So What IS Cake? really?
Sure we all know what cake is as far as our favorite recipe or flavor we like best……
But as a baker, understanding what to type of cake to make and with what filling and icing will be best can be a difficult task.
You have probably heard them all, Butter Cake, Sponge Cake, Chiffon Cake, Genoise Cake, Pound Cake, Devils Food Cake, Coffee Cake! And probably more that I forgot to list!!
So what’s the difference?
Easiest way to think about it is like this:
The difference is in the Mix Method.
So there are basically 2 classes, and then of course variations of those classes.
Sponge Cake – Also known as foaming method cakes, which rely primarily on trapped air in the foamed eggs which are the base bulk structure of the entire recipe which also provides the leavening.
Sponge cakes are known to be lighter, airier and can also be known as “dry”.
Typically Sponge cakes are accompanied by a Simple Syrup which is brushed on the layers to add moisture and flavor to the cake.
Butter Cake– Also known as Pound Cake and some variations of the Devils Food Cake are mainly creamed butter cakes. Where the butter and sugar is creamed to create a fluffy matrix of air pockets trapping the sugars within the fat pockets which upon baking are melted and converted to steam, which in turn causes your batter to rise. Creamed cake batters have a closer, denser crumb than those recipes which require foaming.
Then there is a separate class of cakes that fall in a category with
Muffins and Quickbreads
This method typically will ask for the oil and sugar and eggs to be combined together, and then the dry ingredients are added to this. Like My Carrot Cake
Oil Based Cakes vs Butter Cakes?
You have probably wondered why recipes are written the way they are, with one ingredients versus another.
You may have even wondered, “can I use this on place of that”?
Especially in regard to the question of Butter Vs Oil I do get this question a lot.
My first quick answer to this question is always, “How is the butter being incorporated into the recipe?” “What is the Mix Method?”
I ask this because our mix methods often classify the type of cake we are making, and determines how we can interchange ingredients inside that recipe.
For example: Are you creaming the butter and the sugar together to achieve a fluffy, voluminous batter upon which we rely on the leavening to take place due to this mix method and also to which the other ingredients will be suspended?
Or are you melting the butter in a quickbread sort of “muffin method” batter?
Your answer as to whether you can substitute will first be found in the mix method.
If it is creamed butter method, no way are you ever going to jab those sugar crystals throughout liquid oil and expect the resulting air bubbles to trap those fats causing steam to leaven your batter once it goes into the oven. The oil will simply dissolve the sugar and that’s the end of it.
If the recipe requires melted butter, sure go ahead and switch to oil, but not without some differences in your results.
I have done some experimenting with the “quickbread” or “muffin method” as I call those recipes which require oil as the base.
I have used melted butter in place of oil in recipes, because after all, isn’t butter the best way of making sure your next pair of pants are a size larger and have it all be worth the while??
I mean, Butter is food of the Gods right?
So much complex flavor and richness, and we can always tell when a sub-par recipe has cheated its way and used that forsaken oil.
Let’s face it, recipes made with real butter are the most prized recipes of all time!
Well, not necessarily.
Here is what I found.
I use my vanilla sponge cake recipe as an example which requires the fat or “butter” be melted in the mix method.
Now some have complained that upon refrigerating this cake, it became hard and dry.
Well, let’s think about this for a moment. Butter when refrigerated is indeed hard.
Not silky and smooth and soft as it is when it is at room temperature.
So, I used oil on the next try.
By using oil in this cake, it definitely made it more moist, and kept it moist even upon refrigeration.
You see, butter contains milk solids, that when cold, become…well….solid.
Oil on the other hand is liquid whether it is cold or warm.
So, what to do?
This new knowledge now requires us to think through to the end in how we are using/serving our cakes.
The Vanilla Sponge Cake recipe is wonderful, and if you are planning to fill it with fillings that require refrigeration, if is fine to do so, I do it all the time. However I do advise my customers to bring their cake to room temperature (by leaving it out on the counter for about an hour) before serving. There is no harm to the filling inside in that short amount of time, and it allows the cake to get back to its intended state, which is soft and spongy.
I will practice this “bringing to room temperature” with all my cake recipes really. I just prefer to take the chill off of any cake before serving.
So if you choose a filling that requires refrigeration and a cake that has butter in it, it’s no problem really, just be sure to give it at least an hour out of the fridge to get to it’s perfect state!