Any kind of cake can be a snack, but not every cake is a snacking cake.
Cupcakes, leftover birthday cake, even ice cream cake eaten straight from the freezer are all delightful at 3 p.m.
But they do not qualify. Instead, picture a thick square of tender cake that you can eat with your hands. It’s crumbly, but still rich and moist. There’s icing, but not too much. And while there may not be a tall glass of milk on the table, it’s there in your memory — or at least in your imagination.
This is snacking cake, the perfect confection to turn vicious midafternoon stomach growls into contented purrs.
The frosting, flavored with tangerine zest and juice, is the star of this tender, bittersweet chocolate cake.CreditCon Poulos for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Christine Albano.
Although not as nutrient-dense as a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit, snacking cake is satisfying on a psychic level. A slice of cake is snack time as you know deep in your heart it should be. It’s a throwback to a simpler era, when a piece of plain cake was enjoyed at face value — without judgment or fear, just cake for cake’s sake.
And it need not be a thing of the past. You might be able to whip up a snacking cake right now, with ingredients you have in the cupboard. You won’t even need a mixer. With a batter based on melted butter or oil that can be stirred with a whisk, these three snacking cake recipes are simply wrought, but complexly flavored.
The most recognizable is the chocolate cake. Made with both cocoa and melted chocolate, it’s supremely bittersweet, with a soft, fine crumb. Because the cake, rather than the frosting, is the star here, I’ve kept the glaze thin to the point of transparency, just enough for a zippy slick that’s scented with tangerine zest and juice.
Then there’s a buttery banana cake. Without nuts or spices, it tastes deeply of bananas, vanilla and caramel from the sticky, almost candylike frosting sprinkled with flakes of sea salt. Make sure to use ripe bananas here, the kind you can smell from across your kitchen, the spottier, the better.
Finally, there’s a velvety lemon cake, which is glossed with coconut frosting and topped with vibrant lemon zest for color and tang.
And if the idea of snacking cake seems just too whimsical — or if you’re not the snacking type — you can serve any of these cakes for dessert, too.