11 Different Types of Cake — and How to Tell Them Apart

Cinnamon and Amaretto Pound Cake with cinnamon sticks and almonds for decoration
Photo: Kim

Cake is cake, right? Well yes, and no. There are many different types of cake-whether it's birthday, angel food, pound cake, and so many more. But really, all of these cakes are just variations of a few basic types. Learn the difference between these classic cakes so you know what you're baking.

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Two Main Types of Cake

Strawberry Lemonade Cake slice on a white plate with strawberry and lemon garnishes on top

There are two main types of cakes: butter cakes (also known as shortened cakes) and foam cakes. The distinction between these two broad categories of cake is in the fat content. Foam cakes have little to no fat, and usually have a larger proportion of egg. This gives them their lighter, airy texture (think angel food and sponge cake). Butter cakes on the other hand contain butter, margarine, or vegetable shortening, giving you the dense, moist cakes we know and love. There are endless variations of each of these major types — read on to learn more about them.

Pictured: Strawberry Lemonade Cake

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Type: Butter or Shortened Cakes

High-Altitude Buttermilk Devil's Food Cake
Buckwheat Queen

Here's a helpful hint: if the recipe says "cream butter and sugar," it's a butter cake. Once the creaming is done, you'll typically add egg, flour, and baking powder or baking soda for leavening.

Butter cakes can come in chocolate, white, yellow, and marble to name a few. Other cakes in this category may be "shortened" with oil, such as carrot cake or red velvet cake.

Pictured: High-Altitude Buttermilk Devil's Food Cake

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American-Style Butter Cake

Dark Chocolate Cake with a chocolate truffle on top next to a scoop of chocolate ice cream
Photo: Dark Chocolate Cake I by Grace Y.

Despite its name, this type of cake wasn't invented in the U.S., but it has gained lots of popularity here. These dense cakes are sturdy enough to hold thick icing and fillings and are perfect for rolled fondant. They may also be shortened with oil.

Dark Chocolate Cake I

"I am a pastry chef, and this is the only chocolate cake that I will make from now on." — ZZZORBA.

Popular Butter Cake Recipes:

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Pound Cake

pound cake on a white plate with glaze, lemon slice, and mint garnish

This cake gets its name because of how its ingredients can be measured: a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of flour. The cake itself is extremely dense, since it doesn't rise as much as the American-style butter cake. Because of its richness, pound cakes typically have light flavors and are served plain or topped with a basic glaze. They're normally baked in a loaf or Bundt pant. Pound cake variations include some coffee cakes, sour cream cakes, and fruit crumb cakes.

Lemon-Buttermilk Pound Cake with Aunt Evelyn's Lemon Glaze

"My mother's blue-ribbon pound cake recipe. It always gets rave reviews." — Sarah Copeland Sawicki

Popular Pound Cake Recipes:

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Carrot Cake

Isaac's Carrot Cake topped with frosting and carrot design

Carrot Cake, like American-style butter cake, uses baking soda or baking powder for leavening. However, instead of butter, carrot cake uses oil for shortening purposes. This makes the cake longer-lasting, but also a little greasy. The combination of the rich cream cheese icing and the warm spices makes for an irresistible dessert.

Isaac's Carrot Cake

"A less-dense and wonderfully moist carrot cake with canned mandarin oranges rather than pineapple," says Kali Peacock. "It tastes best if you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight."

Popular Carrot Cake Recipes:

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Red Velvet Cake

Moist Red Velvet Cupcakes with white frosting and chocolate garnish

There's no doubt about it — red velvet is a fan favorite. It's basically butter cake, but oftentimes it's made with oil instead. The distinct red velvet flavor comes from the added cocoa. Originally, the reaction between buttermilk and raw cocoa gave the cake its red hue. Today, the color is mostly the result of food coloring. Try it with Chef John's Cream Cheese Frosting for a classic cake that can't be beat!

Moist Red Velvet Cupcakes

This top-rated recipe gives you the perfect individual portion of cake. It's perfect for a bake sale, potluck, or just for your own enjoyment!

Popular Red Velvet Cake Recipes:

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Type: Foam Cakes

sponge cake topped with blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, oranges
Melissa Goff

These light and airy cakes make for limitless variations. Foam cakes typically contain no fat or leavening, aside from the fat provided by eggs. It is important to remember when you are baking foam cakes that the batter needs to go in the oven as soon as it's ready in order to prevent the egg whites from deflating. They also need to be baked in a tall pan due to the rise the egg whites give them. These cakes are not going to hold up well against heavy frosting, so it's best to give them a light glaze or a dollop of whipped cream.

