Copyright © 2000 Sarah Phillips Sarah Phillips, Inc. All rights reserved.
Shortened cakes, also known as butter, conventional, or creamed cakes, are the most commonly prepared types, especially for birthday and wedding celebrations. This group also includes oil cakes. They can be made from scratch, purchased already made, or made from a cake mix. If instantly questioned, I am sure we can readily name our favorite cake - Chocolate, Devil's food cake, lemon, strawberry, marbled chocolate and vanilla, or even yellow layer cake and sometimes, white cake. These are American butter cakes which typically have a moist, tender crumb and fine, even grain. If you mention Bundt or loaf cake, they are typically made with a Pound Cake, another type of shortened cake, being denser than the classic American one, yet still with a tender crumb. Many coffee cakes, sour cream cakes, and fruit crumb cakes are variations of pound cake.
What these cakes have in common are that they contain some sort of fat - often butter, but sometimes oil - and are mostly leavened by baking powder and/or soda and acid, as well as steam and air. Creaming is the first baking step in many Shortened cakes, except if it an Oil Cake. You will recongize it when the recipe indicates: "Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy." Then, the eggs, followed by dry and wet ingredients are added in alternating doses. The batter is baked in almost any size and shape. Flour, eggs, milk, spices, flavoring and other ingredients are varied to produce a wide assortment.
Little does one know that creaming is one of the most important baking steps; here, thousands of tiny and delicate air bubbles are created by beating sugar with plastic fat, also known as solid butter, margarine or processed shortening, and held there. (The inital creaming also partially dissolves the sugar.) The cake is leavened when the air bubbles are later expanded during baking from carbon dioxide gas from baking powder and/or baking soda, and steam generated from the liquid ingredients. Cakes made this way tend to turn out light with a soft, velvety crumb, depending on the ingredients.
Cakes were not always mixed using the creaming method; rather, at one time they were leavened with yeast, resulting in heavier, compact cakes. The refined cake grain that is available today is possible with the invention of baking soda in the 1840s and baking powder in the 1860s, along with technological advances in ovens and equipment, better refrigeration and access to more refined ingredients.
Oil cakes, such as carrot or zucchini, use liquid fats, such as vegetable oil, and are not creamed with sugar. They are rather mixed using the Muffin or Two Stage Mixing Method. They are leavened by baking powder and/or soda and acid, as well as steam and air, and tend to be denser and very moist.
Cake mixes are used to make a special type of oil cake that is especially light and fluffy. They are mixed using the All ingredient or Single Stage Mixing Method.
NOTE: The High-Ratio Mixing Method, also known as the Two-Step Mixing Method, is an alternate mixing technique used with Shortened Cakes. It is used anytime you have a high ratio cake, where the weight of the sugar in the batter is equal to or greater than the weight of the flour. This involves mixing all the dry ingredients first, then beating in cold, but softened butter. Then, the liquid ingredients are slowly added. Mixing this way guarantees a smooth batter that doesn't separate, thus making for a light and delicate baked cake.
|Appearance||Slightly rounded or flat top, free of cracks|
Uniform, characteristic color
throughout crust and crumb
|Texture||Soft, velvety crumb|
Small, thin-walled air cells
Free of tunnels
Moist, smooth mouthfeel
Light — but not crumbly
|Tenderness||Handles easily, yet breaks apart|
Seems to “melt in the mouth,”
offers no resistance when bitten
|Flavor||Delicate, sweet flavor|
AMERICAN BUTTER CAKE
The American butter cake is an example of shortened cakes leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda. It is the first cake that I learned to bake with. It has become the standard cake that we cover with frosting and serve at birthdays, weddings, and graduations. I am sure, if questioned, we can readily name our favorite butter cake, such as Yellow, White or Chocolate cake, or lemon, orange, strawberry and marble or chocolate and vanilla swirled together. There are limitless butter cake flavor combinations! Butter cakes are good keepers and freeze well, too.
