These bento cakes (i.e. lunchbox or mini cakes) are perfect for special occasions: a lunchtime treat, birthdays, congratulations, or a simple “I’m thinking of you.” Using a minimalistic cake design and a box mix to save time; your cake has never been easier or more thoughtful.
What Is a Bento Cake?
Bento cakes are mini cakes that are also know as lunchbox cakes. They’re between 2-4 inches in size and fit in a small takeout (bento) box for easy gifting and/or consumption. The cakes are loved for their affordability due to the petite size and minimalistic design.
Korean Bento Cakes History
The concept of bento boxes began in Japan as they were used for single serving lunches such as fresh fish or meat, and vegetables, rice, or noodles.
The bento cake fad originally began in the bakeries of South Korea (though the word bento translates to convenience in Japanese). The concept was similar, but a single serving dessert instead of a meal. These mini “bento” cakes slowly began increasing in popularity and this fad has now spread to India, America, and more.
Pick Your Favorite Flavor, Hint: Chocolate
What type of flavor should you go with? Any flavor will work – so make their favorite! If you’re not sure what that is, I’d recommend going with a chocolate bento cake (like the one in this recipe). The most popular cake flavor is chocolate, closely followed by red velvet (which is also chocolate cake + red food coloring).
Bento Cake Ingredients and Tools
For this recipe, I went ahead and used a cake mix; making frosting and decorating the cake already adds a personal touch on its own. So, grab your favorite cake mix and the ingredients on the box. Then for the icing, make sure you have salted butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, unsweetened cocoa powder, and milk.
For tools, you’ll need cooking spray, parchment paper, and an icing knife. You’ll also need a 9×13 baking dish (this standard size was used in this recipe, so you don’t need as many tools). Finally, you’ll need any cake decorations (such as jimmies, sprinkles, or icing flowers) as well as round Cookie/Biscuit/Pastry Cutters. In this recipe, I found that a size around 3½ inches in diameter works best using the 9×13 inch pan. And most importantly, you’ll want bento boxes for serving!
Bento Cake Size
Bento cakes can vary in size, depending on your preference. However, the key here is to make one that will fit in a standard bento box. If you’re going for a proper fit, I’d recommend making a bento cake that is between 2-4 inches in size. A 2-4 inch diameter circle is the most common size for a bento cake.
How to Make the Bento Cake
Make the cake batter per the box instructions for a 9×13-inch pan. However, to cut out and remove the cake layers easily, I recommend greasing and flouring the pan first. This can be done by cutting a piece of parchment paper about the size of the bottom of the pan and laying it down inside the pan.
Afterwards, grease (you can rub with a stick of butter) the parchment paper and sides of the pan. Then flour the pan (learn more here). Pour in the batter and bake the cake per the cake box instructions. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.
Once completely cool, take a butter knife and loosen the edges of the pan. Flip the cake over to remove it from the pan. Using a 3½-inch round Cookie/Biscuit/Pastry Cutter, cut 6 circles from the cake. If any of the cakes do not have a (close to) flat top, flatten them by slicing a very thin top layer off the cake.
Cut three 5-inch parchment squares. Add one cake circle on each. Frost each bottom later by spreading the frosting evenly around on both the sides and top.
Add the second cake layer on each. Frost around the sides and top again with a thin layer. Freeze the cakes for 10 minutes or refrigerate for an hour to firm up the frosting. Add an additional layer of frosting and spread until nice and smooth.
Line each bento box with a clean square of parchment paper. Remove cakes from old parchment paper and add them into the bento box on top of the new parchment paper. Decorate as desired.
The best preparation tips for the assembly of these cakes are:
- Don’t get frustrated with how the frosting looks. Once the original frosting is refrigerated/frozen before the top coat is applied, the top coat will be much easier to spread/look nice.
- Use an icing knife. This will make a night and day difference from a regular knife in terms of frosting spread ability.
