Okay, hear me out folks. I know “Pig Pickin Cake” may not sound the most appealing, but I’M TELLING YOU. This cake is legit. Sometimes called a “Sunshine Cake,” it is a yellow cake with mandarin oranges baked right into it, then layered with pineapple whipped cream. It’s a classic from yesteryear and is SO light, bright, and tasty, you will want to bring it to every summer potluck, picnic, or BBQ this year! Also would be a great dessert for Mother’s Day.

slice of four layers of yellow mandarin cake layered with pineapple whipped cream on a plate.
Table of Contents
  1. Sunshine Cake
  2. What is Pig Pickin’ Cake?
  3. Why do they call it Pig Pickin Cake?
  4. The BEST sunshine cake
  5. Pig Pickin Cake recipe ingredients
  6. How to make pig pickin cake
  7. What to serve with pineapple sunshine cake
  8. How to store sunshine cake
  9. Can you freeze pig pickin cake?
  10. Can you make it ahead?
  11. Pig pickin cake frequently asked questions
  12. More summer desserts to try
  13. Sunshine Cake (Pig Pickin Cake) Recipe

I currently have 4 giant squares of blue painted on my bedroom wall, all slightly different shades (but mostly the same, of course.) Has anyone done this before, painted different colors on the wall to see which one you like?

Guess what, they all look blue. I have ZERO vision when it comes to interior decorating. I won’t know which one I hate the most until I’ve painted the entire room that color, and then it will be too late, and of course I won’t be invested enough to fix it. I will have the blue room that I wanted, only slightly-off, like the Upside Down in Stranger Things. People will walk in and silently judge me. “This is the color she chose for her bedroom??”

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side view of sunshine cake with exposed edges to see layers and a slice missing.

That is, of course, if I ever get around to actually painting the wall. It might be my new thing, to have a white wall with 4 blue squares on it. Adding this kind of thing to my to-do list and never following through on it is definitely my m.o.

One time years and years ago, my mom was painting the hallways of the entire house. She chose a slightly different shade of off-white from the previous off-white. She ran out of paint right over the top of her bedroom door. There was a tiny strip of wall about 2-3 feet long that she didn’t have enough to cover. And she just said, heck with it. I’m out.

The two toned paint is still there to this day. It’s not that noticeable of course, you kind of have to know about it to be able to tell.

side view of all four layers each of cake and pineapple whipped cream in a slice of cake.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, guys. Mark my words, these blue squares are going to be on my wall for at least a year. I was visiting my sister in Texas a few weeks ago and noticed a little tan spot right smack in the middle of her kitchen wall. “Thinking about painting?” “Yup. I painted that 2 years ago.” 😂

Sunshine Cake

Who is ready for days and days of sunshine? I have the PERFECT springtime cake to share with you today! My sister Laura (the one with the tan spot in her kitchen, lol) has been telling me for YEARS about this cake that her mother-in-law makes regularly. She tested and tested it to make it juuust right (Laura helps me out with recipe development for the blog!) and we ate her final version together when I came out to visit for the eclipse.

top of a round, decorated pig picking cake with orange slice garnish.

I had never had this cake, and I was blown away! It’s a dangerous cake because it has to be refrigerated, and after we ate it for Easter dinner, there wasn’t enough fridge space to store it all layered and beautiful on it’s platter. We had to chop it up and store it in tupperware.

Which meant that EVERY time I passed through her kitchen I would stop at the fridge with a new fork and grab myself a lil bite. (“I think I need a little treat!” a dangerous concept indeed.) For some reason a tupperware of kinda-smashed cake is a lot easier to steal from than a gorgeous layered cake under a glass dome. No regrets, it was so good. (And sorry I ate all the cake, Laura.)

It’s a very simple recipe that is light and bright and not at all heavy. I love this cake because it almost feels like a trifle with all the layers!

What is Pig Pickin’ Cake?

Weirdest name ever, right?? Okay, forget the name and listen up: We’ve got four thin and delicate layers of buttery mandarin orange cake (whaaat?), stacked with generous pillows of fluffy pineapple whipped cream. Pineapple whipped cream, my friends!

looking straight at a piece of sunshine cake with the first bite taken.

