The Irresistible Allure of Snacking Cakes

Are Each During an early page-through of the book, I started using Post-it flags to mark the cakes I wanted to bake before realizing it was futile; I tried to bake them all. Paging through the book is also part of its pleasure; as noted by my cousin Sarah, a veteran bookseller and fellow “Snacking Cakes” fan, the book’s trim size–the height and width of the pages–“is about the size of the cakes,” which Arefi prefers baking in an eight-by-eight-inch pan. However, she offers modifications for pans of other sizes and shapes.

And so, I–and other fans, Arefi told me–have been steadily making my way, “Julie & Julia” style, through every one of the fifty recipes, which are categorized into four sections: “fruit,” “warm + toasty,” “chocolatey,” and “not your average vanilla.” I’ve whisked frozen passion-fruit pulp into the batter for a cake I shellacked in a bright-pink glaze made with freeze-dried strawberries. When fresh strawberries appeared at the green market last summer, I sliced and layered them carefully atop a cake made with whole-milk yogurt and whole-grain flour. I was thrilled with the combination of rhubarb and sumac in a crumb cake so nice I baked it twice. I’ve folded blackberries and blueberries into fluffy curds of ricotta, stirred crystallized ginger into shredded sweet potato and pear, and mixed cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice into pumpkin puree and olive oil, which also went into a maple glaze. For a friend’s birthday, torn between a lemony olive-oil cake and another featuring chocolate and peanut butter, I made both–the first in a silicone mini-loaf mold, purchased for the express purpose of more easily sharing snacking cakes, the second in a muffin tin–and presented her with a box of mixed confections.

Even after I’ve made them all, I won’t be done: the recipes are modular, each with a sidebar of ideas for substitutions and variations and suggestions for mixing and matching batters and toppings. I am a strict recipe follower, not a developer, but “Snacking Cakes” has given me the freedom to be creative in the kitchen. A plastic tub of pink peppercorns on my counter caught my eye as I glazed those lemony olive-oil mini-loaves. Emboldened by Arefi’s style, I decided to crack them on top, to excellent effect. Arefi’s recipe for carrot cake calls for topping it with just chopped toasted pecans and flaky salt, but I knew she would approve of my borrowing the cream cheese glaze from her recipe for red velvet cake when I made it for a friend who requested frosting.

We do not observe a formal cafe da tarde or afternoon tea at home. However, like the Italians, we make a regular breakfast of cake. In 2020, Maurice Sendak’s picture book “In the Night Kitchen” became a favorite of my then-one-year-old son, Otto. It tells the story of a kid named Mickey, who dreams that a trio of mustachioed bakers stir him into a giant bowl of batter, crying, “Milk! Milk! Milk for the morning cake!” Spoiler alert: Mickey avoids the oven, and the book concludes with a pleasingly cryptic epilogue: “And that’s why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning.”

For Otto’s first birthday, I’d been sugar-shy and baked him an underwhelming whole-wheat cake sweetened with homemade applesauce and topped with unsweetened whipped cream. He didn’t seem to mind, but by the time I got my hands on “Snacking Cakes,” my resolve to make him a healthy eater had mainly dissolved. I figured a daily serving of frozen peas was enough to balance a daily serving of “morning cake.”

For his second birthday, I adapted Arefi’s recipe for vanilla buttermilk cake into cupcakes. I took the suggestion from her sidebar of “flavor variations” to add rainbow-colored sprinkles to the batter for a Funfetti effect. Eight months later, Otto is suddenly capable of new tricks, like jumping into the air without holding onto anything and putting his arms into shirt sleeves without assistance. Early on a recent Saturday, he let me tie one of my grandmother’s aprons around his waist. Then he climbed up on a kitchen stool to help me dump the cocoa powder into a bowl for an airy but intensely flavorful vegan chocolate-coconut cake.

We ate chocolate-coconut cake for breakfast–and again with midmorning coffee, after lunch, and after dinner, steadily shaving it down in neat rows. A couple of days later, Otto told his babysitter that he and I had baked a cake and that we’d saved her a piece. Reader, we had not. What could I do but bake another? My cousin Sarah mentioned that “Snacking Cakes” has changed the way she fills her grocery cart–“If I think of it, I throw in ricotta,” she told me–and the same is true for me: because of Arefi, my fridge is never without sour cream, which has a pretty long shelf life and which I whisked into the batter for Arefi’s “powdered donut cake,” a perfect example of the book’s low-effort, high-reward principle. As delicious as a donut, much easier than pie: cake, glorious cake.

Powdered Donut Cake

Adapted from “Snacking Cakes,” by Yossy Arefi.


  • 3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
  • Two large eggs
  • 1 cup (220 g) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) plus 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted
  • 1 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar


1. Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with butter or nonstick spray. Line the pan with a strip of parchment paper hanging over two edges.

2. Make the cake: Whisk the granulated sugar and eggs in a large bowl until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the sour cream, 1/2 cup butter, nutmeg, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified.

3. Add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Whisk until well combined and smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the pan and bake the cake until puffed and golden, and a skewer inserted into its center comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Then use the parchment paper to lift the cake out of the pan and set it on the shelf to cool almost completely.

5. Finish the cake: While the cake is just warm to the touch, brush the top with 1 Tbsp. I Melted butter and dust with the confectioners’ sugar. You should have a nice thick layer of confectioners’ sugar–more than you think might be necessary. (Coverage the cake at room temperature for up to three days. The cake will absorb the sugar on top, so that it might need a fresh dusting of confectioners’ sugar after the second day.)

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