These 4th of July cakes are all sweet showstoppers

Make these cakes the star of the show

Published June 16, 2021 11:59AM (EDT)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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It seems like our 4th of July gatherings may be back to normal this year — think: gathering around a pool with your loved ones, a drink in one hand and a burger in the other. Sounds pretty good, right? In our opinion, every celebration calls for a spectacular dessert, so we've gathered 29 of our all-time favorite 4th of July cake recipes. Serve them with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream because after all, this is America's birthday.

A stellar dessert table should include a solid lineup of pies, ice cream, cookies, and so on. But, in my mind, if you really want a holiday showstopper, you 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 4th of July standouts. The best part? Just about all of them are beginner-friendly.

* * *

Our Best 4th of July Cakes

1. American Flag Cake

I couldn't round up the best 4th 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.

2. Chocolate Birthday Sheet Cake with Strawberry Marshmallow Frosting

Happy Birthday America! If you're hosting a crowd for the 4th of July and want a no-fuss dessert, look no further than this stunning sheet cake. The moist chocolate cake is topped with a luscious frosting made from strawberry purée and homemade marshmallow cream.

3. Cherry Almond Crumb Cake

Wondering what to do with the abundance of glossy, bright red cherries that you just picked up from the market? Add them to this classic streusel-topped crumb cake; the combination of their tart flavor and the sweet almond-brown sugar topping is what our all-American dreams are made of.

4. Tahini Cake With Blueberry Swirl

When you want to bake a 4th of July cake that puts less emphasis on stars and stripes and more broadly embraces summer flavors, bake this blueberry Bundt that gets some nuttiness from tahini. Recipe developer Sarah Jampel calls it "a dessert with effortless summer glow."

5. Samantha Seneviratne's Blackberry Cuatro Leches

There's not one, not two, not three, but four kinds of dairy (whole milk
, heavy cream
, sweetened condensed milk
, and evaporated milk) are used for the milk soak in this twist on a classic berry tres leches cake. The result is an extra-sweet, particularly decadent dessert — what's not to love about that?

6. Yellowest Yellow Cake with Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

This cake, which gets its amber hue from ground turmeric, is truly a national treasure. Of course, no yellow cake is complete without its partner in crime — chocolate frosting! Food editor Emma Laperruque's is enhanced with brewed coffee, which brings out the cocoa flavor.

7. American Flag Ice Cream Cake

We'd be remiss to not include this cool (literally — it's all ice cream!) cake, which is inspired by the American flag. All you need is a festive trio of flavors — vanilla, strawberry, and blueberry ice cream — plus homemade whipped cream, which is spread over the top and sides for the finale.

8. Blueberry Cake with Peanut Streusel

"Read beyond the title and look at the ingredient list, which calls for cayenne pepper, peanut butter, and lime juice," says recipe developer Sarah Jampel, who is the brains behind this spicy-sweet blueberry cake recipe. It's as much of a showstopper as a 4th of July fireworks show.

9. Extra-Fudgy Flourless Chocolate Cake

This over-the-top chocolate cake comes together in less than an hour, which gives you plenty of freedom to step out of the kitchen and celebrate the holiday with your loved ones. After all, the 4th of July is all about independence, which also means you could pass on the pulled pork and hot dogs and just eat this dessert.

10. Nigella Lawson's Very Smart Strawberry Streusel Cake

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.

11. Lemon Raspberry Layer Cake

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 4th of July.

12. Light, Fluffy Butter Cake

This crowd-favorite cake delivers on everything its title promises: It's rich and buttery, but doesn't feel heavy thanks to its airy texture. Best of all, it's got a simple ingredients list that makes it accessible to many home cooks.

13. Simple Summer Peach Cake

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.

14. Louisa's Cake With Peaches

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 the 4th of July, as that's when peach season hits its peak.

15. "World's Best Cake" with Banana and Coconut

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.

16. S'mores Layer Cake

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 4th of July, 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.

17. Perfect Chocolate Cake

If chocolate's more your vibe, you'll want to make this simple cocoa-packed number (complete with thick chocolate frosting) for the holiday. It is, in a word, perfect.

18. Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Plums

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 recipe developer Kenzi Wilbur, you can't tell the difference).

19. Strawberry Not-So-Short Cake

Make this bright and colorful not-so-short cake the centerpiece of your 4th of July celebration, and kids and adults alike will be impressed.

20. "Coke and Peanuts" Sheet Cake

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. Although the combination may sound odd, the ingredients team up to make a rich yet fluffy cake with some of the best frosting you will ever find.

21. Banana Pudding Icebox Cake

If the weather is shaping up to be especially hot on the 4th of July, make this banana pudding ice box cake — it's just five ingredients, no-bake, and, thanks to a stint in the freezer, extra refreshing.

22. Pistachio Cake With Lemon, Cardamom and Rose Water

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.

23. Heavenly Apple Cake

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.

24. Orange Upside-Down Sheet Cake

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 recipe developer Erin Jeanne McDowell recommends using a combination of whatever is in season.

25. Our Best Carrot Cake

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.

26. Campari Olive Oil Cake

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." We're thinking sugared blueberries for blue, soft-whipped cream for white, and strawberries (and a Campari soda) for red.

27. Strawberry and Butterscotch Whipped Cream Cake from Jami Curl

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.

28. Groovy Chocolate Cake

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."

29. Homemade Funfetti Cake

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.

By Erin Alexander

MORE FROM Erin Alexander

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