Don't forget to check out the Tips & FAQ section in the post!
Easy tornado cake starts with a cake mix that makes a super moist pineapple cake then topped with a cooked brown sugar coconut and nut topping that soaks into the warm cake making it truly delicious.
This cake is also known as a Texas Tornado Cake or a Do Nothing Cake. It’s extremely fast to mix together and there’s no need to remove the cake from the baking pan or decorate anything because you just pour the glaze over the entire cake and it turns out perfectly.
Poking holes into the warm cake also helps the glaze really soak in so you get that wonderful flavor throughout the cake.
Table of Contents:
Tornado cake only takes a few simple ingredients (thanks to the cake mix) and you can even change things up if you want to use different types of nuts.
Don’t let the cake mix fool you though…the end product doesn’t taste like you just whipped up a boxed cake. Not at all. It tastes like you made it from scratch, but the good thing is that it won’t take you nearly as much time.
This cake is perfect for the family, but it’s also a delicious sheet cake to take to potlucks or get-togethers as it travels really well.
Just make sure that you let people know what type of nuts you’ve added in case anyone has allergies.
Now let’s talk a little about just some of the ingredients in this easy tornado cake. (The printable list of all ingredients are in the recipe card below.)
Yellow cake mix: This recipe is quick and easy because it starts off with a cake mix. Don’t worry, it’ll still taste like it’s homemade and made from scratch because you’ll add other ingredients to it and pour over a homemade topping after it’s baked.
Evaporated milk: This is the milk that’s in a can, but not the sweetened type. This milk does contain a lot of fat in it and really makes the cake super moist and the texture soft.
Pineapple: You’ll use an entire can of crushed pineapple and it adds so much flavor and moisture to the cake. It doesn’t make the cake too tart either. It goes perfectly with the other ingredients and flavors.
(Make sure to check out the FAQ section below in this post for ingredient and substitution questions.)
How to make this cake:
Let’s talk about how to make a tornado cake using a cake mix. (The printable instructions are in the recipe card below.)
First, you’ll need to make the cake. Make sure to preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, then spray a 9×13-inch baking pan or dish with nonstick baking spray.
Now take a large mixing bowl and add all of the cake ingredients to it except for the pineapple. Mix it well with an electric mixer on medium to medium-high speed until well combined.
Next, add in the crushed pineapple (there’s no need to drain it) and stir in well with a large spoon or a silicone spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 35-40 minutes.
The cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs on it, but no raw batter.
While the cake is baking, you can make the topping. To do that, add the butter, milk and brown sugar to a medium saucepan and heat it to a boil. Make sure to stir it frequently though.
Once to a low boil, simmer it for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then remove the pan from the heat and add in the vanilla, coconut flakes and nuts, then stir everything well.
Once the cake has finished baking, remove it from the oven and set it on a cooling rack.
Immediately poke holes into the cake. You can use a wooden skewer to do this.
Next, pour the warm topping over the cake, then spread it evenly, so that it can sink down into the holes you made.
Now just let the cake set up for about 30 minutes before cutting and serving it.
(Remember that the instructions will also be in the recipe card below.)
Quick and Easy Tornado Cake (Do Nothing Cake)
- 1 (15 ounce) box yellow cake mix (I used Betty Crocker)
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ¾ cup evaporated milk (canned milk, but not sweetened condensed milk)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
- 1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick) (If you only have unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt.)
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk (canned milk, but not sweetened condensed milk)
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 inch baking pan or dish with nonstick baking spray.
- In a large mixing bowl, add all of the cake ingredients except for the pineapple and mix with an electric mixer on medium to medium-high speed until well combined.
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again until everything is well combined.
- Add the crushed pineapple (it doesn't need to be drained) and stir with a large spoon or a silicone spatula.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs on it, but no raw batter.
- While the cake is baking, make the topping below.
- Once the cake is baked, remove the cake from the oven and set it onto a cooling rack. Immediately poke holes in the cake with a wooden skewer and pour the warm topping over the cake, then spread the topping evenly.
- Let the cake set up for about 30 minutes before cutting and serving as it will still be warm and may fall apart if you try to cut it immediately.
For the topping:
- Combine the butter, milk and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until it reaches a low boil. Make sure to stir frequently while it's heating up. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The topping will thicken up a bit.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, coconut flakes and nuts. Set the topping aside until the cake is finished baking.
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Tips & FAQs:
I’m not exactly sure. I’ve read that it was invented in the 1940s, but there’s just not a lot of information as to why it’s called a tornado cake.
I have old church cookbooks that refer to similar cake recipes as tornado cakes, but they don’t include the history of the cake.
Yes, pretty much. It’s also known as a do nothing cake because instead of having to weigh out ingredients and be super specific, you basically just add the cake ingredients to a bowl and mix, which makes it super easy.
I’ve only tried this with a yellow cake mix, but it would probably be just fine to make it using a white cake mix or a vanilla cake mix.
Evaporated milk is canned milk, but it is not the same thing as sweetened condensed milk. You want to make sure you get just plain evaporated canned milk.
Yes, just try to get as close to 20 ounces as you can and if you need to get two smaller cans of crushed pineapple, then that’s okay.
No, you don’t need to drain it. I know it seems like a lot of liquid, but trust me, it will turn out perfect.
Yes, you can use unsalted, but add a pinch of salt to the topping though.
You can use either light brown sugar or dark brown sugar. I used light brown sugar.
Yes, that should work just fine.
That may be okay although I have only tried this recipe using sweetened coconut flakes.
No, you don’t have to add them. You can omit them if you don’t like them or are allergic. (Personally, I’m allergic to nuts so I have to eat this cake without them.)
Yes, you can use either walnuts or pecans, whichever you prefer.
Don’t forget to spray the pan with non-stick baking spray or grease it well. This cake is very moist and will stick to the pan if it’s not prepared.
This cake is done baking when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs on it or clean, but no raw batter.
Possibly, although I have not tried it myself. If you do freeze it, it’s probably best to only freeze the cake and not the glaze. Freeze the cake by wrapping it well in plastic wrap and foil.
When you’re ready to use it, let it thaw out, then make the glaze and add it to the cake.
It won’t be exactly the same as if the cake was warm and you poured the warm glaze over it, but I’m not sure the glaze will freeze well.
This cake should be stored in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator and can last up to 6 days.
I have not tested this recipe out as cupcakes, but it may work. If you try it, just fill 2 cupcake pans (24 cupcakes) with cupcake liners and fill with batter about 2/3 of the way full. Bake at 350 degrees F and start checking for doneness at around 15-20 minutes or so.
I have not tested this recipe out as a layer cake, but it should work okay. If you try it, add the batter to two, greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans and bake at 350 degrees. Start checking for doneness at around 25-30 minutes or so.
Just note that if you make this into a layer cake, the cake is very delicate and poking holes into it and then pouring a warm glaze over it, may cause the layer cake to become unstable.
This cake can be served cold, at room temperature, or warm. If the cake is cold, set it out to come closer to room temperature for about 20-30 minutes before serving, or pop a slice in the microwave to warm it up.
No. This is a very delicate cake and probably would not be the best for stacking purposes.
Supplies used for this recipe:
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- 13×9 inch baking dish
- Electric hand mixer or stand mixer
- Silicone spatula
- Small saucepan
- Wooden spoon
- Oven mitts
- Cooling rack