Still need a present for Mother’s Day? Go bake her a cake. And for you moms out there—do you suspect your loved ones are running a little behind this year? Save them: Request a cake.
Some of my happiest, most successful mom-oriented days involved baking my mother’s favorite chocolate cake with a cream cheese ribbon—sometimes with her help, sometimes stumbling along on my own. I think she liked it easily as much as the awkward poems and framed photos, though I doubt she’d ever tell.
I’ve rounded up some of the greatest cakes from the Genius Recipes column below, plus a few other favorites from around Food52. But what I really want to know is: What genius cake will you bake for your mother?
“My mother has many specialties, but her Chocolate Dump-It Cake is most beloved in my family,” Food52 founder Amanda Hesser writes. “She kept this cake in the fridge, and it is sublime even when cold. I wrote about this cake in my second book, Cooking for Mr. Latte, but wanted to celebrate it here on Food52, as well.”
Olive oil cake at its best has a crackling crust and an aromatic, oil-rich middle, which, if it held any more moisture, would be pudding. Pulling this off should be easy—there aren’t even egg whites to whip and fold, nor butter to cream—but it isn’t always. This one, however, is perfect, and will ruin you for all others.
“I started making tres leches because it is my neighbor’s favorite thing, and I like her,” says Food52 contributor aargersi. “I started with Martha Stewart’s recipe, which is a great jumping-off point—but it is not as juicy as a traditional tres leches, which you will find resting in a shallow lake of sweet milk. So I adjusted up for that, and here I have swapped in some coconut and some lime (because it is one of coconut’s BFFs), and I used Tahitian vanilla, which is a bit more floral than Mexican (but if you can’t find it, go with whatcha got). It’s rich and milky and coconutty and good. Ask the neighbors.”
Meet your new go-to birthday cake, bake sale cake, dinner party cake, late-night snack cake—for when the fridge is at its barest and you need chocolate cake now. (It’s also vegan and parve and dirt cheap, but you wouldn’t know unless we told you.) This isn’t the richest, most chocolatey cake—if you like, you can amp up the chocolate by swapping in coffee for the water, or adding more cocoa. But you don’t need to. It’s a different animal: light, delicately strung together with cocoa, and not terribly sweet.
“I think of this as my grandmother’s recipe,” Lindsay-Jean writes, “but it’s actually her mother’s or her mother-in-law’s…either way, it was a special cake that she would make for my father’s birthday, as it’s his favorite cake (and mine, too). It’s a simple seeming cake (no vanilla?! not a spice to be found?!), but it’s like your favorite banana bread, only lighter and fluffier, and the frosting truly makes this cake.”
If we can put rosemary in our frozen yogurt and thyme in our cookies, there’s nothing stopping parsley from treading over the line. It’s festive and herb-forward, but also a bright spot at the end of a dense, salty meal.
On creating this cake, Nigella Lawson explains, “I remember very strongly wanting to create what we call a loaf cake—and what is generally called a pound cake Stateside—that had a richness and squidginess of texture that this form of cake normally doesn’t major in.” And she did.
There’s a secret ingredient in here: ginger (times two). Fiery candied ginger is minced up in the crumb topping, and ground ginger in the cake, too—just enough to give it a warm, flirty “je ne sais quoi” that doesn’t try to shout over the rhubarb.
Step aside, red velvet. It just so happens that the deep pink earthiness of a beet is surprisingly well suited for bittersweet chocolate. Crushed beets are also an inexpensive way to make a cake achingly moist, nearly molten. And you don’t need all that red food coloring after all.
10. Louisa’s Cake From SML Office
“Louisa is a family friend, gardener, and chef from Castellina in Chianti, Italy, where we gather several times a year,” recipe author Jennifer Wagner writes. “She cooks everything from memory and threw this together one night last spring. When we pressed her for the recipe she hastily rattled some ingredients off and we scrambled to write it all down on a napkin. Along with my husband and children, we’ve tested this cake about six times, and friends are constantly asking for the recipe.”
