Cake: the classic dessert that's graced many a birthday celebration with its soft, sweet presence. Every American has had their share of chocolate and vanilla layers topped with colorful fondant decorations, but few have experienced the full spectrum of the cake family tree. From the simple birthday to the elaborate opera, we've curated the extensive list of cakes that any self-proclaimed foodie ought to know and have tasted.
1. Birthday Cake
The term birthday cake usually refers to a layered chocolate or vanilla cake with buttercream frosting. If you want to shake it up a bit, try adding edible decorations on top or rainbow sprinkles in the batter for a little first-slice surprise.
2. Wedding Cake
Another traditionally layered cake is the wedding cake. Not only is it typically taller and more elaborate than its birthday cousin, but the range of flavors is also more extensive; everything from lemon to hazelnut has been shoved into the mouths of smiling newlyweds. Still, vanilla, chocolate, and almond are the fan favorites of brides today.
3. Red Velvet
It may come as a surprise to some, but red velvet cake is actually just a type of chocolate cake. What sets it apart is the addition of buttermilk and vinegar, which react with the cocoa powder to create the classic maroon color (often aided by red food dye), velvety texture, and unique flavor.
4. Carrot Cake
Carrot cake usually makes its first appearance around Easter, in springtime. Like red velvet, it's commonly layered with cream cheese frosting. For someone looking for a flavor profile a little less on the sweet side, try using brown butter frosting instead, which adds a little nuttiness and maturity to the cake. You can also spruce up your carrot cake with add-ins like toasted nuts, zucchini, pineapple, coconut, or dried fruit.
5. Ice Cream Cake
Layers of cake and ice cream topped off with light and fluffy whipped cream make for a summer favorite. Cookies 'n cream is the most famous ice cream cake flavor, but there are a lot more options than just Oreo. The classic vanilla-chocolate-strawberry combo of a Neapolitan-style cake like this one will be a hit at any pool party.
6. Coffee Cake
Despite its deceiving title, this cake is coffee-free, though it is typically enjoyed alongside a cup of hot java for breakfast. It's a simple confection made of white cake swirled with cinnamon and a crumb topping of butter, brown sugar, and flour are perfect for a lazy Saturday morning.
7. Pound Cake
The name pound cake is a little misleading. Each cake is not actually one pound in weight. Instead, the name comes from the 1700s, when recipes were memorized due to low literacy rates. The original pound cakes were made with one pound of every ingredient since the simple ratio made it easy to remember. Today, pound cakes are much smaller and sometimes iced but still have a similar ingredient ratio to keep that dense, buttery texture we all know and love.
8. Lemon Drizzle Cake
Even though lemon drizzle cake is a subtype of pound cake, its classic citrusy flavor sets it apart and earned it its own spot on the list. Unlike most cakes where the icing is added to a completely cooled cake, the lemon juice-and-sugar drizzle is poured on while the cake is still warm so that it soaks in for maximum moistness and lemony flavor.
9. Upside-down Cake
The upside-down cake is made by baking cake batter on top of caramel and sliced fruit. Once it's baked and cooled, the cake is flipped over, so the fruit is on top. If you're looking for a less conventional upside-down cake, try using orange, apple, or pear slices instead of pineapple. It's sure to make your creation a standout.
10. Lava Cake
There's something about the way the fudgy center of a lava cake mixes with the spongier edges and the vanilla ice cream that makes it the ideal dessert. It's a challenging bake, but with a little bit of care and gentleness, it's possible to make the perfect lava cake in your own oven.
Though many Christmas songs ridicule the dense holiday cake, fruitcake done right can be a real treat. Try Alton Brown's fruitcake recipe with all-natural dried fruit with toasted nuts and warm spices for a cake that will have your family coming back for seconds.
12. Black Forest Cake
The sour cherry, chocolate, and cream cake gets its signature flavor from the use of a cherry liqeuer called Kirsch. To assemble this classic cake, each cake layer is brushed with a syrup made from the liqueur and topped with cream and cherries for a beautiful dark, white, and red striped look.
13. Depression Cake
During the first World War and the Great Depression, ingredients like eggs, milk, butter, and sugar were scarce and expensive. Out of that time came this classic chocolate cake that's dairy and egg-free, making it the perfect vegan option.
14. Angel Food Cake
The Angel Food cake is one of the few cakes that Americans can claim as their own. The light texture of the cake comes from egg whites that are whipped to a peak before being folded in. If you're looking for a challenging bake that's sure to please a crowd, this classic is the one to beat. Just be sure to cool the cake slowly, so it doesn't lose its classic fluffiness.
15. Devil's Food Cake
The rich chocolate counterpart to the angel food cake shares its light and airy texture. However, unlike the angel food cake that achieves this with whipped egg whites, the Devil's food cake goes with an easier approach and uses hot milk or water in the batter. Chocolate ganache or buttercream frosting turn this cake into an indulgent dessert.