Pictured: Fruit Galore Sponge Cake

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Sponge Cake

Walnut-Cream Roll topped with walnuts on a plate with sliced strawberry

Technically any recipe that contains no baking powder or baking soda, but lots of whipped eggs or egg whites is a sponge cake. A traditional sponge cake has just three ingredients: flour, sugar, and eggs. As the name suggests, this cake takes well to being soaked with syrups. They are several different types of sponge cakes, and they may go by different names depending on where you are in the world.

Walnut-Cream Roll

"This is a 10-star recipe, no doubt!" raves Kim. "You get a very nice nutty flavor with a hint of vanilla, and the perfect amount of sweetness! Fantastic recipe, and so easy to make too!"

Popular Sponge Cake Recipes:

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Genoise Sponge Cake

a slice of sponge cake with fruit mousse layers and a red mirror glaze on a white plate

Genoise is what a sponge cake is referred to in Italy or France. In this type of cake, the eggs are beaten with both yolk and white together, along with sugar until they are mousse-like. The flour is then folded in along with some oil or butter for added moisture. Due to the added butter, this sponge cake is more moist and tender than its sponge cake siblings.

Popular Genoise Cake Recipes:

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Biscuit Sponge Cake

Glorious Sponge Cake with orange glaze

In a biscuit sponge cake, the egg is separated and both the whites and yolks are whipped with sugar separately. The two mixtures are then folded together with flour. The result is a light batter that's drier than genoise, but that also holds its shape better. This is why biscuit cake batter is often used for piped shapes such as ladyfingers. In a slightly different variation, the flour is replaced with matzoh cake meal and potato starch to make the classic Passover sponge cake.

Popular Biscuit Cake Recipes:

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Angel Food Cake

slice of angel food cake topped with strawberries

Angel food cake is made with only the egg whites, not the yolks. The beaten egg whites act as a leavening agent, and there is no added shortening in the recipe. This makes Angel food cake a delicious no-fat dessert. These cakes need to be baked in a tall pan because the egg whites create such a dramatic rise. The texture of these cakes tends to be slightly chewy and spongy due to its high sugar content. Top this delicate dessert with berries and whipped cream for the perfect flavor combination.

Angel Food Cake I

"Homemade angel food cake is worth the work," says Syd. "It is moist, unlike the sweet styrofoam available in the grocery bakery. A tube pan with a removable bottom is highly recommended."

Popular Angel Food Cake Recipes:

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Chiffon Cake

Mocha Chiffon Cake topped with walnuts

This classic American cake is a cross between a cake that has been shortened with oil, and a sponge cake. The recipe includes both baking powder and vegetable oil, but like many types of sponge cake, the eggs are separated and beaten before being folded into the batter. All of this gives you the rich flavor of an oil cake, but a lighter feel of a sponge cake. It's typically drizzled with a glaze or frosted with a lighter frosting.

Mocha Chiffon Cake

"This light and airy cake has the delicious taste of coffee and is great for dessert or an afternoon snack," says lola.

Popular Chiffon Cake Recipes:

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Baked Flourless Cake

a slice of fudgy-looking chocolate cake with raspberry sauce

Baked flourless cake includes baked cheesecakes, flourless chocolate cakes, or any other form of cake that is baked without flour. Flourless chocolate cake is a variation of the foam cake. These cakes are usually very rich because of the chocolate, egg yolk, and fat it contains. In order to prevent the bottom of these cakes from burning, they're often baked in a "water bath." This means that the cake is made in a springform pan, that is then placed in a larger pan that is partially filled with water, helping to give the cake its silky texture.

Flourless Chocolate Cake I

This chocolate cake recipe is great for those who can't eat gluten, while still being dense and rich.

Popular Flourless Cake Recipes:

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Unbaked Flourless Cake

a single-layer cake with strawberry halves around the side, topped with whipped cream and strawberries in a flower shape

This includes unbaked cheesecakes, mousse cakes, or any type of cake that is typically molded in a dessert ring or springform pan before chilling and unmolding. These types of cakes often have crust that's baked before the filling is added. Try layering them with genoise or biscuit for a decadent treat that is perfect for summer.

Strawberry Chocolate Mousse Cake

Here's elegant yet easy dessert featuring eggless chocolate mousse poured into a cookie crumb crust and decorated with fresh strawberries and cream.

Popular Unbaked Flourless Cake Recipes:

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a two-layer Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake on a white cake stand
Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake by Kim. Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake by Kim
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