Don’t know a roulade from a torte? Fuzzy on the difference between foam and butter cakes? Don’t worry. This guide will provide a delightful and delicious education on the different types of cake, increasing your baking knowledge and maybe even inspiring you to expand your recipe repertoire.From rich flourless cakes to light-as-air sponge cakes, this visual guide explains the differences between the different types of cake, including famous examples of each type. Bookmark this page as a reference for future cake decorating projects!
Shortened cakes include cakes made with all kinds of fats, including butter, lard, vegetable shortening, and more. But this category is often referred to as “butter cakes” as a catch-all term because of butter’s proliferance in baking recipes.
They are considered “shortened” because the high amount of butter or fat actually shortens the gluten strands that form when flour comes in contact with water. The shorter gluten strands result in a more tender texture, which creates a delicate, soft crumb.
Within the category of “shortened” cakes, you’ll find the following:
Most classic layer cakes, from birthday cakes to red velvet cake to even carrot cake, fall into the category of shortened cakes. Usually, layer cakes are prepared in one of three ways:
- Creaming method: The butter or fat is creamed with sugar to create pockets of air before adding the wet and dry ingredients to the batter.
- One-bowl method: The ingredients are mixed together in the same bowl, without any special creaming
- Cream-and-whip method: Similar to the creaming method, this variation is characterized by whipping the egg whites separately and then incorporating them into the batter shortly before it is poured into baking pans. This results in a light texture.
Pound cake is just about the butteriest of butter cakes out there. The name “pound cake” comes from the French “quatre quarts,” which refers to the equal amount of the key ingredients (flour, butter, sugar and eggs) in the cake.
Compared to other butter cakes, the ratio of butter or fat is much higher, which gives the resulting cake 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
Nestled under this category are cakes such as angel food cake, genoise, dacquoise or jelly roll-style cakes. Eggs are the name of the game with fluffy foam or sponge cakes.
Usually, air is beaten into the eggs (sometimes just the whites, sometimes the whole egg), and then they are folded into the batter. During the baking process, this creates steam in the batter, 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. Perhaps the most famous example of this type of cake is angel food cake.
The whipped egg whites assist in attaining a spectacular rise, so specific pans are required for cakes made solely with egg whites. 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 cake variations include both the egg whites and yolks, which makes for a cake that is richer, but still quite light. Cakes made with both egg whites and yolk are 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 can also be baked as layered cakes, and work well with lighter icings or fillings. Their porous nature makes them great for soaking with flavorings or for layering in desserts, such as in trifles.
Egg and Oil
These unique, boundary-crossing types of cake is similar to the above two variations, but has oil added. The egg is still responsible for the majority of the lift, but the oil imparts a rich flavor and tender texture. The most famous example of this type of cake is chiffon cake, which was billed as “the first new cake in 100 years” upon its debut in the late 1940’s.
Flourless or Low-Flour Cakes
Technically, many flourless cakes are actually a version of foam or sponge cakes. That is, they get their “lift” primarily from eggs. However, given their completely different character, these types of cake deserve a category of their own.