Memorial Day: 4 Make-Ahead Cakes

Memorial Day coincides with my birthday so I celebrate with a three-day sweet fest. My mother used to make the most creative birthday cakes, creating her own forms to cut out theme cakes (this is before Wilton made molded cake pans) and decorate them.

I was a vanilla girl. Vanilla ice cream. Vanilla cake. White frosting. That was me. Then one year, my mother made a chocolate Coca-Cola cake. I was done. I was chocolate forever after.

Here are four of my favorite recipes for cakes for Memorial Day weekend – whether you have a birthday to celebrate or a picnic.

Coca-Cola Cake, courtesy of

Coca-Cola Cake

The recipe is from the Coca-Cola website, courtesy of the Junior League of Atlanta. My mother made it pre-Internet so I’m even more impressed.

chocolate glazed tart
Chocolate tart with a caramel glaze. 

Chocolate Glazed Tart

This is a new addition to my recipe list, courtesy of It is incredibly rich. So rich, that I had to make it even more decadent by swapping out the chocolate glaze with a caramel. one. This is best made the morning of the day it is to be eaten. It’s pretty easy to make and you can either make your own caramel sauce or buy one.

Simple Salted Caramel Sauce

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put both sugars in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy saucepan with high sides over medium heat and melt sugar. Keep and eye on it so it doesn’t burn. This is where a rubber spatula with a 500-degree heat range will be your best friend. Once it has melted, carefully (because this will bubble up) add butter 1 tablespoon at a time. Use a whisk for this because you want to fully incorporate the butter. Once that is done, this takes 2-3 minutes, carefully pour in cold cream, which will also bubble up and spatter. Allow it to boil for about 1 minute and remove from heat. Whisk in salt and vanilla extract. Allow to cool. This can be stored in the refrigerator.

It will be hard to buy caramel sauce after you taste this.


One-Pan Chocolate Cake

I found this recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website and my daughter and I make it all the time. I love the intense chocolate flavor, which I think differentiates this recipe from a lot of other chocolate pan cakes. I love King Arthur’s triple cocoa blend (this is not a paid post). If you are using regular Dutch process cocoa, the addition of the espresso powder (found usually in the coffee aisle or international aisle of your grocery story) is a wonderful enhancer. I add it to almost all chocolate recipes. Add some sprinkles and it can be very festive and holiday appropriate (and who doesn’t love a few sprinkles on cake?).

This salted peanut tiramisu just needs to be finished off with a dusting of cocoa.


I have had really good tiramisu and really bad tiramisu (and made both).This salted peanut recipe from rocked my tiramisu world. I, too, missed texture in my tiramisu. I wanted a little crunch. Transforming regular salted peanuts into with a simple sugar glaze, rocked. The  peanuts from the Virginia branch of the family were particularly good (who knew there could be such a difference in peanuts). Indeed, I had to make extra because I kept nibbling at the sweet and salty nuts.

I will be experimenting with tiramisu more now – next up might be making some brittle and adding it. The only thing missing, for me, from the recipe, was some chocolate. So either dust with some cocoa powder, or, drizzle some chocolate sauce on top.

If you want a more traditional tiramisu, follow Mario Batali’s recipe. 

If you have a picnic this weekend, any one of these recipes will serve you well. They are best made in the cool morning and refrigerated for later in the day or made the night before and refrigerated.

Marnie Mead can be reached at






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Mom, blogger, former magazine editor in who loves family, friends, good food, and adventure. She is the owner of Meadballs, LLC, which delivers farm-fresh meals she has cooked in her northwestern Pennsylvania kitchen.

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