Cake

A Chocolate Snacking Cake for Any & Every Occasion

Baker Jessie Sheehan on the versatility and unbridled joy of snacking cakes.

July 12, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

A snacking cake is, for the unfamiliar, a one-layer cake, typically baked in an 8-inch round or square cake pan (I’m partial to square). It's the sheet cake’s little sister. But where a sheet cake can be a big production, often baked for a special occasion (be it a birthday party, a potluck, or the school bake sale), a snacking cake is for any day and everyday.

I have been loving on snacking cakes for as far back as I can remember (not just since Melissa Clark memorialized them in The New York Times earlier this year). In fact—and yes, I am dating myself here—my earliest snacking cake memory is Betty Crocker’s now defunct Stir 'n' Frost boxed cake mix (RIP), the one that came with its own 5x7-inch disposable pan and squeeze packet of frosting. My favorite was the chocolate cake with vanilla frosting—what all of my snacking cake dreams are made of, and the inspiration for this one:

The snacking cake’s attributes are many, beginning with its name: Who doesn’t want to eat a cake with the word “snack” in its title? But it's also the ultimate user-friendly baked good: Snacking cakes are easy to make, even for the novice baker, as they call for only one pan, a handful of ingredients, and are often not even frosted.

Moreover, the fact that you can decide you want a slice of cake, and within an hour or two find that you’re eating one, is nothing short of remarkable. This is particularly true if your snacking cake is oil-based (my favorite kind—sorry, haters), as assembling it does not require bringing butter to room temperature or pulling out the stand mixer.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“A terrific cake that can also be dressed up ... For Christmas dessert I made this recipe in a quarter-sheet pan so about 1" thick, cut with 4" circle cutter, and topped each with homemade peppermint stick ice cream ' tree ' from silicone moulds. Off-cuts went in a Ziploc in the freezer for snacking or crumbles. Yum.”
— Pamela L.
Comment

Such cakes are as good on Saturday nights when you're feeling all festive as they are on Wednesday nights when you're binge-watching Dead to Me solo. They're consumed as quickly as they are assembled—except when they're not! (Then, they're the perfect breakfast with a cup of coffee.)

Finally, though frosting can elevate a simple snacking cake—as the billowy, tangy cream cheese icing does for the chocolate-carrot number featured here—no cake travels as well as a naked snacking cake. A mere unfrosted slice, usually square-shaped and tall with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, wrapped in wax paper and brought to the office, transforms even the saddest desk lunch into something special.

Cake for lunch? I mean, come on.

Why You Should Add Carrots to Your Snacking Cake

If there ever were a good snacking cake for breaking up the workday, chocolate-carrot with cream cheese frosting might top the list, and for a variety of reasons:

Adding finely grated carrots to chocolate cake makes for the moistest of cakes, with the softest of crumbs. (The texture is best if the carrots are grated with a Microplane, as they easily incorporate into the batter when processed so fine and practically disappear once baked.) The carrots impart no true flavor of their own, but combined with the Dutch-process cocoa powder (for its deep color and taste, I’m fond of the brand Valrhona) and a smidge of espresso, make for a deliciously dense and fudgy cake, one that tastes intensely of chocolate.

I use cream cheese here as a tribute to a carrot cake’s traditional frosting, and because I love it combined with chocolate. Its tanginess cuts the sweetness of the cake nicely. And although I am a big fan of sweet, I know many who feel differently—and anyway, the beauty of the snacking cake lies in its versatility, both in flavor and in occasion. To each snacking cake their own.

What's your favorite time of day to eat cake? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pamela Losey
    Pamela Losey
  • sharon
    sharon
  • Bella95
    Bella95
  • Dagmar Baumann
    Dagmar Baumann
  • Carol
    Carol
Bio: Jessie Sheehan is a cookbook author, recipe developer, and baker. She is the author of The Vintage Baker (one of the Washington Post’s best cookbooks of 2018 and beloved by Oprah and Nigella) and the co-author of Icebox Cakes (both published by Chronicle Books). She has developed recipes for many cookbooks, besides her own, and has contributed recipes, written and/or created video content for Better Homes & Garden, Rachael Ray Everyday, the Washington Post, Fine Cooking, Yankee Magazine (October 2020) Epicurious, Food52, The Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family Show, The Feed Feed, The Kitchn, TASTE, Chowhound, Yummly, Spruce Eats and Little Sous, among others.

23 Comments

Pamela L. January 15, 2020
A terrific cake that can also be dressed up ... For Christmas dessert I made this recipe in a quarter-sheet pan so about 1" thick, cut with 4" circle cutter, and topped each with homemade peppermint stick ice cream ' tree ' from silicone moulds. Off-cuts went in a Ziploc in the freezer for snacking or crumbles. Yum.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 15, 2020
How creative!! Love the sounds of what u did and LOVE peppermint stick ice cream. My fave. So glad u were pleased with the cake.
 
Toddie January 15, 2020
Wow how creative. But, had it been me, there wouldn't have been enough scraps left for the freezer.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. January 15, 2020
I feel u.
 
sharon September 10, 2019
last night i was wanting desperately wanting an 8 round/square cake recipe- snacking cake- voila!!! you rock!! thank you-i will try this recipe this week!! i to remember when the boxed snackin cakes were available- great taste.this is even better.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. September 10, 2019
YAY!!! so happy to hear - and boxed snacking cakes forever . . . :)
 
Bella95 September 10, 2019
I only have EVOO. Do you think l could use half EVOO and half soy oil?
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. September 10, 2019
I think u could use ALL
EVOO!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. September 10, 2019
Yes! I think u could use all EVOO!
 
Dagmar B. August 13, 2019
I made this yesterday and it is delicious! Rich dark chocolate and very moist. I will definitely make this again.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. August 13, 2019
Yay yay yay! So glad you enjoyed and that you’d consider making again.
 
Carol July 14, 2019
Oh my! I made this today and it’s fabulous! I did use EVOO because that is all I had on hand, and I used kefir low-fat smoothie milk as I did not have buttermilk. My husband loves it and I’ll definitely be making again! Thank you. And I do remember “Snackin’ Cakes” from back in the day!
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. July 14, 2019
Yay!! So happy to hear this. XOXO
 
Sue July 14, 2019
can this be made gluten free?
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. July 14, 2019
if u use a gluten-free flour, absolutely!
 
susan C. July 14, 2019
Thanks! Will give it a try
 
susan C. July 13, 2019
Looks fabulous! But I need to make it dairy free so could I substitute soy milk for buttermilk?
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. July 13, 2019
I don’t see why not!
 
Eileen F. July 14, 2019
Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar to the milk, Sind let it sit for a few minutes first. This will help the cake rise.
 
Eileen F. July 14, 2019
And, not Sind.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. July 14, 2019
Thanks for the suggestion!
 
Pam W. July 12, 2019
Will have to try this. My current favorite is Betty Crocker's Chocolate/Banana snack cake which has a scattering of chocolate chips across the top instead of frosting. You can
even mix it in the baking dish.
 
Author Comment
Jessie S. July 12, 2019
Yum. That sounds delicious and I love Betty Crocker . . . Hope you try mine and let me know what you think, if you do.