The cake’s other name, Sunshine Cake, is a lot more descriptive. It really does feel like tropical sunshine, perfect for a swelteringly hot day where the idea of heavy hot fudge or cookie dough cupcakes just makes you feel like you need a glass of water. It is perfectly light and refreshing. The best ending to any dinner, bbq, or summer potluck.

The cake only has a few ingredients since it’s a doctored cake mix (which means minimal prep time!). But I wanted to amp up the pineapple flavor so I decided to try adding ground up freeze-dried pineapple to the whipped cream. Whaaaat yes, it is so good my friends. If you know you’re going to have trouble finding freeze dried pineapples, don’t sweat it. This cake is so good the traditional way. I just couldn’t help it, pineapple is my favorite fruit!

slice of sunshine cake showing all the layers on a ceramic plate with a metal fork.

Why do they call it Pig Pickin Cake?

Okay, now for the deets on the name. This cake is a true Southern treat and has a true Southern nickname! It goes back to earlier times when people would get together for a whole pig roast. It’s just what it sounds like! They would roast a whole hog in large underground pits for hours until perfectly cooked, and then party-goers would pick off the tender roasted meat. It’s easy to see how the gatherings became known as pig-pickin’ parties! (I’ve never been and I’d really like to be invited to one. Anyone?!)

This cake somehow became the traditional mascot dessert for pig-pickin parties. I can see why. I’m sure these parties were all going on in the heat of the summer, and this cake is the perfect dessert for a hot and sticky BBQ! I actually call it Sunshine Cake most of the time. Because I mean, just look at this edible sunshine!!

whole pig pickin' cake with a slice cur but not removed, and orange slices as garnish.

The BEST sunshine cake

There are many variations on this cake, it’s an old classic that’s been through a thousand grandma’s-recipe-boxes. But they usually follow the same format: a box of yellow cake mix combined with with mandarin oranges, with pineapple pudding whipped cream. But, being me 😅, I decided to amp up the flavors a bit to get more of that tropical vibe from the oranges and pineapple. So here are a few things we’re doing to make this version the BEST.

  • double the mandarin oranges
  • no mandarin orange syrup; most recipes add in the heavy syrup from the can but I just replaced it with MORE MANDARIN yes please.
  • real whipping cream instead of cool whip. this is a no brainer, duh.
  • freeze dried pineapple, buzzed into a powder and added to the whipped cream. IT’S SO GOOD!! Praise Jesus for this modern age of intense fruit flavors in baked goods. All hail the freeze dried fruit hack.
  • Adding dried sugared mandarin oranges to the top of the cake takes it to a WHOLE new level, more on that later!
4 layer pig pickin' cake with golden cake and topping, plus chopped dried mandarin oranges as garnish.

Pig Pickin Cake recipe ingredients

This recipe is so simple! Just a handful of ingredients to pick up, and some you may already have hanging out in your pantry or fridge. Be sure to check the recipe card for exact ingredient measurements and instructions!

wooden table with yellow cake mix, whipping cream, and other ingredients for pig pickin cake.
  • yellow cake mix
  • canned mandarin oranges
  • vegetable oil
  • eggs
  • canned, crushed pineapple
  • instant vanilla pudding mix
  • whipping cream
  • powdered sugar
  • freeze dried pineapple, totally optional
  • dried sugared mandarin oranges (optional)

How to make pig pickin cake

Layer cakes always feel a little intimidating, but I swear, this one is super duper easy (especially since we are leaving the sides exposed and you don’t have to worry about smooth frosting.) You just dump in all the ingredients:

top all cake ingredients in a metal mixing bowl, bottom, everything all mixed together.

And beat it up like so. You’re gonna feel weird doing this but I promise it works. The mandarins are so tender, they break down easily from the beaters.

pig pickin cake batter divided evenly into 4 metal 8-inch round baking pans.

Then divide the cake into four cake pans. If you don’t have four pans, just pour batter into two pans and you can split the cakes once they are baked.

