Brief descriptions of cake

Jun 23, 2017
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I’ve gotten a number of questions about cake. I thought it would be simpler to just write a description on the two classifications. This obviously doesn’t cover everything about cake, but will clarify what I’ve been asked about the differences about sponge and butter cakes; what defines a sponge cake versus a butter cake; what is a biscuit, and how a biscuit is different from a sponge; does it really matter if you heat the eggs for genoise; and the difference between a chiffon and “regular cake.”

I was also asked for a Japonaise recipe. I have a pretty extensive collection of cake formulas from the top European pastry chefs dating back some 23 years. There’s version after version of biscuits. Only one is called a Japonaise, but in truth its just dacquoise by another name. There’s really no evidence of Japonaise being a biscuit in its own right. So I would recommend using a dacquoise recipe, almond or hazelnut baker’s choice.

I have to post this in parts since there is a character limit on posts.

  • Creamed cake batters
  • Whipped (aka Foam) cake batters


Leavened with mechanical and chemical leavening
High fat content: 65% - 100% fat to flour ratio

Creaming method and high fat content creates:
  • Richer flavor
  • Moister crumb
  • Low aeration batter
  • Dense tighter crumb
  • Lower rise

Examples of Creamed Cakes:
  • Yellow cake (contains whole eggs)
  • White cake (egg whites only)
  • Pound cake
  • Fruitcake

The two common cakes in US & UK: Butter & Victoria Sponge
The ratios of egg, fat, sugar to flour vary significantly between these two types of cakes. The leaner butter cake is the preferred layer cake for event cakes since the lower fat content balances better with icings and fillings.

  • 40% egg to flour ratio
  • 65% fat to flour ratio
  • Less egg and fat than the Victoria Sponge cake
  • Butter cake is much lighter
  • Butter cake not as rich

Low fat content cake is filled and iced; common icings:
  • Butter/retail shortening and confectioner’s sugar icing
  • High ratio shortening and confectioner’s sugar icing
  • Cream cheese icing
  • Italian or Swiss meringue buttercream

  • The Victoria Sponge is a pound cake, (not a sponge cake see note below*)
  • 100% egg to flour ratio
  • 100% fat to flour ratio
  • 100% sugar to flour ratio
  • Rich cake with soft crumb
  • High fat content cake does not need icing
  • The traditional filling for the Victoria sponge is raspberry jam

Mechanical Leavening:

Creaming fat and sugar is a physical form of leavening. Sugar crystals are forced through the solid fat, cutting slits and forcing some air into the openings. When the chemical leavening (baking powder and/or baking soda) is activated the CO2 bubbles are trapped in the cuts created by the sugar crystals and expand the holes.

When using butter, the temperature of the butter during creaming is critical. If the butter is too warm it will lose its plasticity; as the CO2 bubbles fill the holes the butter will collapse instead of expanding. To retain the plasticity of the butter, it is important the finished batter does not exceed 68°F (20°C); start with butter at 65°F (18°C). Overall creamed cakes are pretty straight foreword; once the baker learns the fundamentals about butter temperature, finished batter temperature, and understanding the role of the ingredients in baking.

Fats Used in Creamed Cake Batters:
  • Butter: start with 65°F (18°C) butter and sugar beaten for approx. 5 minutes
  • Retail Shortening: temperature is not an issue due to the 117°F (47°C) higher melting point and plasticity of shortening
  • High Ratio Shortening**: High ratio shortening differs from retail shortening in that all traces of moisture are removed; it is also formulated with special emulsifiers. These shortenings are manufactured specifically for the baking industry, and are not sold in retail stores.

Other Ingredients:
  • Eggs are NOT aerated in a creamed batter; so they do not provide leavening; eggs are emulsified into the beaten butter to create an emulsion
  • Liquids and dry ingredients are alternately mixed into the emulsion
  • Creamed batters produce low aeration batters compared to foam batters

Whipped Batter Cakes

  • High egg to flour ratio
  • High sugar to flour ratio
  • Low 0% - 50% fat to flour ratio
  • Leavened with whipped eggs
  • No chemical leavening (exception is the American chiffon cake)

- There are two processes for sponge cake: hot process and cold process
- When the separated egg method is used, the sponge cake is not a sponge. It becomes a biscuit.
- There are two methods for the separated egg method.

Whipped egg method and low fat content creates:
  • Light airy texture
  • High rise
  • High aeration batter
  • Drier cake

Formulas use a mix of flour and nut meal
Soaking syrups used to moisten cakes create a wide variety of flavors
Batters are molded, spread in frames, and piped to create a wide variety of shapes

Examples of Whipped Cakes:
  • Genoise cake (hot process; a sponge)
  • Angel food cake (contains egg whites only)
  • Savoy (not a sponge, but a biscuit)
  • Chiffon (a hybrid of a biscuit)
  • Roulades

Whipped batter cakes are leavened by either whole whipped eggs or whipped egg whites. The whole whipped eggs may be whipped in a hot or cold process.