Bento Cake Design, Decorating, & Packaging
Bento cakes work best with a minimalistic design, easing the preparation while still allowing for a beautiful, appealing appearance.
The best way to accomplish this is with colorful, strategically placed sprinkles, cake decorating décor, and/or a simple piped on design. Serve in a bento box on top of a parchment square.
Bento Cake Price
Bento cakes can not only be thoughtful, but they can be pretty affordable. In this case, the boxes cost me about $14.99 for a package of 50 and the ingredients cost me about $20.
Since the ingredients can be used for other things as well, the portion that went towards the cake was only about $6-7. If you throw in another few dollars for décor and about $0.30 for the box, this makes the total cost about $7.30 per cake. It’s an affordable way to show someone you care + worth making it yourself at home. If you were to buy one in a bakery, it would cost you from about $20-$60.
The word bento translates to convenience in Japanese and the bento cake fad originally began in the bakeries of South Korea as a single serving cake/lunchbox cake served in a bento box.
A bento cake is served in a bento box and is a “mini” cake; typically following a minimalistic design and between 2-4 inches in size. A normal cake can be made from the same ingredients/décor but is typically twice the size of a bento cake.
A bento cake is between 2-4 inches in size.
A bento cake will last in the fridge for about 3-4 days. For storage, for more than a day, an airtight container as opposed to the bento box is recommended.
Leftovers can be stored similarly, about a day in the fridge in the bento box or 3-4 days in the fridge in an airtight container.
Bento cakes are packaged in a single portion bento box/disposable lunch box. The easiest way to find these is to search “clamshell food containers.”
To make this gluten free, just use a gluten free box mix and gluten free all-purpose flour to prevent pan sticking. You’ll see in the ingredients I used a Krusteaz® gluten free chocolate cake mix. For dairy free, use a dairy free cake mix, a vegan butter and non-dairy milk such as almond for the frosting. Also make sure any décor is dairy free. For egg free, substitute a flax egg in the cake.
Love Baking/Cooking Gifts for Others?
Make sure to check out my other blogs such as: Charcuterie Cones, Individual Charcuterie Boxes, and 3-Ingredient Homemade Heart Chocolates. Added bonus: all recipes are gluten-free/have gluten-free amongst other substitutes so they make easy gifts for those who have food sensitivities.
Here’s to showing appreciation to loved ones (or yourself) via delicious food/cakes and regaining our sparkle together,
- Cooking spray/butter stick and flour to prevent cake sticking to the pan.
- Cake mix (be sure it lists a 9×13 pan)
- Ingredients on the cake mix box
Frosting & Decor
- 1 cup salted butter, softened
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Add a piece of parchment paper to the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Grease the sides with a stick of butter or cooking spray and flour them.
- Prepare and bake the cake according to the package instructions.
- Once completely cool, take a butter knife and loosen the edges of the pan. Flip the cake over to remove it from the pan.
- Beat butter on medium in a large mixing bowl for a couple minutes or until soft and creamy.
- Gradually beat in the powdered sugar on low speed. Stop on occasion to scrape down the bowl.
- Continuing to beat over low, add in cocoa power and vanilla. Add milk one teaspoon at a time until desired consistency of frosting is met.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat a couple minutes until light/fluffy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Using a circle biscuit/cake cutter, cut out six 4-inch circles of cake and set side. Make sure to select three cakes for the bottom layers that have a flat top of slice a thin layer off them to flatten them.
- Cut out three square (6-8-inch) pieces of parchment papers to place the cakes on and top each with a small circle of frosting to help the cake stick.
- Add the first cake circle on a parchment square. Frost the cake. Add another cake layer and then frost the entire cake. Scrape smooth with a cake icing knife. Repeat twice to make two more cakes.
- Freeze cakes for ten minutes to firm up the frosting. Then add one more layer of frosting on each. Line each bento box with a clean square of parchment paper. Remove cakes from old parchment paper and add them into the bento box on top of the new parchment paper. Decorate as desired.