While the cakes are baking (which goes so fast since they are so thin) make up the whipped topping. Start with the freeze dried pineapple, if you have it! Totally optional. I found it at Whole Foods, but you can also get it online.

left freeze dried pineapple pieces in a food processor, right the pineapple turned into a powder.

Powdered flavor, right here!! Give it a taste. So good.

Meanwhile, softly whip your cream in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer.

left whipped cream whipped to soft peaks in metal mixing bowl, right pudding mix added to it.

Once soft peaks have formed, add in the vanilla instant pudding mix. This serves two purposes: it provides some of the classic sweet “pudding” flavor for this cake, but more importantly, the starch in the pudding mix serves as a stabilizer, meaning your whipped cream is going to stay cloud-like and dreamy, even when smashed in between layers of cake. No need to fold it with a spatula; just keep using the mixer.

And voila! Stable whipped cream! Even when you dump an entire can of crushed pineapple (with the juice!) into said whipped cream. What!! Yes really.

top pineapple added to stabilized whipped cream, bottom pineapple all mixed in.

Don’t forget to add in the freeze dried pineapple powder at this point, if you have it. It really amps up the flavor!

Once your cakes have cooled, place the first one on your serving platter or cake stand. See how delectably thin they are?? I love it.

top very thin cake layer on plate with thumb, bottom layer of pineapple whipped cream on the cake.

Add about 1/4 of the pineapple whipped cream on top and spread to the edges, but not down the sides.

top added second layer of cake, bottom layer third layer with cream added.

Keep going, adding the next cake and then the next layer of whipped cream.

And that’s it! I think this cake is pretty just as it is, but if you want you can add orange slices, mandarin orange slices, or chamomile flowers on top. (don’t eat the flowers 😂)

One ingredient that I decided to add on top last minute, were chopped up dried mandarin oranges as garnish.

package of trader joes "soft & juicy mandarins" on top of a countertop with plated cake behind it.

Have you had these from Trader Joe’s? You can get them online too. I’m obsessed. Totally unnecessary as a cake garnish, and kind of changes the lightness vibe of the cake (adds a decent amount of chew) but I really loved it.

close up of layered pig pickin cake with thinly chopped dried mandarin oranges on top.

That’s it! She’s ready for the Pig Pickin’ Party! You can serve it right away or refrigerate it and serve the cooled cake later.

What to serve with pineapple sunshine cake

Obviously this cake can definitely stand alone, for dinner, if you’re like me on a low will-power day. That said, I really do think it is SO well suited to its origins: a good and proper cookout! Here are some of my favorite summer party/BBQ recipes that would be the perfect meal to serve before this cake.

How to store sunshine cake

With all the whipped cream, this cake will absolutely need to be kept refrigerated. If you have a top for your cake plate and a ton of fridge space, you can simply cover it and put it in the refrigerator.

If you don’t, you can either cut the cake into smaller pieces and transfer them to airtight containers, or stick toothpicks all around the top of the cake and carefully cover with plastic wrap so the plastic doesn’t stick to the topping. If you transfer to tupperware, just be aware that it may squish together a bit since it is such a moist cake. This is not an apology, because all the flavors come together and it ends up tasting like an amazing trifle! Not ideal for serving at an event, but absolutely ideal for nabbing a forkful with every kitchen pass-through for days on end.

piece of 8 layer pig pickin' cake on a ceramic plate with scalloped edges.

Can you freeze pig pickin cake?

Yes, you can! Transfer slices or the whole cake on top of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and flash freeze for about 30-60 minutes depending on how big the portion is. After flash freezing, carefully wrap the cake in a few layers of plastic wrap and then heavy foil. Be sure to label it! It will be good in the freezer for a month or two. After that, the quality really starts to deteriorate and you risk freezer burn. To use, move from the freezer to the refrigerator and let thaw for several hours or overnight.

If I were trying to make this in advance for later, I would make and freeze just the cake portion. Then, thaw the cake pieces in the refrigerator and make the topping fresh, and assemble.

Can you make it ahead?

