frosting...Pie who? A few tips straight from the Test Kitchen: When making your cake batter, beat the egg whites only until stiff peaks form—don’t overbeat. Then gently fold them into the batter. The egg whites help make the cake layers light and tender. When browning your butter, be sure and immediately pour it into a small glass bowl to prevent the butter from becoming too dark and burning in the pan. Lastly, if your pecan pie filling won’t easily spread, use a spatula to “work it” in the bowl to loosen it up and make it more malleable.
December: Gingerbread Cake Roll with Eggnog Cream
Since we assume you’ll make the year’s Big White Cake in December, we decided to put our avid bakers to one last test before New Year’s Day. This cake needs time to chill, so plan to make it a day (or even two!) in advance. This beautiful dessert has the classic shape of a traditional Buche de Noel with even more festive flavor. The soft, spiced gingerbread cake and creamy eggnog filling are a perfect match, and with the cake roll presentation, you get some of each in every last bite. A dusting of powdered sugar on top adds a final snowy touch for your holiday meal’s finale.