Cakes normally combine some kind of flour, a sweetening agent
(commonly sugar), a binding agent (generally egg, though gluten
or starch are often used by vegetarians and vegans), fats
(usually butter, shortening, or margarine, although a fruit purée
such as applesauce is sometimes substituted to avoid using fat),
a liquid (milk, water or fruit juice), flavors and some form of leavening
agent (such as yeast or baking powder), though many cakes lack
these ingredients and instead rely on air bubbles in the dough to expand
and cause the cake to rise. Cake is often frosted with buttercream
or marzipan, and finished with piped borders and crystallized fruit.
Cake is often the dessert of choice for meals at ceremonial occasions,
particularly weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.
There are literally millions of cake recipes
(some are bread-like and some rich and elaborate)
and many are centuries old. Cake making is no longer a complicated
procedure; while at one time considerable labor went into cake
making (particularly the whisking of egg foams), baking equipment
and directions have been so perfected and simplified that
even the amateur cook may easily become an expert baker.
Varieties of cake
based primarily on ingredients and cooking techniques.
• Yeast cakes are the oldest, and are very similar to yeast
Such cakes are often very traditional in form, and include
such pastries as babka and stollen.
• Cheesecakes use mostly some form of cheese (often cream cheese,
mascarpone, ricotta or the like), and have very little to no flour
component (though it sometimes appears in the form of a
(often sweetened) crust). Cheesecakes are also very old, with evidence
of honey-sweetened cakes dating back to ancient Greece.
• Sponge cakes are thought to be the first of the non-yeast-based
cakes and rely primarily on trapped air in a protein matrix
(generally of beaten eggs) to provide leavening, sometimes with a bit
of baking powder or other chemical leaven added as insurance.
Such cakes include the Italian/Jewish pan di Spagna and the French Génoise.
• Butter cakes, including the pound cake and devil's food cake,
rely on the combination of butter, eggs, and sometimes baking powder
to provide both lift and a moist texture.
Beyond these classifications, cakes can be classified based on
their appropriate accompaniment (such as
coffee cake), contents
(e.g. fruitcake or flourless chocolate cake), or occasion (wedding cake,
birthday cake, or Passover plava, a type of Jewish sponge cake
sometimes made with matzo meal).
Cakes may be small and intended for individual consumption
(for example madeleines and cupcakes). Larger cakes may be made
with the intention of being sliced and served as part of a meal
or social function. The cutting of a wedding cake constitutes a social
ceremony in some cultures. The Ancient Roman marriage ritual of
confarreatio originated in the sharing of a cake.
Particular types of cake may be associated with particular festivals,
such as stollen (at Christmas), babka and simnel cake (at Easter),
Some varieties of cake are widely available in the form of cake mixes,
wherein some of the ingredients (usually flour, sugar, flavoring,
baking powder, and sometimes some form of fat) are premixed,
and the cook needs add only a few extra ingredients, usually eggs, water,
and sometimes vegetable oil or butter. Such mixes are available under
a number of brand names, including Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines,
and Pillsbury; while the diversity of represented styles is limited,
cake mixes do provide an easy and readily available homemade option
for cooks who are not accomplished bakers.