Types of Cakes
There are basically two categories of cakes. The first category is comprised of cakes that are made with butter or shortening, and use a leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda to give them rise. The second category includes the foam-type cakes, that rise due to the air incorporated in the beaten egg whites.
The first category is the Butter/shortening type cakes. These are the classic cakes and include pound cakes and the yellow, white, spice, and chocolate cakes. They are used in everything from traditional wedding cakes to layered birthday cakes. These cakes use butter, shortening, or oil for moistness and richness and are leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda. With the oil and shortening type cake, all the ingredients can be put in the bowl at the same time. Making this type is as simple as using a box mix. The butter based cakes are better if the butter is creamed until light and fluffy before adding the other ingredients. This will take about 3 minutes of beating. Then the sugar is added gradually, and beaten for another 3 minutes before adding more ingredients. If you are going to make many of these, having a stand mixer is essential.
TIP: Before mixing the cake batter, soften the butter to room temperature so that it mixes easily with the sugar. If you cut it into tablespoon sized pieces first, the softening will be more consistent. Meaning, you won’t have some of it liquid, while some of it is still hard.
The second category, the Foam-type cake includes Angel Food Cake, Sponge Cake, and Chiffon Cake. The Foam-type Cakes achieve their high volume from beaten eggs rather than a leavening agent like baking powder. Sponge cakes do not contain butter, shortening, or oil. This makes them a better choice for someone who is on a diet. Angel food cakes are the most popular and are literally fat-free since they use only egg whites, not egg yolks. Yellow sponge cakes are prepared with whole eggs. Chiffon cakes are also lightened with beaten eggs, but they are not true sponge cakes because they contain vegetable oil. These cakes are not as firm as the cakes in the first category and are not a good choice for large layered cakes, such as wedding cakes. Chiffon cake is wonderful for making light, fluffy cupcakes and can be used for a two-layer cake. Angel food cake and sponge cake are wonderful served with fruit or in a trifle because they soak up the fruit juices while retaining their texture. Jelly roll cakes or rolled cakes also use a foam-type cake.
TIPS: When making a sponge cake, be sure to beat the eggs to the proper stage; do not over beat or under beat. The eggs need to be beaten to the stiff peak stage. You’ll know when this is achieved when a peak holds it’s shape and doesn’t droop over. Handle the beaten eggs gently when folding them into the other ingredients or they will lose air and volume. I mix the egg whites into the batter in thirds. With the first third you lighten the batter. The second third lightens it more, and you will be able to keep more of the air in, that you worked so hard to create. By the third third the batter is light enough that you can fold very gently and maintain all the air in the beaten whites.
Eggs separate more easily when cold, but egg whites reach their fullest volume if allowed to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before beating. If some of the yolk happens to get in the egg white when you are separating them, throw it out and start over. You won’t get your egg whites to form a proper meringue if there is any yolk present.
For argument’s sake, there are some other types of cakes. There are specialized ethnic cakes that use yeast to create rise such as stollen or coffee cake. Cheesecake which has always seemed like more of a pie to me. The flour-less cake which more resembles a firm pudding. And…everyone’s least favorite, the fruitcake which is closest to the first category of cake. For our purposes, in this blog we’ll be staying with the two main categories which will give us a lot of variety. Well….cheesecake will probably show up too. Good stuff!