Don’t know a roulade from a torte? Fuzzy on the difference between foam and butter cakes? Been there. This guide will teach you all about the different kinds of cake, increase your baking intelligence and maybe get you pumped to try something new.
"Shortened cakes" include cakes made with all kinds of fats, including butter, lard and vegetable shortening. This category is also called "butter cakes" because of how often butter shows up in recipes.
These cakes are considered "shortened" because large quantities of fat shorten the gluten strands that form when flour comes in contact with water. The result is a more tender texture, which creates a delicate, soft crumb.
Within the category of "shortened" cakes, you'll find:
These include most of the classics, from birthday cake to carrot cake. Usually, layer cakes are prepared with one of three methods:
- Creaming method: beating the butter or other fat with sugar to create pockets of air.
- One-bowl method: simply mixing all the ingredients together in (you guessed it) a single bowl.
- Cream-and-whip method: whipping the egg whites before adding them to the batter in order to lighten the texture of the cake.
Pound cake is just about the butteriest butter cake there is. The name "pound cake" comes from the French quatre quarts (four quarters), which refers to the four key ingredients (flour, butter, sugar and eggs).
The ratio of butter or other fat in a butter cake is much higher than in other shortened cakes, which creates a dense texture, tight crumb and sturdy shape. Pound cakes work extremely well for cake-decorating projects, as they will hold their shape even when sculpted, and they won't collapse under the weight of fondant or buttercream.
Foam and sponge cakes
Whether the cake in question is angel food, genoise, dacquoise or jelly roll-style, eggs are the name of the game with these fluffy cakes.
Usually the baker beats air into the eggs (sometimes just the whites, sometimes the whole egg), then folds them into the batter. This creates steam in the batter as it bakes, causing the cakes to rise.
Most foam and sponge cakes fall into one of these categories:
Egg whites only
Cakes made with egg whites only are light, airy and naturally low in fat. Whipped egg whites create such a spectacular rise that cakes made solely with egg whites require special pans. Think of the famous angel food cake pan, with its high sides and circular cutout in the center, which allows for even baking and rising.
Egg whites and yolks
Some foam and sponge cakes include both the egg whites and yolks, which makes them richer, but still quite light, springy and flexible.
They make for great roulade or jelly roll cakes, which are baked in large, shallow pans and then rolled with fillings. Sponge cakes also work as layer cakes with lighter icings or fillings. Because they are so porous, they are also stellar in trifles.
Egg and oil
These unique cakes are like the ones above, but with one major difference: oil, which adds a rich flavor and tender texture. The most famous example, chiffon cake, was billed as "the first new cake in 100 years" when it debuted in the late 1940s.
Flourless or low-flour cakes
Technically, many flourless cakes are a version of foam or sponge cakes because they get their "lift" mostly from eggs. However, given their completely different character, these cakes deserve a category of their own.
Flourless chocolate cakes
In flourless chocolate cake, whipped egg whites are folded into a rich mixture of chocolate, egg yolk and butter or cream, and egg yolk. While the method is similar to a sponge cake, the ingredient list is definitely different from a roulade or sponge cake.
Some cakes are "almost-flourless." For instance, chocolate cakes containing a very small amount of flour (from a few tablespoons to 1/4 cup or so) would fall under this category.
Classifying tortes can be difficult, because these days, the terms "torte" and "cake" are used almost interchangeably to describe many cakes. Technically, tortes are not made with flour, but employ another ingredient that functions like flour, usually ground nuts, to add bulk and shape.
Unbaked cakes are confections that require no baking at all. This category would include desserts such as no-bake cheesecake, ice cream cakes and icebox cakes. It's more the construction and presentation than the ingredients that classify these desserts as "cakes."
While most people think of yeast as a bread ingredient, you'll also see it in many cakes. Cakes made with yeast tend to have a much sturdier texture and a milder sweetness. Think coffee cake or New Orleans King Cake.