The pound cake is a compact, shortened cake leavened only by air and steam. In America, it is thought that the butter cake evolved from the original British pound cake recipe as there are a lot of similarities, but the butter cake is lighter and tender in texture. In contrast to other shortened cakes, pound cake contains equal amounts of fat and sugar in addition to cake flour (or, less commonly, all-purpose flour), large amounts of egg and flavoring. Using super-fine sugar makes the pound cake even lighter and smoother.
Oil cakes are moister, denser cakes, prepared either layered, in a loaf pan, or as a cupcake (cup cake). The fat and sugar are not "creamed", but rather oil is the added fat used for moistness and density. Typical examples are Cake Mixes are mixed using the Single Stage(One-Bowl) and Carrot Cakes, mixed with the Muffin or Two-Stage Mixing Method.
QUESTION: Sometimes a recipe will just say "prepare the pan" or "use a prepared pan", what does that mean?
SARAH SAYS: It means that you put some sort of coating on it so the batter or dough won't stick when baked, making the baked good easy to remove afterwards.
Information about some other well-known Shortened cakes:
SARAH SAYS: Cakes that are good "keepers" are Bundt cakes, coffee cake, oil cakes and pound cakes. They all mail well, too.
This shortened cake is baked in a Bundt pan, and was hereby named the Bundt cake, that did not really sell well until the late 1960s, when a Bundt cake won second place in a Pillsbury baking contest.
Cake pops are the latest trend in dessert culture. They are a form of cake in many shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors, made from cake balls styled as a lollipop. Crumbled cake, typically shortened or butter or from a cake mix, are mixed with (buttercream) icing or chocolate, and formed into cake balls or small spheres or cubes, attached to a lollipop stick, and then are given a coating of icing, chocolate, or candy melts. They are typically decorated with sprinkles and have other decorations applied. They are usually fun and whimsical.
CARROT AND OTHER VEGETABLE CAKES
This sweet spice oil cake, more closely resembles a quick-bread than a cake. They are very moist, dense cakes prepared either layered, in a loaf pan, or as cupcakes (cup cakes). Basics ingredients include grated carrots or zucchini, spices and nuts. Other added ingredients contributing to the cake's moistness include oil, applesauce, well-drained crushed pineapple, and dried fruit, such as raisins. Cakes are served topped with cream cheese icing or plain.
Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake VS Devil's Food Cake There isn't much to distinguish a devil's food cake from a rich chocolate cake, both being American butter cakes. But, when comparing regular chocolate cakes with them, there is more cocoa and fat in a devil's food cake, creating a richer and more sinful recipe. There is the red devil's food cake, but the only difference is that it calls for red food coloring while the plain one does not. It is thought to be the precursor to the Red Velvet Cake because it has a "reddish" hue.
German Chocolate Cake is a layered chocolate buttermilk cake topped and filled with a coconut-pecan frosting and is an American creation. (Buttermilk chocolate cakes have been popular in the South for generations, where pecans are readily available). The original recipe was sent by a homemaker in Dallas in 1957 to a newspaper in Texas which used Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate as an ingredient, developed for Baker's Chocolate Co. in 1852 by Sam German. Hence the cake's name. However, in most recipes and products today, the apostrophe and the "s" have been dropped, fueling the assumption that it's German. Check out our German Chocolate Layer Cake Recipe.
Red Velvet Cake is a type of American chocolate butter cake, made with cocoa powder and buttermilk, that has a dark-red color that comes from beets or red food dye and is typically frosted with cream cheese icing. The addition of vinegar to the cake recipe may seem unusual, but it helps with leavening and makes for a very fine, tender cake. It is most popular in the American South.
James Beard's book American Cookery describes three kinds of red velvet cake varying in the amounts of shortening and butter used. All of them use red food coloring for the color, but it is mentioned that the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to turn the cocoa a reddish brown color. Furthermore, before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and a long list of similar names for chocolate cakes.