On that note, yes, you can. Make and store the cakes tightly in plastic wrap and freeze (unless it’s going to be less than 12 hours from when you are serving it; then just wrap and store on the counter.) Make the whipped cream topping start to finish, and store in the fridge. The pudding helps preserve the whipped cream so it will still be pretty fluffy when you need to use it. Assemble the cake last minute and serve!

slice of caking lying on its side on a ceramic plate, with orange slices as garnish on top.

Pig pickin cake frequently asked questions

Why do they call it pig pickin cake?

It all started a long time ago at community events where people would have “Pig Pickin’s,” parties where they would roast a whole pig and then “pick” the meat off. This cake was the cool thing to bring for these potlucks, and became so synonymous with Pig Pickin’ events that it took on the name!

What is another name for pig pickin cake?

SO MANY NAMES, GUYS! The most common ones aside from Pig Pickin’ Cake are Sunshine Cake, or Pineapple Sunshine Cake, because of bright tropical flavors. There are actually several more though, you ready? Pea Pickin’ Cake, Pig Eatin’ Cake, Pig Lickin’ Cake, Orange Pineapple Layer Cake, Summer Cake, Tropical Dream Cake, Mandarin Crush Cake, Virginia Farmer’s Wife Cake, Arnold Felcher Cake, and even Celestial Snow Cake! I want to hear more about that last one! I’m guessing each locality had their own name. The most popular name overall is definitely Pig Pickin’ Cake, which seems to come from North Carolina (where pig roasts are super popular, so that makes sense!)

side view of a tall piece of sunshine cake with 8 layers, garnished with an orange slice.

More summer desserts to try

I love all the lightness and brightness of summer desserts! Not to mention the fruit. There’s nothing like a nice, COLD treat to top off your BBQ or 4th of July party. Here are some more options you’ll love!

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Sunshine Cake (Pig Pickin Cake)

5 from 4 votes
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
Total: 1 hour
Servings: 16
Okay, hear me out folks. I know "Pig-Pickin Cake" does not exactly sound appetizing, but I'M TELLING YOU. This cake is legit. Sometimes called a "Sunshine Cake," it is a yellow cake with mandarin oranges baked right into it, then layered with pineapple whipped cream. It's a classic from yesteryear and is SO light, bright, and tasty, you will want to bring it to every summer potluck, picnic, or BBQ this year! Also would be a great dessert for Mother's Day.

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 (15.25 ounce) yellow cake mix
  • 2 (11-ounce) cans mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs

For the whipped cream topping

  • 3 cups heavy cream*
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 (5.1-ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix, dry powder
  • 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, with juices
  • 2 (1.5 ounce) packages freeze dried pineapple , blended to powder (OPTIONAL)
  • 1/2 cup dried mandarin oranges, chopped, optional

