Real talk: A birthday party is just a lot of unnecessary small talk that precedes the real reason for the whole social charade—the birthday cake. Every occasion and every birthday-haver calls for a little something different, and Betty Crocker cake mixes, while wonderful and convenient, can only take you so far. So we’ve pulled together our favorite dessert recipes worthy of being the focal point of the party. And if you’re the kind of person who’s addicted to The Great British Bakeoff but you also burn toast, we’ve got some icing tutorials to help you get over your fear of layer cakes.
The birthday cake for the loved one who wants to eat “healthy” but will also complain if you make them something that doesn’t taste good. (How dare you??? On the day of their birth???) This cake swaps out all the butter with a better-for-you fat—olive oil—but doesn’t skimp on the sugar, so, you know, compromises are made for the sake of flavor.
After toasts to the birthday person and maybe a lil wine with dinner, everyone might appreciate a jolt of caffeine with dessert.
This is the birthday cake for the person who identifies on a spiritual level with Bruce in Matilda. Let ‘em at it with their hands, too, if they want.
Relive going out for birthdays to a chain restaurant in the late 90’s when every restaurant was mandated by law to have a chocolate lava cake on the menu. Without the sad non-trademarked Happy Birthday Song variation.
A little warmer and spicier than your basic vanilla sponge cake, because neither you nor your loved ones are basic.
For those among us who are intimidated by the idea of icing a layer cake with any sort of precision or grace, this cake is supposed to look this way.
An adult twist on the cupcakes you used to bring to school, now with psychoactive properties.
So. Much. Coconut. (Three different forms of it, to be exact. Oil, cream, and flakes.) A little inspiration from Tulum, Mexico with this highly Instagrammable, super coconutty layer cake from the highly Instagrammable restaurant Hartwood.
The gluten-intolerant have birthdays, too! This is a cake from renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi, so we can promise you this will be a crowd pleaser even with those with no gluten aversion.
If you’re celebrating around the winter holidays, go ahead and get a little boozy with this chocolate-drenched eggnog cake.
An ice cream cake for grown ups! Carvel who?
This cake kind of looks like a unicorn threw up on it, but it’s also hella festive and really screams “I might have been stoned when I conceived of this plan, but I’m committed to seeing it through.” Matty Matheson will show you the way.
Maybe only make these for your friends or family members with a good sense of humor. Making them for a co-worker might constitute sexual harassment.
For the birthday-haver amongst us who cares a lot about “plating” but also has the palate of a child—we present the most extra funfetti cake you’ve ever seen.
Amsterdam-based musician and descendent of pirates Cata.Pirata shows us how to make a super summery watermelon “cake” with whipped coconut cream icing and coconut flakes. Vegan and gluten free!
This one might be a little hard to get a candle on, but you can still have everyone sing off-key when you bring it out.
Someone’s always gotta be a pain in the ass and request a cheesecake because they “don’t like regular cake.” (Totally not looking at my own brother here, absolutely not.) So if you’re going to make one from scratch, the folks from Chicago’s beloved Eli’s Cheesecake Company won’t steer you wrong.
The classic. For 100 percent birthday celebrating success every time, you can’t go wrong with a whole bunch of rainbow sprinkles and layers of homemade buttercream.