Types of Cakes: Foam, Butter, & More

Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Cake Decorating, Food & Cooking | Comments


There are so many wonderful cakes in the world, some ideal for decorating, others simply ideal for eating. From Angel Food and Birthday Cake to Red Velvet and Strawberry Shortcake, there are infinite glorious variations on this luscious and inherently happy food.

But did you know that most cakes are just variations of a few simple types?

Cartoon of Cupcake and Cake, on Craftsy

Illustration via Jessie Oleson Moore of CakeSpy.com

It’s true. Learn the basic types when in comes to baking cakes, and you have a base of batter knowledge that you can take in hundreds of  flavor directions!

If you’re newer to the art of baking and decorating, The Wilton Method® classes are a great place to start, offering a clear guide to the fundamentals of how to properly bake cakes and several foundational decorating techniques.

2 Pieces of Butter Cake with Icing and Cartoon Placard

Butter Cakes or Shortened Cakes

This category is characterized by its high ratio of shortening or solid fat. Although this can include vegetable or animal derived solid shortening or margarine, it is common for this category to be referred to as “butter cakes” as a catch-all term. They’re moist and tender, with a delicate texture. Within the category there are several different types. Here are a few main ones:

Cartoon of Cake Being Decorated by Cupcakes

American-Style Butter Cakes: Although not a specifically American phenomenon, there is a particular style of butter cake that is particularly popular in the United States. It is a butter cake leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda. Since the 1800s, when these leavening agents rose in popularity, this type of cake has become the standard for celebration cakes including stacked layers, sheet cakes, or even cupcakes–and usually, they’re served with icing. While the most classic flavors are vanilla or chocolate, just about any flavor could be attained with this style of cake. While fine textured and light, these cakes are nonetheless sturdy enough to stand up to any number of thick icings and fillings, and are a fantastic base for rolled fondant.

Cartoon Pieces of Carrot Cake, Bunnies and Carrots

Some cakes that are “shortened” with oil can also be considered part of this category, because of the higher ratio of fat and usually, the use of baking soda and/or powder in addition to eggs for lift. With these cakes, the fat and sugar are not “creamed” but rather mixed using the “One Bowl” Method. Examples would include carrot cake, banana cake, and some types of “velvet” cake. These cakes are often baked and treated like American butter cakes in terms of how they are baked (as sheet cakes, layer cakes, or cupcakes) and decorated.

Piece of Cake with "Pound of" Sugar, Eggs, Flour, Butter Text

Pound Cakes: One of the most decadent cakes around, this rich cake originated in Europe, but has become popular the world over. The name is derived from the French “quatre quarts”, which refers to the amount of each of the primary ingredients that go into this cake by volume–flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. The resulting cake is extremely dense, and is often baked in a loaf pan. While the eggs give some lift, it doesn’t rise as dramatically as the American-style butter cake. Because of the richness of the cake, many bakers choose to top it simply with a confectioner’s sugar glaze or a thin layer of ganache rather than a heavy icing.

Foam Cakes

These light and fluffy cakes get their lift primarily from eggs and egg whites. Air is beaten into the eggs, which are then folded into the batter. This causes a steam to form in the batter during the baking process, and this causes them to rise. Here are a few of the types:

Egg White Only: These cakes only have egg whites–no yolks. They are light and airy. A famous example of this type of cake is Angel Food Cake. Because they have no egg yolk or added fat, these cakes are naturally low-fat. Because of the fact that they have such a spectacular rise from the egg whites, a tall pan is required to bake properly. The famous Angel Food Cake pan, with its high sides and circular cutout in the center, allows for even rising and baking. Because these cakes are extremely delicate, they generally don’t hold up well to a thick, all-over coating of buttercream icing. Simple glazes or lighter frostings such as whipped cream are favored for toppings.

Cake Cartoon: "The Pick-Up Artist" on Craftsy
Cartoon of Jelly Roll and Cupcake Talking

Egg White and Yolk: These cakes include both the egg white and the yolk, making for a richer cake but one that is still quite light. Because they are springy and flexible, they are the best type of cake for roulades or jelly roll cakes, which are baked in a large, shallow pan. Sponge cakes can also be baked as layered cakes, too, and work well with lighter icings or fillings. Like the name implies, a sponge cake is quite porous, which makes it great for layering in trifles or for using fillings that will permeate the cakes with their flavors.

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon Cake photo via CakeSpy.com

Fat from Oil and Egg: There is a type of foam cake that has some oil added, but still relies heavily on egg for the lift. The most famous example of this cake is Chiffon Cake. The added oil allows the cake to have a decadent flavor, but the eggs allow for a delicate texture. While this cake tastes quite indulgent, it’s actually fairly low-fat! Because this type of cake can be delicate, it is often frosted with a lighter-textured frosting or drizzled with glaze.

Other types of cakes you may be wondering about:

Flourless Cakes: Believe it or not, flourless cakes are a type of foam cake. They get their “lift” primarily from eggs. In the case of a flourless chocolate cake, for instance, the cake also has a significant amount of chocolate and cream, which makes it far more indulgent than its foam cake cousin Angel Food Cake.

Cheesecakes: While delicious and able to hold its own in the cake case any day, a cheesecake is technically a baked custard, not a cake.

Now that you’ve received an educaketion–er, education–on the different types of cakes, it’s time to get baking! Find thousands of ideas for baking and decorating on Craftsy. In case you missed it learn all about types of spatulas that can help with your baking and types of sprinkles. Plus, come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow to discover this year’s wedding cake trends and brownie basics!

Comments

  1. Teresa says:

    Thanks never had the cakes explained in quite this fashion…helps me select which cake for which event

  2. Brenda Rath says:

    Could you give a good receipe for a flourless cake, I have a cousin that has celiac disease/gluten free and if I could make a cake without using gluten free flour it could be more affordable since all gluten free is so expensive. Thanks

  3. lyndsay says:

    jessie!!! this is awesome.. i never knew that about “pound” cake , either… and also that first illustration “where did i come from” gave me a good cakey chuckle!!! brilliant.