Did you know there's an art to coloring red velvet cakes? Read more....
The use of red dye to make "Red Velvet" cake was probably started after the introduction of the darker cocoa in order to reproduce the earlier color. It is also notable that while foods were rationed during World War II , some bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food is still found in some red velvet cake recipes. Red velvet cakes seemed to find a home in the south and reached peak popularity in the 1950s - just before a controversy arose about health effects of common food colorings.
The story of red velvet cake is, probably mistakenly, attached to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. An early version of the infamous "Neiman-Marcus cookie" legend has it that a woman asked for the recipe to the delicious red velvet cake she was served at the hotel restaurant, only to find that she had been billed $100 (or $250) for the recipe. Indignant, she spread it to all her friends as a chain letter. This genre of legend dates to at least the 1940s as a $25 Fudge Cake served to a passenger on a railroad during the days of elegant rail travel.
A recent resurgence in the popularity of this cake might partly be attributed to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias in which the groom's cake (another southern tradition) is a red velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo.
Often served with coffee and tea, rich coffee cakes (coffeecakes) and breads, can be leavened in several ways: as "creamed butter cakes", as quick-breads or with yeast. They may contain dried or fresh fruit, nuts, spices, chocolate, jam, streusel or cream cheese.
CUPCAKES (CUP CAKES)
A small, individual cupcake (cup cake) baked in a paper-lined, cup-shaped mold, such as a muffin pan, that can be made from many different cake batters, such as the American butter cake, pound and oil cakes, as well as foam cakes. (Petits Fours, also known as Petit Four, are also miniature cakes.)
Typically made with an American butter cake recipe, after baking, this cake is literally turned upside-down. Whole or chopped fruit are placed at the bottom of the pan on top of a layer of melted butter and brown sugar before the batter is poured on. Thus, when the cake is inverted after baking, the bottom layer becomes a decorative moist topping.
Gaining in popularity once again, the whoopie pie is not a pie at all, but is thought to have evolved in Depression-era New England and Pennsylvania Amish country from left-over cake batter, traditionally chocolate. However, we classify them as dropped cookies. Dropped onto a cookie sheet and spread into round circles a few inches in diameter, the batter bakes into a mound shape, with a flat side. Two mounds are matched and sandwiched together with a fluffy white frosting or marshmallow fluff in between.
YELLOW / WHITE CAKES
QUESTION: What's the difference between a yellow butter cake and a white butter cake?
SARAH SAYS: A yellow cake contains whole eggs and/or egg yolks, giving it a yellow tint and a higher fat content, thus a slightly denser texture. On the other hand, a white cake typically contains all egg whites, many times beaten and folded into the main batter, giving it a lighter and fluffier texture.
OTHER TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
TEMPERATURE / TIMING
The oven shelf is typically placed in the middle of the oven and the oven should be preheated prior to mixing the batter. Most shortened cakes are baked at 325 degrees – to 350 degrees F (163 degrees to 177 degrees C). In general, American butter layered cakes (8-, 9- x 2-inch round pans) bake in about 20 to 30 minutes. Whereas thicker and denser cakes, such as Pound cakes and Oil cakes, take about three quarters to an hour. Cupcakes normally take about 20 minutes because of their small volume.
WHAT HAPPENS AS A BUTTER CAKE BAKES?
1. As the batter heats up, the fat begins to melt and the batter becomes fluid;
2. Substances soluble in hot water begin to dissolve;
3. Carbon dioxide forms from the leaveners and the moisture in the cake forms steam, both of which fills the air pockets the creaming technique made. The cake rises;
4. The protein in the flour and eggs begin to coagulate as the temperature of the batter rises. The flour's starches begins to gelatinize, all making the cake hold its shape;
5. Eventually, the steam evaporates and the baking soda and/or baking powder lose their leavening powers;
6. Evaporation of water from the surface slows and the surface gets hot enough for the Maillard Reaction or the cake begins to brown and the resulting flavors become pronounced.