Instructions

  • Get yourself set up. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare four (9-inch) round cake pans by tracing the bottom of the cake pan onto parchment paper. Cut out four circles and place in the bottom of each pan. Spray each parchment-lined pan generously with nonstick spray. (if you only have two cake pans, that's fine, prep them the same way.)
  • Make the cake batter. In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 1 box of yellow cake mix. Open 2 cans of mandarin oranges and drain them completely. Add all the canned oranges to the the cake mix in the bowl. Add 1 cup vegetable oil. Add 4 eggs. Beat all of it together with a hand mixer. I know, this feels weird with the oranges, right? Trustttt.
  • Once the batter is completely mixed (the oranges will break down into small bits), carefully spoon the batter into the prepared cake pans. If you have four cake pans, you need 1 and 1/4 cup batter in each pan. (If you are using two cake pans, split the batter evenly between the pans.)
  • Bake the cakes at 350 degrees. If you have four pans, bake them 12-15 minutes, rotating the pans in the oven about the 9 minute mark.
    If you have two pans, bake for 23-30 minutes, checking early to make sure you don't over bake.
    The cake is done when the edges are just starting to pull away from the pans. Don't over bake! A toothpick inserted in the center will come out with no wet batter on it.
  • Let the cakes cool on wire racks. About 15 minutes after they have come out of the oven, carefully flip each cake onto the wire rack. Let cool completely.**
  • Make the whipped cream topping. For best results when whipping cream, put the whisk/beaters and bowl in the freezer 5-10 minutes before whipping. Chilled tools makes the cream whip higher and faster!
    In a large bowl or stand mixer set up with the whisk attachment, add 3 cups of whipping cream.* Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Beat for 2-4 minutes, until soft peaks are forming.
  • Add in the entire 5.1-ounce package of pudding mix. Mix for about 30 seconds. It will start to get very thick and even look a little congealed or grainy. Don't panic.
  • Add the 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple WITH all of the juices. Fold in with a rubber spatula, until it looks light and fluffy.
  • You can stop here, but if you have the freeze dried pineapple, it really bumps up the flavor in this cake! Use a food processor or blender to blend two (1.5 ounce) packages of freeze dried pineapple until it is a fine powder. Add to the whipped cream mixture. Fold in with a rubber spatula until it is light and fluffy and fully combined.
    If you are not ready to assemble the cake now, cover and refrigerate the whipped cream.
  • Split your cakes, if necessary. If you baked the cake in two layers, split each layer horizontally with a large serrated bread knife to make 4 layers. Place your serrated knife at about the halfway down point on the side of the cake, and gently saw back and forth toward the center of the cake. Turn the cake every so often as you cut, to make sure you are cutting evenly.
  • Assemble the cake. Place the first layer of cake down on a serving plate. Top with about 1/4 of the whipped cream topping. Spread to the edges and make sure the whole top is well covered, but not the sides of the cake. Continue with each layer until you've added them all.***
  • Decorate with extra mandarin oranges, fresh pineapple, or pipe on plain whipped cream. OR top with chopped up dried mandarins, you can get them online or at Trader Joe's! Love the chew factor this adds, but it's optional.
  • Store this cake in the fridge, for sure. That whipped cream topping needs to be chilled!

Notes

*Heavy cream is sold near the milk in the dairy section. It is not coffee creamer. Sometimes it is labeled whipping cream, ultra heavy whipping cream, etc. These names differentiate fat content levels. For making whipped cream, buy the cream with the highest fat content you can! The cream I use has 36% fat content. 40% is even better. 
** If you want to speed up the process of cooling your cakes, you can toss them in the freezer for a few minutes! Wrap in plastic wrap if you can’t fit the whole cooling rack in the freezer. Just make sure they stay flat and don’t get misshapen. 
*** The crushed pineapple in this cake is so tasty, but it makes the frosting look kinda weird. It’s just not a smooth frosting like people are expecting on a layer cake, so I don’t like to frost the entire outside of the cake. The “naked cake” trend, with exposed edges, is the answer. But if you prefer, add less whipped cream to each inside layer (about 1 cup per layer) and use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. 

Nutrition

Calories: 298kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 31g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 8g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 31mg | Potassium: 60mg | Fiber: 0.01g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 724IU | Vitamin C: 0.3mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 0.3mg
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Calories: 298
Keyword: Cake, sunshine
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I recently made your pig pickin cake for my 92 year old mother. She loved it was a family get together, and there was none left
    Everyone enjoyed it. Thanks so much. Keep them coming.

  2. 5 stars
    So light and fresh!
    I made it for mother’s day yesterday…it was perfect and everyone was raving on and on about it! My mom said she actually dreamed of a cake like that and manifested it. Ha, it was perfect! AND My sister texted me the next day wishing she had some.

    1. omg she manifested it!!! Hahahaha!!! I love this Penelope, so funny 🤣 SO happy it was a hit for Mother’s Day, thank you for sharing your review! Super helpful! Happy mother’s day to you and your mom and sister 💕

  3. 5 stars
    I had never heard of this Mandarin Orange cake until I got married. Chip and I were in Pennsylvania and his dad made this cake for us-the traditional one with cake mix mixed with pudding mix and mandarin oranges and cool whip crushed pineapple topping. I THOUGHT I HAD DIED AND GONE TO HEAVEN! I’ve made this cake off and on since then but your version looks like Mandarin Orange Cake Squared or maybe to the 3rd or 4th power. I’ve got to make this for my next bookclub dessert. 😋 YUMMO!

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