16. Sponge cake
A sponge is one of the easiest cakes to bake. There are only three ingredients: eggs, flour, and sugar. Since there are no leavening agents in this cake, the egg whites must be whipped to soft peaks to give the cake its airy texture. While it may seem like a boring cake, the sponge actually makes a great base for other layers and fillings.
17. Genoise Sponge Cake
In the Italian genoise, the eggs aren't separated like in the basic sponge, but are whipped whole with sugar over warm water. Another difference is the use of clarified butter, which is added to the batter for extra fat. The result is an airy cake that is crumbly rather than springy.
18. Chiffon Sponge Cake
The chiffon sponge cake combines processes from both the basic and genoise sponges. In this cake, the egg yolks are beaten with oil and the dry ingredients, including a leavening agent, which is unique to the chiffon sponge. The whites are whipped on their own and then folded in. This lighter, more tender sponge is common in America and Southeast Asia.
See our article "How To Store A Sponge Cake" for information on how to keep your cake fresh before or after decorating.
19. Hummingbird cake
A hummingbird cake is a layered pineapple and banana spice cake with cream cheese frosting. There are many adaptations of this southern favorite, including this tasty version from the food blog Grandbaby Cakes.
20. Yule Log
Don't be fooled by its woody exterior; we promise this cake's got more bite than bark. The yule log cake is a Western European Christmas treat that is filled with cream, rolled, and iced to look like a log. If you decide to take on this challenge, remember to roll the cake before filling, while it is still warm so that you don't get cracks and splits.
21. Opera Cake
The opera cake is a work of precision that intimidates even the most talented bakers. Traditionally, it's three layers of coffee syrup-soaked almond cake separated by one layer of espresso buttercream and one layer of chocolate ganache, all covered in chocolate glaze. Better wait for the kids to go to bed for this one because the opera cake is one grown-up dessert
A torte is a cake made with ground nuts and little to no flour. The greatest thing about this cake is just how easy it is to make. Thanks to its limited ingredients, the entire batter for the cake can be made in a food processer. You can top this simple bake with whipped cream or buttercream frosting and toasted nuts for an elegant finish.
23. Victoria Sandwich
The sponge that makes a Victoria sandwich uses butter like the genoise, but is set apart in that the eggs are whipped separately from the rest of the batter and gradually added in. Once the sponge is baked and cooled, it is cut in half. Cream and raspberry jam are layered between the two halves for a sandwich-like cake that pairs well with a cup of tea.
24. Baked Alaska
The addition of Alaska to the United States in 1867 inspired the creation of the baked Alaska. The dessert consists of a cake base topped with a dome of ice cream, all covered in meringue and toasted with a torch. It takes a lot of skill to get a golden shell before the ice cream inside begins to melt, but the final product is quite impressive if you can manage it.
25. Gooey Butter Cake
When a German baker messed up a coffee cake in the 1930s, he accidentally invented the gooey butter cake. This New Orleans favorite is a yellow cake base under a gooey layer of butter, sugar, and cream cheese.
Cheesecake is another dessert that frequents fancy restaurant menus. Despite its name, cheesecake is closer to being a pie or tart than a cake. Regardless, it's a vital addition to a foodie's cake repertoire. If you want something a little more upper-crust than New York style, try Delish's creme brulee cheesecake.
Can you make a cheesecake without a springform pan? Read our article "Is A Springform Pan Necessary For Cheesecake?" to find out.
Tiramisu is a trifle-like dessert made with sponge cake ladyfingers which are dipped in coffee liqueur and layered with custard or mascarpone cream and cocoa.
Pavlova is a meringue, fruit, and whipped cream dessert from Australia and New Zealand. Its light texture and flavor make it a great addition to a summer meal.
29. Strawberry Shortcake
Strawberry shortcake is another example of a deceiving name. In fact, it's not really a cake at all. Like in a biscuit or scone, cold butter is cut into the dry ingredients to give the shortcake its dense, flaky texture. Then, whipped cream and strawberries are sandwiched between two biscuit halves to create the stacked dessert.
30. Cake donuts
While regular donuts are made from deep-fried yeasted dough, cake donuts are baked in the oven with leavening agents. To make cake donuts at home, you'll need a special donut pan. Click here to see this one from Amazon.
Know Your Cakes!
If you want to be able to hold your own in a Great British Bakeoff discussion, then it's important that you have ample cake knowledge in your back pocket. As long as you remember these 30 cakes, you'll be ready for the kitchen and the tent.
I love baking desserts, but am often unaware of it’s origin. This article was packed full of fascinating history. A quick, but informative read. Thank you fir sharing your cake knowledge.