Six stunning cakes for your holiday table

A Chocolate Espresso Cake with a slice partly removed, showing the layers of cake.
(Christina House / For the Times)

Here are six recipes for cakes that look as magnificent as they are to eat.


For many, an artfully composed and decorated cake is the highlight of a holiday meal – so long as it is also knock-your-socks-off delicious. But no pressure and no worries. We have recipes for decadent, gorgeous cakes that will impress the most particular of cake fiends.

A Buche De Noel is the quintessential cake of the season. Rather than the typical airy roulade that is more about the frosting than the cake, this one is made with a velvety flourless chocolate cake, an apricot filling and an intensely flavored dark chocolate glaze. Yes, it is indulgent and yes, it is worth the calories. And your status with your gluten-free guests will rise several notches.

Proof Bakery’s striking Chocolate Espresso Layer Cake could be right out of The Great British Bake-Off and might even warrant a coveted Paul Hollywood handshake. The espresso-spiked chocolate cake is layered with a milk chocolate crémeux and an espresso buttercream. The whole thing is then coated with a bittersweet chocolate glaze. Most of the components can be made in advance so that come dinner-party day, making the cake doesn’t take over your agenda.


Bittersweet Chocolate Tartufo with olive oil gelato and olive oil-fried croutons is Nancy Silverton’s ode to olive oil. Individual, flourless chocolate olive oil cakes are coated in a chocolate glaze and topped with olive oil gelato, which balances the heavy chocolate, and then sprinkled with olive oil croutons for a bit of texture. Silverton thought olive oil in cake sounded odd until she tasted them while touring Italy and realized that rather than a modern concoction, olive oil cake is merely a natural byproduct of an olive oil producing region. For your gluten-free guests, hold the croutons.

Divine and dangerous, Cucina Rustica’s Chocolate Trio Torte is made with three layers — and colors — of chocolate mousse made from white, milk and dark chocolate that sit atop a chocolate cookie crust. The graduated shades make it as fine-looking as it is shamelessly indulgent. It will quash the cravings of any chocolate lover.

But, if chocolate is not your thing, try this Lemon Sponge Cake with Italian Meringue And Blackberry Puree. Made in individual portions, the airy lemon sponges are topped with fluffy Italian meringue, which is made a bit more stable than the more common French meringue by beating hot sugar syrup into the whipped egg whites. It is lighter and somewhat sweeter than a lemon meringue pie, though the blackberry puree adds a little tartness and some color to the final presentation, (which looks much harder to make than it actually is).

Use the last of the by-now very ripe persimmons of the season in this elegant, boozy Persimmon Cake with Rum Orange Icing inspired by James Beard’s persimmon bread. It isn’t quite as rich as the chocolate cakes, but the liquor and spice give it a kick of its own.

A friend recently confided to me that nobody has to remind her to save room for dessert. I can’t help thinking that anyone who catches sight of one of these cakes will not need a reminder, either.


Proof Bakery's chocolate espresso layer cake

Proof's justly famous chocolate espresso cake is three exquisite layers of cake, crémeux and buttercream, topped with bittersweet chocolate glaze.
Time2 hours
YieldsServes 8 to 12

Lemon sponge cake with Italian meringue and blackberry puree

Meringue does double-duty in this meringue-topped lemon sponge cake.
Time50 minutes
YieldsServes 6

Buche de Noel

The buche de Noel created by Michelle Myers of Boule and of Sona in West Hollywood, is a flourless chocolate cake with an amazing texture, velvety with a very fine, tender crumb.
Time1 hour
YieldsServes 12 to 14

Persimmon Cake With Rum Orange Icing

This mountain of rummy persimmon cake drizzled with rummy orange icing was inspired by James Beard’s persimmon bread.
Time2 hours
YieldsServes 20 to 24

Cucina Rustica's chocolate trio torte

Cucina Rustica's torte combines smooth layers of creamy bittersweet, milk and white chocolate mousse on top of a rich chocolate cookie crust.
Time1 hour 30 minutes
YieldsServes 16 to 20

Bittersweet chocolate tartufo with olive oil gelato and olive oil-fried croutons

Nancy Silverton affirms that chocolate and olive oil complement each other beautifully. This dessert from Mozza's executive pastry chef, Dahlia Narvaez, proves it.
Time1 hour
YieldsServes 8