: expand to 4x original volume

Less foaming power than whites
  • 33% fat
  • 48% water
  • 17% protein
Factors in yolk that inhibit foaming

  • Less surface tension
  • more emulsifying lipids
  • more proteins that do not unfurl are stabilizing
  • less water
to whip, to 4x volume, heat with liquid and continuously whisk

Albumen (Egg white): expand 8x original volume
  • 0% fat
  • 88% water
  • 11% protein
Lower protein and high water content in egg white makes the protein less stable. High water content allows whisk to easily drag across surface creating force to easily unfurl proteins.

Whole eggs: expand 6x original volume
  • 11% fat
  • 74% water
  • 13% protein

Ribbon Stage Eggs:
Whole eggs beaten with sugar until triple in volume and when the beater is lifted out, the egg will flow off the beaters in a flat ribbon like pattern and sit on the egg mixture for about 5 seconds before dissolving into the bowl.

To achieve ribbon stage egg, the eggs and sugar must be heated to 122°F (50°C) then whipped, or room temperature eggs, 70°F (20°C) eggs and sugar are beaten for approximately 8 - 10 minutes until the eggs triple in volume. It is not for the impatience.

General Ratios:
  • Egg 150% - 200%
  • Sugar 100% - 115%
  • Flour/starch 100%
  • Fat 20% - 40% clarified butter

Genoise is a sponge cake. What distinguishes a sponge from the French biscuit is the eggs are whipped whole. The genoise also contains clarified butter. Genoise is by nature a dry cake. The cake is always flavored with a soaking syrup that also adds moisture. Pastry chefs use fine liqueurs or make a cordial from freshly harvested ingredients like elderflower blooms or verbena leaves. You can bake a perfect genoise, then ruin it with a poor quality soaking syrup. So it is important to use quality ingredients in syrups.

  • Whole eggs continuously whisked over a Bain Marie
  • The mixture is heated to 122°F (50°C)
  • Egg mixture is transferred to a stand mixer bowl fitted with a whisk attachment
  • Eggs mixture whipped to cool and increase the volume
  • Beaten to the ribbon stage
  • A small amount of egg mixture is portioned out, and the cooled clarified butter is blended into the reserved egg mixture
  • Dry ingredients are then folded into egg mixture in the mixer bowl in several additions
  • Then the reserved egg mixture with the clarified butter is added to the batter
The higher protein in egg yolk makes it more stable than the egg white; heat and agitation encourages denaturation of the protein and makes a more stable egg foam. That in turn creates a stronger cake structure.

In the cold whole egg process the same mixing method as the hot whole egg process is used except the eggs are at 70°F (20°C). The sponge cake produced from a cold whole egg process is not as sturdy as a hot process method, so should not be used in any elaborate stacked cake designs. Cold whole egg process cakes are commonly used for single layer cakes.

BISCUIT: (pronounced biskui not like the American breakfast biscuit). A biscuit is distinguished from a sponge by the separated egg mixing method. Where the whole egg is whipped in a sponge, in a biscuit, the eggs are separated and whipped separately. Two methods are used for biscuit.

General Ratios
  • Egg 150% - 220%
  • Sugar 100% - 115%
  • Flour/starch 100% or Flour 50% & Nut Meal 50%
  • Fat 0% - 50%^

  • Sugar is divided;
  • Eggs are separated
  • Half sugar and yolk are beaten
  • Remaining sugar is whipped in egg whites to medium stiff peaks
  • The whipped eggs and dry ingredients are alternately folded into sweetened yolks

  • Eggs are separated.
  • Egg whites are whipped into a meringue with the sugar.
  • Yolks are folded into the meringue.
  • Dry ingredients are sifted over the whipped eggs and folded in.

Biscuit batter is used in a variety of desserts. Changes are made to the base depending on the application. These are some of the biscuits and some typical ratios. Ratios will vary by pastry chef.

Joconde: (sha-conde): a denser biscuit used in desserts like opera cake, entremet. A joconde biscuit is distinguished by the base of sugar and nut meal in the batter. Joconde (also spelled jaconde) can also be made with other nut flours. It’s spread on a sheet pan and baked in a thin sheet. The whipped batter gives the cake a light texture, but it is sturdy enough for entremets, flexible enough to use as in a roulade, and it absorbs soaking syrups well.

1:1 almond flour to confectioner’s sugar or granulated sugar (tant pour tant)
Dacquoise: a lighter version of a joconde, it is made with almonds or hazelnuts and egg whites only, no yolks.

