Hand-carved wooden spoons and millennial pink all-purpose pans may get all the attention on Instagram, but the real unsung hero of the kitchen is the 9-by-13 baking dish. They’re inexpensive, easy to transport (just cover the top with aluminum foil), and you can serve right from the dish, whether you’re sitting around a table or on a picnic blanket. They’re particularly good for desserts that serve a crowd, like sheet cakes, cobblers, brownies and bars. Just in time for summer cookouts, here are 13 of our best 9-by-13 desserts.
Someone wise once thought to combine Rice Krispies treats with peanut butter, chocolate and butterscotch chips, and behold: The scotcheroo was born. This version from Samantha Seneviratne calls for bittersweet chocolate and a sprinkling of flaky salt to balance the sweetness.
Imagine unveiling this bubble gum pink cake to squeals of delight at your next picnic. Kiera Wright-Ruiz adapted it from Alana Kysar’s “Aloha Kitchen: Recipes From Hawai‘i,” a cookbook of traditional Hawaiian dishes. Pink guava concentrate can be harder to find outside Hawaii and California, but you can also use white guava concentrate or 100 percent guava juice.
Recipe: Hawaiian Guava Cake
Also known as coconut dream bars and Hello Dolly bars, these treats from Samantha Seneviratne are packed with chocolate, coconut, pecans and graham crackers. A layer of sweetened condensed milk caramelizes as it bakes, holding all the ingredients together so you can enjoy these bars by hand.
Recipe: Magic Cookie Bars
Christopher Thé’s Instagram-famous cake, made of almond dacquoise, ripe watermelon and rose-flavored cream and covered in strawberries, inspired this lovely, delicately flavored dessert from Tejal Rao. Her version is decidedly less fussy, but no less impressive.
This straightforward lemon sheet cake from Yossy Arefi is an ideal tart backdrop to sweet summer berries. The recipe makes enough frosting for a thin layer, but double it if you like fluffy swoops.
Recipe: Lemon Sheet Cake With Buttercream Frosting
Marshmallow-y butter mochi is the ideal potluck dessert because its shattery, crackly top requires no adornment. (You can always add the ombré passion fruit glaze for extra fanfare.) This version, from Genevieve Ko, calls for coconut milk for extra richness, but you could use regular milk or evaporated milk in its place.
Recipe: Butter Mochi
Like a fancy chocolate mousse that travels well, these no-bake(!) bars from Samantha Seneviratne are light and airy, yet rich and chocolaty. Don’t forget to bring a can of whipped cream to swirl on top of individual servings.
Recipe: No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Bars
Cream cheese and a little lemon juice in the batter means these cheerful buttercream-frosted bars, which Margaux Laskey adapted from “American Girl Cookies,” aren’t cloyingly sweet, but just right. Color the frosting and experiment with sprinkles according to your mood and the holiday.
Recipe: Sugar Cookie Bars
This exquisitely simple Southern cake-style cobbler from Alex Ward can be made with fresh or frozen peaches, and you don’t need any special equipment; just a bowl, a saucepan, a baking pan and a spoon. A word of warning: The batter won’t completely cover the bottom of the pan, but it will rise up along the sides of the pan and through the peaches as it bakes, yielding a crisp exterior and tender interior. If you prefer more cake to your peaches, double the batter, but increase the cook time accordingly.
Recipe: Peach Cobbler
Gloriously creamy and soft, this tres leches cake from Samantha Seneviratne will make your guests swoon. It’s perfectly wonderful on its own, but you could also garnish with some fresh summer fruit.
Recipe: Tres Leches Cake
When the lazy and hot summer days are in full force, it’s all about assembling, not cooking. That’s just what Ali Slagle did in this brilliant ice cream cake that calls for layers of Oreos, store-bought ice cream and ice cream sandwiches, then tops it all off with a Pollock-esque drizzle of Magic Shell.
Here’s to more no-bake brilliance from Samantha Seneviratne! Most cheesecakes contain eggs, but this one is eggless, and uses a combination of cream cheese, whipped cream and Greek yogurt which means it’s lighter and airier than traditional cheesecake.
Recipe: No-Bake Cheesecake Bars
For those of us who can’t decide between brownies or chocolate chip cookies, there are brookies. Yes, you have to make two different batters for this mash-up from Samantha Seneviratne, but they come together in the same pot with no special equipment. One reader added peanut butter between the layers, and we love her for it.