There are many different types of cakes and many different ways of dividing them into various categories, but professional bakers categorize cakes by ingredients and mixing method. (Home bakers tend to categorize cakes by flavoring—i.e., chocolate cakes, fruit cakes, and so on—which is helpful when you’re trying to decide what to eat, but not as helpful when you’re trying to understand how best to make a cake.) Depending on how the batter is prepared, you will find that the final texture (and color, if it is a yellow or white cake) varies. Below is a comprehensive but by no means exhaustive list of the basic types of cakes:
Butter (or Oil) Cakes: These contain some kind of fat—often butter, but sometimes oil—and baking powder to leaven them or make them rise. If the fat is butter, the ingredients are usually combined using the creaming method, which means that the soft butter and sugar are beaten together in an electric mixer to partially dissolve the sugar and to incorporate some air. Then the dry and wet ingredients are added in alternating doses. This results in a light and airy crumb, though not quite as light as that of a sponge cake (see below). The best butter cakes have a moist buttery richness tempered by lightness.
Pound Cakes: Pound cakes are heavier than the types of butter cakes used for constructing layer cakes (see below). They’re easy to prepare, with the only trick being that the butter must be quite soft when you begin. These cakes are usually very lightly flavored and served plain or topped with a simple glaze or water icing. A pound cake is usually baked in a loaf or Bundt pan. Many coffee cakes, sour cream cakes, and fruit crumb cakes are variations of pound cake.
Butter (and Oil) Layer Cakes: Many different types of cake can be arranged in layers. However, classic American layer cakes are usually butter or oil cakes. The birthday cake you ate as a child was probably of this type. These cakes are lighter than traditional pound cake, but more moist and flavorful than European-style sponge layer cakes (see below). Cakes in this category include: devil’s food cake(the classic chocolate layer cake), golden cakes (made with egg yolks, which add richness and a golden color), and white cakes (made with egg whites, which create a lighter, whiter-colored cake).
Sponge and Foam Cake: These are notable more for what they are missing than for what they contain: They usually do not include fat, such as butter or oil, and they do not incorporate leaveners, like baking powder. Instead, volume is created by whipping the eggs or egg whites. The air whipped into the eggs expands during baking, causing these cakes to rise on their own without baking powder. However, the success of this method depends on not deflating the eggs after whipping them. To this end, dry ingredients are usually sifted over and gently folded in, and fat is often avoided, as it would weigh down the foamy batter.This method produces extremely light, airy cakes with a spongy texture but generally less flavor and moisture than butter and oil cakes
Low- or No-Flour Cakes: Cakes made without flour (or with very little) generally have a creamy or silky texture. They can be baked or unbaked.
Baked Flourless Cakes: These include baked cheesecakes and flourless chocolate cakes. For easy removal, they’re often made in a springform pan, though some can also be made in regular round layer cake pans. Often the filled pan is placed in a larger pan that’s half-filled with water to insulate the delicate, creamy cake from the oven’s strong bottom heat, which might give the baked cake a porous rather than silky texture. This is called baking the cake in a water bath.
Unbaked Flourless Cakes: These types of cakes are typically molded in a dessert ring or springform pan then simply chilled before unmolding. They includeunbaked cheesecakes and mousse cakes. They often have a crust or bottom layer that’s baked before the mousse is added. Sometimes other layers, such as genoise or biscuit, are alternated with the mousse.
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