We all know that cake belongs at milestone celebrations, but after having kids, I started using cakes to make blah days feel more special. Each these easy recipes takes less than a half hour of your time before the magic of the oven does the rest of the work.

By Odette Williams
April 10, 2020
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Credit: Linda Xiao

A slice of homemade cake has the power to turn an average day into a happy one. (If I’ve persuaded you already with this opening manifesto, feel free to skip to the recipes.) Cake has come to my rescue while I was on lockdown with sick kids, needed a little self-care, or was putting together an impromptu celebration.

When my kids were young, the idea of baking was madness, considering that my family lived in a one-bedroom apartment with a tiny kitchen, and most days I was lucky if I showered. However, cake fueled and nurtured my spirits like no other food could. I baked recipes that demanded little but were still insanely delicious. This laissez-faire approach to baking became my trademark, and my desire to share this attitude was one of the reasons I wrote my cookbook, Simple Cake.

I’m deeply suspicious of cakes that have too many bells and whistles. I believe there’s nothing more charming than seeing the evidence of the home baker’s touch. Lopsided is lovely.

Speaking of cakes having character, I’m often asked if I have advice for baking with kids. I joke that pandemonium is one of the ingredients. It requires the patience of a grandparent. Kids are going to make a mess, spill the vanilla, and lose interest halfway through. But think of your efforts as a long-term investment. When my daughter, Opal, was a toddler, she used to putter around as I baked. Now that she’s 12, she can prepare most of my cakes by herself magnificently. (We’re still working on the cleanup.)

I encourage you to bake cakes when there’s something to celebrate and just because. A funny thing will happen with that recipe you make on repeat: It’ll become “Mom’s Homemade Cake.” You might not need written instructions, as the ingredients, measures, and steps will live in your muscle memory. And those new traditions? They’ll be what your kids remember fondly from their childhood.

Credit: Linda Xiao

Get the Recipe

Meet your new go-to cake—it comes together as easily as a boxed mix. No beaters are needed, just two bowls and a whisk. Dust it with confectioners’ sugar and serve it with buttermilk whipped cream, or go to town with chocolate frosting when it’s birthday time.

Credit: Linda Xiao

Get the Recipe

You can dress up my lemon-ricotta cake with fresh berries for a special occasion, or dust it with confectioners’ sugar for weekday snacking. It’s not a cheesecake, nor a cake cake. It lives in  between.

Credit: Linda Xiao

Get the Recipe

I use cake flour in this good old-fashioned pound cake to make sure the texture is majestic. The chocolate swirl adds another flavor dimension.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's May 2020 issue as “Simple Cakes to Save Every Day.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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