Savoy: the modern version is made with flour and potato flour (not potato starch). Whipping the egg whites separately into stiff peaks, creates a light airy texture, while the egg yolk and potato flour give the cake a softness. Traditionally baked in a decorative mold, flavored with an abundant of vanilla bean (Pierre Herme uses 3 vanilla beans in an 8” cake!) and served with flavored chantilly cream and fresh berries, its lightness and simplicity makes it the perfect dessert to serve any time of year.
  • 194% Egg
  • 138% Sugar
  • 100% Flour/starch (50% flour/50% potato flour)

  • Cuillère: The lightest of the batters, it has a high ratio of egg and sugar to flour, making is airy very fluid. This batter is used for ladyfingers.
  • 218% Egg yolk
  • 163% Egg whites
  • 154% Sugar
  • 100% Flour/starch

Other Foam Cake


Type of biscuit with two differences: 1) contains a neutral oil 50%; 2) low ratio of egg to flour at 35% is lower than a traditional biscuit.
  • Eggs separated, some sugar set aside
  • Egg whites and smaller portion of sugar whipped stiff peaks
  • Yolks, liquids combined
  • Dry ingredients sifted
  • Slurry made by combining wet and dry ingredients
  • Slurry is tempered with meringue; then remaining meringue folded into slurry in two or three additions
Angel Food Cake: is a whipped batter cake that contains no added fat.
  • Eggs Whites only 280% - 350%
  • Cake Flour 100%
  • Sugar 260%
  • Fat 0%

Sacher Torte:
  • A hybrid creamed and whipped batter
  • Butter and sugar is creamed
  • Egg yolk and chocolate is blended into the butter
  • Egg whites and sugar are whipped to stiff peaks
  • 1/3 whipped eggs folded into creamed butter
  • Remaining whipped egg whites and flour alternately fold into the butter and egg yolk mixture

In summary:

  • A sponge cake is a cake leavened with whole whipped eggs, no chemical leavening. It contains little to no fat. Victoria sponge is not a sponge cake since it is not leavened with whole whipped eggs, and most contain chemical leavening.
  • A biscuit is a cake leavened with whipped eggs that have been separated, and no chemical leavening.
  • The American chiffon cake is a type of of biscuit with two significant changes: a very low ratio of egg to flour at 35%; addition of vegetable oil.
  • Creamed cake is a cake leavened with mechanical leavening (Creaming solid fat and sugar) and chemical Leavening (baking powder and/or baking soda)

*Why a Victoria Sponge is not a sponge: the original Victoria Sponge did not contain chemical leavening since it wasn’t on the market when the cake was created. People just called it a sponge. But the way we classify cake now is by mixing method and chemical leavening. In the creaming method, the butter is aerated. In the whipped egg method, the egg is aerated. The batter for a Victoria Sponge is made using creamed butter and chemical leavening. No whipped egg is used in the batter. So the cake batter is not a sponge batter.

** Retail shortening contains some moisture. The moisture has an adverse effect on the finished product of icings and the goods as water molecules will readily bind to other molecules, such as sugar molecule.

The industry produces moisture free shortening specifically for the baking industry. These emulsified shortenings are more commonly referred to as High Ratio Shortening.

Prior to the full ban of trans fats in 2018 high ratio emulsified shortenings were formulated with mono- and diglycerides, which typically contained:

  • 50% monoglyceride
  • 40% diglyceride
  • 10% triglyceride.

To be in compliance with FDA compliance on trans fats, the industry switched to distilled monoglycerides in emulsified shortening
  • 90% distilled monoglyceride
  • less than 10% diglyceride.
The resulting products are in compliance with FDA regulations, but the performance of these shortenings are inferior to the original formulas. I am not a user of shortenings, so it does not effect me. But the ban has had a affect on the industry. Hopefully it will force bakers to rethink what they put in their products.
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Jun 23, 2017
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What percentage of liquid and leavening do you add to your butter cakes?

It varies on the cake. I may use 50% in a bundt cake and 90% in a white cake. There’s a wide range of percentage that can be used even in butter cakes.
Dec 5, 2020
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It varies on the cake. I may use 50% in a bundt cake and 90% in a white cake. There’s a wide range of percentage that can be used even in butter cakes.
Im looking for a good formula for a Yellow Butter cake that I can stack for a birthday. What would you recommend?
Jun 23, 2017
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Im looking for a good formula for a Yellow Butter cake that I can stack for a birthday. What would you recommend?

I don’t make yellow cake often, just a bundts. But I have couple recipes I got from a friend that I will DM to you.



Mar 24, 2021
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Hopefully someone can explain what went wrong with my chiffon cake but after folding in the egg whites and baking the cake, I had areas in the cake that were white and rubbery in texture (I can't remember but i think I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe).


Jun 23, 2017
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Hopefully someone can explain what went wrong with my chiffon cake but after folding in the egg whites and baking the cake, I had areas in the cake that were white and rubbery in texture (I can't remember but i think I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe).
Not knowing the recipe it’s hard to say. But streaks of white and rubbery texture indicates the egg whites were not properly whipped and folded in.

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