Five Classic Cakes: With Frostings that Dress to Impress

A party without cake is just a meeting. —Julia Child

For our premier issue of our magazine, Sift, we dressed up five of our favorite classic cakes and sent them down the runway, dressed in their best.

Yes, they’re beautiful. But the real seduction comes when you close your eyes and take a bite: sweet, tender, smooth, with a duet of textures dancing in your mouth. It’s no wonder that cakes are the baker’s choice when it’s time to taste the joy of a special occasion.

King Arthur’s Carrot Cake via @kingarthurflour

First down the runway? King Arthur’s Carrot Cake. Wearing Cream Cheese Frosting, of course.

Devil’s Food Cake via @kingarthurflour

Followed by deep, dark, beautiful Devil’s Food Cake, draped in a lightly-pink tinted cape of Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting.

Coconut Cake via @kingarthurflour

Next, a Southern Belle, tall and proud: Coconut Cake, with the recipe’s coconut frosting garnished with a bit of chenille in the form of sweetened, flaked coconut.

Moist Yellow Cake via @kingarthurflour

Never underestimate the allure of pure gold. Our Moist Yellow Cake is the stuff cherished, lifelong memories are made of.

Caramel Cake via @kingarthurflour

The last tall, elegant beauty down the classic cake runway is this Caramel Cake; it’s our riff on a beloved Southern specialty, with a bit of extra bling from reduced caramel syrup on top.

Even without candles or a wish written in frosting, a well-made cake is a celebration in itself. So now comes the talent portion of the proceedings: choosing, baking and frosting one of these classic American beauties.

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Joeleen

    I am hoping to make a birthday cake for my daughter’s birthday that will serve around thirty people. I haven’t always been successful tripling recipes as sometimes the measurements get out of whack.

    Can you make suggestions for a cake such as the Moist Yellow Cake as to how to double or triple it successfully. I was thinking about tripling and then baking in two 9×13″ pans.


    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Joeleen,
      The best way to make large batches without having to break the recipe down and re-do the calculations is to make batches no more than double. So, if you need 3 batches, you’ll make one double batch and one single. So much easier, and no worries about proportions getting out of skew. ~ MJ

  2. Mary Beth

    All the cakes look wonderful! What is the glossy chocolate frosting that covers the Moist Yellow Cake in the photo? The recipe for that cake recommends Super Simple Chocolate Frosting, which doesn’t have that gloss. Thank you!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      To get that glossy finish, you will want to use a recipe for Chocolate Ganache Glaze: You will likely want to double the recipe, depending on how thick you want the frosting to be. Also, feel free to play with the ratio of chocolate to cream. 2 parts chocolate to 1 part cream will give you a frosting that is soft and glossy but will hold rough designs, like the rustic swirls you see pictured on that cake. Adding more cream will make it more of a pourable glaze whereas reducing the chocolate will make it more like a thick spread. Adjust as you wish! Happy cake baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Susan Reid, post author

      The yellow cake was, in fact, frosted with Supersimple Chocolate frosting. It hadn’t set yet, which is why it’s still shiny. A ganache glaze won’t have enough texture to give you the swirls in the photograph. If gloss is super important to you for presentation, you can always warm up the frosting ever so slightly with a hair dryer on low before it makes it’s debut! Susan

  3. Rosanne

    Could you substitute brown sugar for some or all of the granulated sugar in the caramel cake recipe? It seems like using some brown sugar would make it more caramel-y, which is a good thing to me, although I’m not sure if it’d be overkill. Your suggestions, please? Thanks.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Brown sugar has a coarser texture than the granulated white sugar does, so your cake won’t be quite as smooth or tender if you use brown sugar. The cake already is quite caramely-flavored, so this swap is probably not necessary. If you are determined to give it a try, begin by swapping 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar for brown sugar and see if that gives you a flavor and texture you find pleasant. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Mary

    Do you have a recipe for white frosting? Not a buttercream. My husband talks about his grandmother making this frosting and I can not find a recipe anywhere. Any help?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Would you be looking for a Seven Minute Frosting? They were popular in the early part of the 20th century, and might be what he remembers: Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  5. Livy Fuentes

    Thank you for displaying these absolutely gorgeous cakes. I have been baking for years and years and years and these are so inspiring. I will just have to go and bake one now.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      You’re most welcome! There’s something incredibly satisfying about putting one of these on the table, isn’t there? Susan

  6. ccarter756

    I have that gorgeous copy of Sift (in fact, I have two copies, one as insurance against losing the first). I was so impressed by the lovely photo of the caramel cake with the drizzle of caramel syrup. The recipe does call for making a caramel syrup, but this is used to flavor the cake and frosting. The recipe suggests decorating the cake by pressing chopped salted macadamia nuts into the side, and says nothing about drizzling syrup over the cake. What did I miss?

    1. PJ Hamel

      Hi – I think you simply missed the “baker’s tip” at the bottom of the ingredients in our online version of the recipe. It tells how to make extra syrup to drizzle down the sides of the cake. Maybe use the nuts AND the syrup? 🙂 PJH

  7. susan schroeder

    when I was little, we had a bakery in our town that made what they called a Lemon Snow Cake. It was rather like your coconut cake, only between each layer was a glossy gelatin-like filling that was a wonderful tart lemon flavoured. I have never seen that cake before, and often dream of it. I have tried to duplicate it with no success-have you ever heard or attempted such a cake? I would love to know, as it used to be my only request for a birthday cake year after year! Many thanks for your wonderful blog -I have made many of your recipes with wonderful results!

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Susan. I used to have something similar for my birthday cakes growing up. If you replace the coconut frosting with some lemon curd, you’d probably have something that approaches your memories. For layer cakes, I put a a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin bloomed in 1 tablespoon of water into the curd after it comes off the heat. That will make it firm enough, once chilled, to stay in place and be sliceable. Susan

  8. Ann

    Always have such good luck with your recipes and these cakes look gorgeous. However, I am hesitant to try the carrot cake with its 2 t. soda and no baking powder. Why do carrot cakes always have soda since the acidity of the carrots does not seem enough to prevent the unpleasant flavor from creeping in? Am I missing some other acidic ingredient that is supposed to counterbalance it?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Your baking instincts are right on, Ann. Usually baking soda is only called for in recipes that have something acidic to balance out the metallic flavor. However, baking soda acts as the principal contributor to Maillard browning in carrot cake. This process is a chemical reaction that occurs between amino acids and sugars, which gives “browned foods” their desirable flavor. The browned foods in this case are the carrots, and the browning comes from the caramelization process of the natural sugars. If you are interested in learning more about food science, you can read more about these processes using this link here: We hope you give the carrot cake recipe a try! Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  9. Susannah I. Sherwood

    Magnificent. It’s patently clear these cakes were composed (and photographed) with consummate skill, and that the result is tender, glossy, fully festive yet honest and unfussy, and as delicious as one could ever desire. Heartfelt congratulations!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for your kind words, Susannah! We hope that you are inspired enough to try your own hand at some of these recipes! Happy cake making! Kye@KAF

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