Flourless chocolate cake meets dreamy soufflé in this chocolate cloud cake that most certainly lives up to its name. A few smart tricks—like whipping some of the egg whites with sugar to make a fluffy meringue that gets folded in—help give this cake crackly edges and a moussey center any mother would love.
With a near-perfect five star rating (over 50 reviews and counting!), this Genius buttermilk cake makes a lovely holiday treat—especially if your mom’s a fan of puckery sweets. The recipe calls for more lemon and lemon zest than you’d normally find, plus the whole thing gets soaked in a lemony sugar syrup, so you won’t be able to miss that citrusy kick when you take a bite.
If adding actual olives sounds like a not-so-great idea, just trust us on this one—it’s the salty-tangy addition you didn’t know your olive oil cake was missing. For fans of savory-sweet combos, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be a hit.
While it may not technically be a Genius recipe, the carrot cake recipe from Food52 Podcast Producer Coral Lee is by far our very best. Moist, spongy cake with just the right amount of warming spices? Check. Ultra-fluffy cream cheese frosting that’s not too sweet? Check. This cake ticks all the right boxes.
For a real Mother’s Day showstopper (that the whole family can dig in to), look no further than this towering strawberry not-so-short cake from star baker Erin McDowell.
This birthday cake goes back three generations in my family (check out the full story here), and I think it would make very delicious treat for any chocolate-loving mom.
Meet the spunky citrus cake that’s very good at brightening up someone’s day (like, ahem, your mom). Surprise her with a slice or two and a freshly brewed pot of coffee in the morning for the sweetest-ever wake-up call.
This hot-off-the-press Genius ginger cake isn’t like others you’ve met before—as in, it doesn’t taste like it came from the stale corner of a pastry shop or a candle store. The key: more freshly grated ginger than you probably think is necessary (you can even leave the skin on).
This apple cake has been getting a stellar response: “I made this lovely cake last night, got rave reviews from guests,” one community member wrote. Our guess? Your mom will love it, too.
This flourless chocolate cake achieves a not-too-rich, birthday-cake-like crumb all thanks to a surprise ingredient: quinoa! Blend the batter to feature the quinoa a little or a lot—either way, you’ll love the texture it brings to this fudgy cake.
Malted milk powder brings this cake its deep, dark chocolate power, bolstered by strong brewed coffee and enhanced by the addition of sour cream. Best of all, there’s a trick to getting the sprinkles on the cake’s perimeter easily (but we won’t give away the secret!).
If you’re a fan of cozy, squishy pumpkin bread, this kicked-up version featuring rich, sweet kabocha squash and a silky olive-oil-infused glaze dotted with crisp pepitas may be your new go-to seasonal fave.
This Genius cake from pastry chef Jami Curl needs no stand mixer—simply stir it together using the fresh or frozen fruit of your choice (Jami likes using frozen blueberries) and enjoy in under an hour. A vanilla and sour cream batter welcomes any and all customizations.
A glut of summer eggplant inspired this chocolate eggplant cake (which was, in turn, inspired by applesauce cake). Sweetened with wildflower honey and dolloped with whipped cream—spiked with maple syrup and salt if you’d like—this cake makes the most of prolific summer produce.
This carrot cake, popular in kitchens across Brazil, is reminiscent of a pound cake with a glossy chocolate ganache glaze that adds sweetness and complexity to familiar flavors. Break out the Bundt pan and prepare to discover the magic.
It’s a loaf, it’s a scone, it’s a chocolate marzipan cake! Thanks to the boundless creativity of Molly Yeh, this Mother’s Day–friendly dessert is all that and more. Dive in to this delicious hybrid confection, and uncover its hidden perks.
This flourless chocolate torte is a better and purer vehicle for chocolate than chocolate itself (scientifically speaking). If you’re craving the kind of oblivion only a hefty dose of rich dark chocolate can provide, this is the recipe for you.
Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what’s so smart about it) at [email protected].
Psst: This recipe was updated by the Editors in April of 2021 to include more Mother’s Day cake recipes.